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Netanyahu says no Palestinian state if he is reelected

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.Abir Sultan/EPA

JERUSALEM — Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said Monday that as long as he is the leader of Israel, a Palestinian state would not be established, reversing his support for a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

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,’’ Netanyahu said. “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, he replied: “Correct.”

The comments reversed a 2009 speech in which Netanyahu endorsed the concept of two states for two peoples between the Mediterranean Sea and the Jordan River.

Recent opinion polls show his Likud party lagging behind Isaac Herzog’s Zionist Union, the center-left opposition alliance.

Herzog, who has vowed to revive peace efforts with the Palestinians, repair ties with the United States, and reduce the growing gaps between rich and poor, confidently predicted an ‘‘upheaval’’ was imminent.

The Zionist Union made a dramatic announcement of its own on Monday, removing one of its two joint candidates for prime minister, the Associated Press reported.

It said late Monday night that Herzog’s main partner, former foreign minister Tzipi Livni, had given up an agreement to rotate the prime minister post with him if their alliance wins.

It was widely thought that the unusual arrangement was driving away voters.

Netanyahu on Monday also visited Har Homa, a Jerusalem neighborhood where construction on land Israel captured in the 1967 war ignited international outrage. Netanyahu said he had authorized that construction during his first term to block Palestinians from expanding Bethlehem and to prevent a “Hamastan” from sprouting in the hills nearby.


Netanyahu stood next to maps of Har Homa, one from 1997 that showed its empty hillsides, and one showing its roughly 4,000 apartments today. A further 2,000 are under construction or planned.

“It was a way of stopping Bethlehem from moving toward Jerusalem,” Netanyahu said of his approval of Har Homa, against US wishes, in 1997. “It stops the continuation of the Palestinians. I saw the potential was really great.”

Netanyahu has long heralded Israel’s right to build anywhere in Jerusalem, but he generally says that his expansion of settlements — which most world leaders consider illegal — do not materially affect the map for a potential two-state solution to the conflict with the Palestinians.

His acknowledgment that Har Homa was intended to disrupt Palestinian development between Bethlehem and Jerusalem — which the Palestinians see as their future capital — came as he sought to win back votes for his Likud party and to take them from more conservative factions that oppose a Palestinian state.

Palestinians and their international supporters staged huge protests against Har Homa in the 1990s, precisely because of its location at Jerusalem’s southern edge, arguing that preventing a connection between Bethlehem and the Arab neighborhoods of Jerusalem threatened the viability of a future Palestinian state.


“He has confirmed verbally for the first time what we have denounced for years,” said Xavier Abu Eid, a spokesman for the Palestine Liberation Organization. “That Har Homa is not about an innocent ‘Jerusalem neighborhood’ on occupied land but about splitting occupied East Jerusalem from Bethlehem.”

Har Homa, one of about a dozen Jewish areas on land that was occupied by Jordan before 1967 and annexed into Jerusalem by Israel after the war, is home to 25,000 people today. Most were drawn not by ideology but by the large apartments, parks and playgrounds, stunning views, and lower prices than in the city center.

Netanyahu’s visit gave him a chance to appeal to prosettlement voters and to rebut criticism about his government’s handling of Israel’s housing crisis.

Polls show that most voters are far more concerned about high apartment prices than about security issues, and he said that Har Homa was “the solution for young couples who need a place to live.”

The Zionist Union alliance, Netanyahu’s main opponent, has emphasized pocketbook issues throughout the campaign. So have two centrist contenders, the Yesh Atid party of Yair Lapid, and Kulanu, headed by Moshe Kahlon, a former minister who quit Likud because of its failures on housing and other economic matters.

With polls showing that Likud is trailing the Zionist Union, Netanyahu in recent days called on Kahlon’s supporters to “come home to the Likud,” and Sunday he promised to make the Kulanu leader finance minister.


Reaching a two-state solution to the Palestinian conflict has been a top foreign policy priority for President Obama.

State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki would only say on Monday that the United States will work with whoever wins the Israeli election.