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Israeli leader vows to annex West Bank settlement enclave

Critics say his pledges would eliminate any remaining Palestinian hope of establishing a separate state.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu (Amir Cohen/AP)
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu (Amir Cohen/AP)

By Associated Press Reporters

Israel’s prime minister has vowed to annex settlements in the West Bank, including one deep in the heart of the largest Palestinian city, if he is re-elected.

Locked in a razor-tight race and with legal woes hanging over him, Benjamin Netanyahu is fighting for his political survival.

In the final weeks of his campaign he has been doling out hard-line promises meant to draw more voters to his Likud party and re-elect him in Tuesday’s unprecedented repeat vote.

“I intend to extend sovereignty on all the settlements and the (settlement) blocs,” including “sites that have security importance or are important to Israel’s heritage,” Mr Netanyahu said in an interview with Israeli Army Radio, part of an eleventh-hour media blitz.

Asked if that included the hundreds of Jews who live under heavy military guard amid tens of thousands of Palestinians in the volatile city of Hebron, Mr Netanyahu responded: “of course.”

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A Palestinian man works on a farm near Bardala, in the Israeli-occupied West Bank (Ariel Schalit/AP)

Israelis head to the polls on Tuesday in the second election this year, after Mr Netanyahu failed to cobble together a coalition following April’s vote, sparking the dissolution of parliament.

Mr Netanyahu has made a series of ambitious pledges in a bid to whip up support, including a promise to annex the Jordan Valley, an area even moderate Israelis view as strategic but which the Palestinians consider the breadbasket of any future state.

To protest that announcement, the Palestinian Authority held a Cabinet meeting in the Jordan Valley village of Fasayil on Monday, a day after Israel’s Cabinet met elsewhere in the valley.

“The Jordan Valley is part of Palestinian lands and any settlement or annexation is illegal,” Prime Minister Mohammed Shtayyeh said at the start of the meeting.

“We will sue Israel in international courts for exploiting our land and we will continue our struggle against the occupation on the ground and in international forums.”

His political rivals have dismissed his talk of annexation as an election ploy noting that he has refrained from annexing any territory during his more than a decade in power.

PA

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