JERUSALEM — In a frenzied last day of campaigning, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Monday ruled out the establishment of a Palestinian state and vowed to keep building east Jerusalem settlements as he appealed to hard-line voters on the eve of Israel's closely contested general election.
Speaking to the nrg news website, Netanyahu said that turning over captured territory to the Palestinians would clear the way for Islamic extremists to take control and attack Israel. "Whoever ignores that is burying his head in the sand," he said in the video interview. When asked if that means a Palestinian state will not be established if he is elected, Netanyahu replied, "Indeed."
Reaching a two-state solution to the Palestinian conflict has been a top foreign policy priority for President Obama. U.S. State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki would only say on Monday that the U.S. will work with whoever wins the Israeli election. Palestinian official Hanan Ashrawi said Netanyahu's comments were "dangerous" and could plunge the region into violence.
While his comments Monday appeared to be election rhetoric, they nonetheless put him further at odds with the international community, boding poorly for already strained relations with the U.S. and other key allies if he wins a third consecutive term.
Netanyahu, who has governed for the past six years and has long been the most dominant personality in Israeli politics, has watched his standing plummet in recent weeks. Recent opinion polls show his Likud Party lagging behind Isaac Herzog's Zionist Union. Herzog, who has vowed to revive peace efforts with the Palestinians, repair ties with the U.S. and reduce the growing gaps between rich and poor, confidently predicted an "upheaval" was imminent.
Meanwhile, also on Monday, American actor Chuck Norris released a video in support of Netanyahu.
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— The Associated Press