Netanyahu renews pledge to annex West Bank settlements

Jerusalem (AFP) –


Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Sunday renewed his pledge to annex Jewish settlements in the occupied West Bank as he sought to shore up right-wing support ahead of a September 17 election.

Netanyahu and his Likud party have been working to maximise turnout and wrest votes from other right-wing parties close to the influential settlement movement.

"With the help of God we will apply Jewish sovereignty to all communities, as part of the (biblical) Land of Israel, and as part of the state of Israel," he told an audience at the West Bank settlement of Elkana.

He made the same promise ahead of the last election in April, but the results left him unable to form a viable governing coalition and he opted for a fresh poll for September 17.

Israel occupied the West Bank in the Six-Day War of 1967.

Israeli settlements are viewed as illegal under international law and as major obstacles to peace since they lie on land the Palestinians see as part of their future state.

Annexation on a large-scale could prove to be the death knell for their statehood ambitions.

Saeb Erekat, secretary general of the Palestine Liberation Organisation, called on the international community to take action after Netanyahu's comments.

"Those who claim concern after every Israeli settlement announcement should face reality: Israel's PM is announcing further annexation of occupied territory," he wrote on Twitter.

"Enough impunity: There?s an international responsibility to impose sanctions on Israel after decades of systematic crimes."

The settlers are a major plank of support for Netanyahu's government, viewed as the most right-wing in Israel's history.

More than 400,000 Israelis live in West Bank settlements, while a further 200,000 live in settlements in occupied east Jerusalem over which Israel has already unilaterally imposed full sovereignty.

Israeli-Palestinian peace efforts have been at a standstill since 2014, when a drive for a deal by Barack Obama's administration collapsed.

President Donald Trump's administration has swung White House policy firmly in favour of Israel, and US ambassador to Israel David Friedman said in June that Israel had the right to annex at least part of the West Bank.

"Under certain circumstances, I think Israel has the right to retain some, but unlikely all, of the West Bank," he said in a New York Times interview.