Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, in an apparent election-eve bid to woo far-right voters, on Monday ruled out the establishment of a Palestinian state while he remained in office.
Heading into Tuesday’s general elections, Netanyahu’s conservative Likud Party is trailing the center-left Zionist Union, led by challenger Isaac Herzog. In the campaign’s final days, Netanyahu has repeatedly accused his opponents of willingness to capitulate to Palestinian demands and endanger Israel’s security.
Netanyahu’s remarks, in a video interview with the NRG website, marked a technical reversal of a 2009 speech in which he endorsed the principle of two states existing between the Mediterranean Sea and the Jordan River.
But in practice, the prime minister has long abandoned any talk of a two-state solution. The last of several rounds of negotiations with the Palestinians aiming to reach an agreement collapsed nearly a year ago.
“I think that anyone planning on establishing a Palestinian state now and ceding territory is granting radical Islam territory to attack Israel,” Netanyahu said in the video. Asked whether this meant no Palestinian state would be established while he was prime minister, he said, “Indeed.”
In recent days, with Likud slipping in the polls, Netanyahu has appealed to conservative and religious voters with hawkish messages and promises to reject territorial compromise. Earlier Monday, on the final day of campaigning, he visited Har Homa, on the outskirts of Jerusalem, which was built outside the “green line,” the pre-1967 border.
There, he declared that without such construction, there would be a “Hamastan” established in East Jerusalem, which the Palestinians want as the capital of a future state. Conservative politicians sometimes use the term to refer to the Gaza Strip, which is dominated by the militant group Hamas, which is sworn to Israel’s destruction.
The NRG website is owned by conservative American billionaire Sheldon Adelson, an ardent supporter of the Israeli leader. The prime minister made similar comments Monday evening on Israel radio, and in recent days had moved to disassociate himself with the 2009 speech, which was never formally adopted by Likud.
The Zionist Union is doing some fine-tuning of its own message as the campaign winds down. The party has backed away from a previously announced plan that if Herzog became prime minister, he would rotate the post with running mate Tzipi Livni. The latest move was seen as a bid to ease coalition negotiations and court potential partners who might reject an alliance with Livni, a former justice minister.
Special correspondent Sobelman reported from Jerusalem and Times staff writer King from Tel Aviv.
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