Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu pledged on Monday to annex “all the settlements” in the occupied West Bank, including an enclave deep in the heart of the largest Palestinian city a day before the Israeli election.
In the final weeks of his election campaign, Netanyahu has made hardline promises meant to draw more right-wing voters to his Likud party – including a pledge to annex the Jordan Valley earlier this month, which the Palestinians consider a vital part of any future state.
“I intend to extend sovereignty on all the settlements and the [settlement] blocs … sites that have security importance or are important to Israel’s heritage,” the prime minister said in an interview with Israeli Army Radio.
Asked if that included the hundreds of Jews who live under heavy military guard amid tens of thousands of Palestinians in the city of Hebron, Netanyahu responded, “of course”.
Israelis head to the polls on Tuesday for the second time this year after Netanyahu failed to cobble together a coalition following April’s vote, sparking the dissolution of parliament.
He has cast himself as the only candidate capable of facing Israel‘s myriad challenges. However, his opponents say his legal troubles – including a recommendation by the attorney general to indict him on bribery, fraud and breach of trust charges – loom large.
To protest the latest announcement by Netanyahu, the Palestinian Authority held a cabinet meeting in the Jordan Valley village of Fasayil on Monday.
“The Jordan Valley is part of Palestinian lands and any settlement or annexation is illegal,” Prime Minister Mohammed Shtayyeh said.
“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.”
Hanan Ashrawi of the Palestinian Liberation Organization told Al Jazeera while Netanyahu is clearly pandering to his “extreme right-wing racist base” when making these controversial pledges, he has gradually annexed occupied Palestinian land overtime – even under the radar in some cases.
“But now with Trump, with this administration and the US, there is no need to fly below the radar,” Ashrawi added.
More than two-and-a-half million Palestinians live in the occupied territories, in addition to nearly 700,000 Jewish settlers. Israel captured the West Bank and East Jerusalem in the 1967 Israeli-Arab War.
Israel has since undertaken the further expansion of settlements in the occupied territories, including parts of East Jerusalem. The United Nations and international rights groups have condemned the expansion project, declaring it illegal under international law.