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Knesset speaker: Netanyahu's West Bank vow not merely election rhetoric

Image of Israeli Knesset Speaker, Yuli Edelstein on 13 September 2013 [Yuri Levin/Wikipedia]
Israeli Knesset Speaker, Yuli Edelstein on 13 September 2013 [Yuri Levin/Wikipedia]

Knesset speaker Yuli Edelstein said yesterday that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's vow to annex West Bank settlements is not merely an election campaign promise, but a real plan.

Speaking to right-wing news outlet Arutz Sheva, Edelstein – a member of Netanyahu's Likud party – claimed that the movement to annex West Bank territory has made significant gains in recent years.

"For about a decade we have longed for sovereignty," Edelstein said, using the language preferred by the Israeli right for annexation, "and have made significant progress".

"From a situation in which a minister who referred to the idea of sovereignty in Judea and Samaria [the occupied West Bank] was considered delusional, we have reached a position where Netanyahu's statement is taken for granted and legitimate," the long-time Likud lawmaker added.

On Sunday, Netanyahu vowed to annex Israeli settlements in the occupied West Bank if re-elected, speaking at a school in Elkana settlement to mark the start of the academic year.

Citing recent developments such as "the US embassy move to Jerusalem and the US recognition of Israeli sovereignty in the [occupied] Golan [Heights]", Edelstein argued that annexing settlements in the West Bank "will become a realistic issue, within the realms of possibility".

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"I mentioned two issues that if we had verbalized them before the 2015 elections, everyone would have laughed at us and called us liars, and the fact is that they happened. Here, too, I think we have come a long way and we are now in the final stretch," the Knesset speaker continued.

"I don't want to get into exact schedules," Edelstein said, adding: "But if, with God's help, we form the government after the 17 September elections, we can move forward."

Meanwhile, Israeli opposition politician Yair Lapid, one of the co-leaders of the Blue and White (Kahol Lavan) alliance, criticised as impractical Netanyahu's pledge to annex settlements.

"You can't apply Jewish sovereignty just to the towns [i.e. settlements]," Lapid told Kan Reshet Bet yesterday. "What Netanyahu's comments mean is sovereignty over 2.9 million Palestinians, and giving them National Insurance payments."

"Sovereignty is something that happens on the ground," Lapid continued. "Other than [Transportation Minister Bezalel] Smotrich, there is absolutely no one who thinks it is a good idea."

"Netanyahu is being held captive by his partners, because he wants immunity. What scares [Netanyahu] is the idea of going to prison, so he goes to Elkana and says something that is totally disconnected from reality."

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