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Netanyahu pledges to annex West Bank settlements after vote

Latest election polls place Benjamin Netanyahu and ex-military chief Benny Gantz neck and neck

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Mr Netanyahu said he told US President Donald Trump he would not remove settlements or people from the occupied West Bank as part of a future American peace plan.

Jerusalem

ISRAELI Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu pledged on Saturday to annex settlements in the occupied West Bank if he wins the upcoming general election.

His comments come just days before the closely-fought April 9 poll and could be seen as an appeal to rightwing voters, who do not believe in the feasibility of a peace agreement with the Palestinians.

"I will apply (Israeli) sovereignty, but I don't distinguish between settlement blocs and isolated settlements," he said in an interview with Channel 12 television.

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Settlements built on land occupied by Israel in the 1967 Six-Day War are deemed illegal by the international community and their ongoing construction is seen as a major barrier to peace.

Annexation could prove to be the death knell for the two-state solution.

Senior Palestinian official Saeb Erekat said Mr Netanyahu's statement on annexation was "not surprising".

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

Turkey on Sunday condemned what it called Mr Netanyahu's "irresponsible" remarks.

"West Bank is Palestinian territory occupied by Israel in violation of int'l law," Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu said on Twitter. "Prime Minister Netanyahu's irresponsible statement to seek votes just before the Israeli general elections cannot and will not change this fact."

"Yet another example of how Netanyahu uses electoral politics to justify occupation and undermine the two-state solution," said Ibrahim Kalin, spokesman of Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan.

"If he is re-elected, will this be a triumph of 'democracy' or occupation? Will Western democracies react or will they keep appeasing? Shame on them all!," Mr Kalin tweeted.

In an interview broadcast on Friday, Mr Netanyahu said he told US President Donald Trump he would not remove settlements or people as part of a future American peace plan.

"I said there shouldn't be the removal of even one settlement" from the occupied West Bank, Mr Netanyahu told Israel's Channel 13 television.

More than 400,000 Israelis live in West Bank settlements as part of Israel's military occupation of the territory, where more than 2.5 million Palestinians live.

A further 200,000 Israelis live in settlements in occupied east Jerusalem, over which Israel has already implemented full sovereignty.

Washington is expected to unveil proposals for Israeli-Palestinian peace sometime after Tuesday's Israeli election in which Mr Netanyahu is seeking a fifth term.

The Israeli prime minister was asked by Channel 13 if he was familiar with the details of the US plan, replying he knew "what should be in it". Along with settlements, "our ongoing control of all the territory west of the Jordan" River was a further condition set by the Israeli premier for any US-led peace initiative.

Mr Netanyahu said he informed Mr Trump not "even one person" would be evicted from a settlement.

The latest polls place Mr Netanyahu and ex-military chief Benny Gantz neck and neck, but give the former the advantage in his ability to form a coalition government.

While Mr Netanyahu has a close relationship with the US president, Palestinian president Mahmud Abbas cut off relations with Washington after Mr Trump declared the disputed city of Jerusalem Israel's capital in December 2017.

The Palestinians say the US government's pro-Israel bias meant it could no longer lead peace negotiations between them and Israel, while US officials argue their plan will be fair.

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