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Netanyahu faces tough elections in Israel and promises to annex much of the West Bank



JERUSALEM – Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said Tuesday he would annex much of the occupied West Bank if voters returned him to power next week. This could dramatically change the lengthy Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

The move would give the nation "safe, permanent borders" for the first time in its history, he said. But it would also reduce any future Palestinian state to an enclave surrounded by Israel.

Mr. Netanyahu said he wanted to seize on what he described as the "once-in-a-lifetime opportunity offered him by the Trump administration, which expressed its openness to the Israeli annexation of at least parts of the West Bank.

"We have not had such an opportunity since the Six-Day War, and I doubt we will have another chance in the next 50 years," Netanyahu said at a press conference in Ramat Gan. "Give me the power to guarantee the security of Israel Give me the power to determine Israel's borders."

Israel conquered the West Bank of Jordan in the 1967 war, and most of the world considers it illegal, both territorial and Israeli Settling settlements.

Fight for political survival and in a dead heat or lagged behind in the polls against Benny Gantz, a centrist former army chief of staff, Mr. Netanyahu has been trying hard to open the focus of competition from the corruption cases against him shifting its strength: national security.

He has highlighted Israel's ever-widening military campaign against Iranian expansion, and even unveiled a new place where he said Iran had persecuted him.

But the announcement of Tuesday was a daring attempt to bring the Palestinian conflict back to the center of the election campaign Israeli electoral policy has been withdrawn because few voters believe that a peace process has a chance.

Mr. Netanyahu said he hoped to annex all Israeli settlements in the West Bank, but would move from Beit Shean in northern Israel immediately after the formation of a new government in the Jordan Valley, a strategic and fertile area along the border with Jordan sea.

Days before the last elections in April, Netanyahu announced his intention to apply Israeli sovereignty to parts of the West Bank, but gave no details or timetable.

Mr. Netanyahu gave his rival to his left and right heavy blows. Right-wing voters who now support the annexation of the West Bank will find it hard to give Mr Netanyahu the benefit of the doubt.

And Mr. Gantz and his former army chiefs in the Blue and White Party, who have publicly said that Israel will not be able to yield to the Jordan Valley for security reasons, will find it hard to stand up to Mr. Netanyahu, said David Makovsky, expert for the Israeli-Palestinian Conflict at the Washington Institute of Middle East Policy Opponents rejected Mr. Netanyahu's call for an electoral mandate held at a Likud party press conference, not the Prime Minister's Office.

And Yamina, the right-wing party under the leadership of Mr. Netanyahu's former Attorney General Ayelet Shattered, urged Netanyahu to submit his decision to annex the Jordan Valley to the current government within hours. "Otherwise everyone in Israel will know that this is nothing but a cheap political turn."

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