Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu opened the new school year in Israel on Sunday in a visit to the West Bank settlement of Elkana, where he said that he aspires to apply Israeli sovereignty on all Jewish West Bank settlements. (For the latest election polls – click here)
The prime minister vowed that there would be "no more uprooting [of Jewish west Bank settlement]," just two weeks before Israel heads to a general election.
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Top Palestinian official Saeb Erekat, the secretary general of the Palestinian Liberation Organization, slammed Netanyahu's pledge. Taking to Twitter, Erekat wrote that those voicing concern after every Israeli announcement regarding the West Bank should face reality.
"Israel’s PM is announcing further annexation of occupied territory. Enough impunity: There’s an international responsibility to impose sanctions on Israel after decades of systematic crimes, " he urged.
Arab Israeli lawmakers also blasted the premier for pledging to annex the West Bank.
Joint List Chairman Ayman Odeh said: "Netanyahu is a serial offender, at times stealing from the public and giving to his tycoon friends and at other times pushing the State of Israel toward committing the war crime of annexation that will lead to the deaths of countless Palestinians and Israelis. His legacy will be a trail of indictments and promises he made to settlers and didn't keep."
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Lawmaker Ahmad Tibi of the Ta'al Party echoed Odeh's remarks. "Netanyahu is leading this region into conflict. The annexation of occupied territories is a breach of international law. Only the end of the occupation will give us all hope for the future," he said.
Democratic Union co-leader Stav Shaffir, a former Labor lawmaker who is number two on the slate, also bashed Netanyahu for his promise. If Israel annexes 2.7 million Palestinians living in the West Bank, the Palestinian Authority would be dismantled and replaced by Hamas, and Jewish communities would be surrounded by hostile population with no border or a chance for effective protection, she warned.
Netanyahu has been boosting his public support for annexing the West Bank since the April election.
Days before the last election, Netanyahu said: "I will extend sovereignty but I don't distinguish between the settlement blocs and the isolated ones, because each settlement is Israeli and I will not hand it over to Palestinian sovereignty."
In an April interview with Channel 12 News, Netanyahu said he had discussed the matter with the U.S. administration in order to get its approval for such a move.
When asked if he would apply Israeli sovereignty over the Gush Etzion settlement bloc and Ma'aleh Adumim, Netanyahu replied: "Who said we wouldn't?"
In July, Netanyahu said he would not let any community or town in the Land of Israel be evicted, neither Jewish nor Arab. Speaking at an event marking the 40th anniversary of the Samaria regional council, Netanyahu said his "commitment has no expiration date."
Jack Khoury contributed to this report.