Israel's Netanyahu Plans to Annex Settlements in West Bank

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With just days until the election, Israeli PM Benjamin Netanyahu pledged that if re-elected, he will annex Jewish settlements in the occupied West Bank.

More than 400,000 Israelis live in West Bank settlements as part of its military occupation of the territory, while a further 200,000 live in settlements in occupied East Jerusalem, which Israel has annexed in a move never recognised by the global government.

Settlements built on land occupied by Israel in the 1967 war are illegal under worldwide law and are a barrier to peace. Our correspondent Mona Kandil has the details form Ramallah.

FILE PHOTO: Labourers work on hanging up a Likud election campaign banner depicting Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu with his party candidates, in Jerusalem March 28, 2019.

In the settlement of Karnei Shomron, spice shop owner Yehezkel Shaul said he believed Netanyahu's annexation pledge, calling him "the most reliable and honest person".

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Saeb Erekat, chief negotiator for the Palestine Liberation Organization, criticized Netanyahu's statement on Saturday.

Netanyahu's annexation promise was met with scepticism by Shaqued Morag, director of Peace Now, an Israeli anti-settlements group that closely monitors their expansion.

That followed his December 2017 recognition of Jerusalem as the capital of Israel, and the US embassy's move to the holy city last May.

Last month, Trump also recognized Israeli sovereignty over the Golan Heights, an area Israel captured from Syria in 1967. The Palestinians, who seek Israeli-annexed east Jerusalem as their capital, suspended contact with the U.S.

Trump, who was speaking to American Jews, went on to refer to Netanyahu as "your prime minister".

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"The West has offered Israel political, economic and military support and it now holds all the means of power... but despite that it fears for its future as a non-Arab country surrounded by 400 million Arabs", he said. President Trump and his administration's pro-Netanyahu policies have enabled and emboldened the Israeli leader and his rightward lurch, and that definitely includes the West Bank vow.

"Israel will continue to brazenly violate worldwide law for as long as the global community will continue to reward Israel with impunity, particularly with the Trump administration's support", he said on Twitter.

Israel says the Palestinians are using the issue of settlements as a pretext to avoid direct peace talks. "We will move to the next stage, the imposing of Israeli sovereignty".

Netanyahu stepped up his rhetoric ahead of the Israeli parliamentary elections scheduled for Tuesday, April 9.

In an interview with Israeli Channel 12 News three days ahead of the 9 April poll, Netanyahu was asked why he had not extended sovereignty to large West Bank settlements, as Israel did without global recognition in east Jerusalem and the Golan Heights, both captured in the 1967 Middle East war.

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The Palestinians, for their part, want both these territories - along with the Gaza Strip - for the establishment of a future Palestinian state.