Israel minister threatens to annex West Bank land

Israel Environment Minister Gilad Erdan said that Israel may annex some settlements in the West Bank. His threat came in response to a Palestinian announcement Sunday that it may seek to unlilaterally declare statehood through the UN.

By , Correspondent

A daily summary of global reports on security issues.

Israeli officials ratcheted up the rhetoric Monday in response to Palestinian officials' announcement Sunday that they may seek to unilaterally declare statehood through the United Nations.

A right-wing Israeli minister said that if such a declaration occurs, Israel could annex parts of the West Bank – words sure to further inflame Israeli-Palestinian tensions. Later Monday, an Israeli official of the center-left Labor Party, which generally takes a more conciliatory position toward the Palestinians, said that if any such annexation occurs, his party would quit Israel's ruling coalition.

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The escalating rhetoric comes in the wake of a perceived US tilt toward Israel on the expansion of West Bank settlements, a key issue blocking peace talks.

The US insists its position is unchanged. But Secretary of State Hillary Clinton's statement earlier this month praising Israel's "unprecedented" offer of a partial halt on settlements was seen by many as backing away from the Obama administration's previous stand that Israel must freeze all such settlement construction. In previous peace deals, Israel had agreed to a complete settlement freeze – but only on certain preconditions that it says Palestinians failed to meet.

In the wake of Clinton's comments, Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas said he might not seek re-lection, citing frustration with the lack of progress in the peace process.

A right-wing Cabinet minister made the annexation threat in an interview Monday with Israel Radio, according to Reuters, following a more vague warning from Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu over the weekend.

The Israeli daily Haaretz carried a response from Labor Industry and Trade Minister Benjamin Ben Eliezer, from the Labor Party.

Palestinians and much of the international community see Israel's continued building of settlements on occupied Palestinian land as a violation of international law and United Nations resolutions.

Observers doubt the Palestinians would get very far in their bid to declare statehood through the United Nations. According to the Wall Street Journal: "The move is highly unlikely to progress in the international body, but it represents the latest sign of Palestinian frustration at the halting progress of U.S.-brokered peace efforts."

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See also: Israel rejects Palestinian statehood bid via the UN.

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