November 16, 2009 / 9:07 AM / 10 years ago

Israel could annex more of West Bank - minister

JERUSALEM, Nov 16 (Reuters) - An Israeli cabinet minister said on Monday Israel could annex more of the West Bank if Palestinians declared statehood without concluding a peace agreement.

"If the Palestinians take such a unilateral line, Israel should also consider ... passing a law to annex some of the settlements," Environment Minister Gilad Erdan, a close ally of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, told Israel Radio.

Without setting a timeframe, Palestinian officials said on Sunday the Palestinians planned to go to the U.N. Security Council in an effort to secure international support for an independent state in the West Bank and Gaza Strip.

Palestinians attributed the move to frustration at the lack of progress in peace talks, which have been stalled for a year. Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas has said negotiations cannot resume until Israel halts settlement expansion.

The Palestinian remarks on possible unilateral steps prompted a warning from Netanyahu, who said in a speech on Sunday that only peace talks with Israel would secure a Palestinian state.

"There is no substitute for negotiations between Israel and the Palestinian Authority and any unilateral path will only unravel the framework of agreements between us and will only bring unilateral steps from Israel’s side," Netanyahu said.

Palestinian officials said their diplomatic initiative was not aimed at a unilateral declaration of independence. Its goal was to formalise international support for the state the Palestinians want to establish, they said.

Erdan, in the radio interview, discussed other sanctions open to Israel, which captured the West Bank in a 1967 war and annexed some of the territory along with Arab East Jerusalem.

"Everything is open ... it could begin at stopping the transfer of money that the Israeli government currently transfers to the Palestinian Authority," he said, referring to tax payments Israel collects on the Authority’s behalf under interim peace deals.

Erdan said Israel might also consider tightening recently loosened travel restrictions on Palestinians in the West Bank.

Industry and Trade minister Binyamin Ben Eliezer from the centre-left Labour party said negotiations were the only viable option and dismissed the threats to make unilateral moves.

"In my opinion this whole thing about annexation is just words. I think the Palestinian threat also is just words. A ping-pong of declarations will get us nowhere, the only way forward is to bring the sides together for negotiations," he told Army Radio. (Writing by Ori Lewis; Editing by xSamia Nakhoul)

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