JERUSALEM – Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Sunday renewed his pledge to annex all Jewish settlements in the occupied West Bank as he sought to shore up right-wing support ahead of a Sept. 17 election.
Netanyahu and his Likud party have been working to maximize 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 Sept. 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 Organization, 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.
U.S. President Donald Trump’s administration has swung White House policy firmly in favor of Israel, and U.S. Ambassador to Israel David Friedman said in June that Israel has the right to annex at least part of the West Bank.
With the election nearing, Netanyahu has again turned to populism to energize supporters.
At the weekend, he drew outrage from journalists and free press advocates when he took a fresh swipe at the Israeli media, which he regularly seeks to portray as being part of a leftist campaign against him and his family.
He is facing potential corruption charges in the months ahead on allegations of fraud, bribery and breach of trust.
Netanyahu, the longest-serving prime minister in Israeli history, denies all accusations and has labeled them bids by his enemies to force him from office.
On Friday, Netanyahu called on the public to boycott privately-owned Keshet 12 television channel, which has had blow-by-blow coverage of the investigations, including what it says are transcripts of witness statements to the police.
“My recommendation is clear,” he said. “Do not watch Keshet or its programs.”
He justified his call by citing the series “Our Boys” co-produced by a branch of Keshet.
The series is based on the 2014 kidnap and killing by Palestinians of three Israeli teenagers and the subsequent revenge murder by Jews of 16-year-old Palestinian Mohammed Abu Khdeir.
The teen was snatched in east Jerusalem and burned alive.
Three Jews were convicted for the crime; two received life sentences and the third was jailed for 21 years.
Netanyahu alleged that the “anti-Semitic series,” co-produced with U.S. channel HBO, focused on the Abu Khdeir killing while paying scant attention to the case of the three Israelis.
In comments Saturday, Netanyahu accused Keshet of “blackening Israel, horrific propaganda.”
He said that its legal affairs correspondent is being manipulated by senior staff who were engaged in a campaign against him.
“They talk about a free press while mobilizing in a terror strike against Israeli democracy,” he said.