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Netanyahu Warns of New ‘Hamastan’

Netanyahu Warns of New ‘Hamastan’

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu of Israel spoke at a Jewish settlement the day before the Israeli election, warning that his opponents Tzipi Livni and Isaac Herzog would fail to protect residents.

Video by Reuters on Publish Date March 16, 2015. Photo by Abir Sultan/European Pressphoto Agency.

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

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.”

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

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The Israeli leader’s settlement policy resembles his predecessors’, but it is a march toward permanence at a time when prospects for peace are few.

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

Mr. 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,” Mr. Netanyahu said of his approval of Har Homa, against the United States’ wishes, in 1997. “This neighborhood, exactly because it stops the continuation of the Palestinians,” he added, “I saw the potential was really great.”

Mr. 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.

Mr. Netanyahu’s visit gave him a chance to appeal to pro-settlement 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.”

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The center-left Zionist Union alliance, Mr. 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 behind the Zionist Union, Mr. Netanyahu in recent days called on Mr. Kahlon’s supporters to “come home to the Likud,” and on Sunday, he promised to make the Kulanu leader finance minister. “Kahlon and I will know how to solve the housing problems together,” the Israeli leader said.

Mr. Kahlon rebuffed the offer. He has not said whether he would recommend Mr. Netanyahu or Isaac Herzog of the Zionist Union to be prime minister, and analysts see him as a crucial power broker in the formation of any coalition government.

Mr. Netanyahu has focused more on his right flank, appearing at a rally Sunday evening in Rabin Square in Tel Aviv that was organized by settlers. Many in the crowd, estimated at 25,000 people, had been bused in from the occupied West Bank, according to local news reports. At the rally, Mr. Netanyahu vowed that there would be “no withdrawals” from the West Bank and “no concessions” to the Palestinians.

In the interview with NRG, a website tied to the newspaper Makor Rishon, which largely serves settlers, Mr. Netanyahu said he also said he would continue construction of settlements in the occupied West Bank.

“There is a real threat here that a left-wing government will join the international community and follow its orders,” Mr. Netanyahu said. “There is going to be an international initiative to take us back to the 1967 lines and divide Jerusalem. These are real things. This is going to come and we need to form a solid, strong national government headed by Likud in order to ward off these initiatives.”

In Har Homa, Mr. Netanyahu said that Mr. Herzog and his running mate, Tzipi Livni, had “condemned” some building initiatives in Jerusalem. (They have criticized the timing of announcements for inflaming tensions with the Palestinians and with Israel’s allies, but have agreed with Mr. Netanyahu that existing Jewish neighborhoods in East Jerusalem, including Har Homa, should not be uprooted.)

Mr. Netanyahu said that Mr. Herzog would give East Jerusalem as a capital for the Palestinians. “Me and my friends in Likud, we won’t let that happen,” he added.

Also on Monday, the Zionist Union announced that it had dropped a plan to rotate the premiership between Mr. Herzog of the Labor Party and Tzipi Livni of the smaller Hatnua faction, making clear that Mr. Herzog was the sole leader. The rotation agreement had been seen by some voters as a sign of weakness and Mr. Netanyahu had focused much of his attack on the less popular Ms. Livni.

In an interview on Israel’s Channel 2, Mr. Herzog said that his partnership with Ms. Livni was “stronger than ever” and that she had told him on Monday “that if this issue might become an obstacle, she will ensure maximum flexibility for me.”

“We are united in our task to change the government,” he said. “The choice tomorrow is between desperation and hope, and the hope of the greater good for this country is change of the government.”