On the eve of national elections in Israel, politically-embattled Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu vowed that if he and his Likud Party were returned to power for another term he would make sure that an independent Palestinian state would not come into being.
The comments come as a reversal of official Israeli government policy which, like the U.S. government, states that a two-state solution is the preferred outcome for the decades-long conflict between Israel and the Palestinians.
As the New York Times reports:
Mr. Netanyahu made the assertion on the eve of an election in which he is trailing in the polls. He has been campaigning aggressively, appealing to conservatives for support.
“I think that anyone who is going to establish a Palestinian state today and evacuate lands, is giving attack grounds to the radical Islam against the state of Israel,” he said in a video interview published on the NRG website. “Anyone who ignores this is sticking his head in the sand. The left does this time and time again. We are realistic and understand.”
Asked if he meant that a Palestinian state would not be established if he were to continue as Israel’s prime minister, Mr. Netanyahu replied: “Correct.”
Netanyahu's comments on Monday come a day after stating that his government, if it remains in power, will not be afraid to build new settlements in East Jerusalem and across the occupied territories. Palestinians claim East Jerusalem as the rightful capital of a future Palestinian state.
"My friends and I in Likud will preserve the unity of Jerusalem," he said. "We will continue to build in Jerusalem, we will add thousands of housing units, and in the face of all the (international) pressure, we will persist and continue to develop our eternal capital."
Reaction on Twitter was quick to acknowledge that few ever thought Netanyahu had any commitment—official or otherwise—to what is called the two-state solution. As journalist Murtaza Hussein tweeted with implied sarcasm:
Can’t believe Netanyahu not committed to allowing a Palestinian state. Never got any indication of this before.
— Murtaza Hussain (@MazMHussain) March 16, 2015
The Associated Press adds:
Tuesday's election caps an acrimonious three-month campaign that is widely seen as a referendum on Netanyahu.
The hard-line leader has portrayed himself as the only politician capable of confronting Israel's numerous security challenges, while his opponents have focused on the country's high cost of living and presented Netanyahu as imperious and out of touch with the common man.
As Netanyahu's poll numbers have dropped in recent days, he has appeared increasingly desperate, stepping up his nationalistic rhetoric in a series of interviews to local media to appeal to his core base. Netanyahu has also complained of an international conspiracy to oust him, funded by wealthy foreigners who dislike him, and on Sunday night, he addressed an outdoor rally before tens of thousands of hard-line supporters in Tel Aviv.
The strategy is aimed at siphoning off voters from nationalistic rivals, but risks alienating centrist voters who are expected to determine the outcome of the race.
When it comes to establishing a viable and equitable Palestinian state, author and rights activist Ali Abunimah also took to Twitter in the wake of Netanyahu's comments to point out that Likud's largest political rival in this election, the newly formed Zionist Union coalition, is not itself likely to make any substantial moves toward supporting a settlement with the Palestinians or ending the occupation of the West Bank.
— Ali Abunimah (@AliAbunimah) March 16, 2015