BENJAMIN Netanyahu has delivered his most uncompromising rebuff yet to international pressure for a peace deal with the Palestinians by promising not to dismantle a single Jewish settlement if re-elected as Israel's prime minister.
With polls showing him losing support to hardline pro-settler parties before Tuesday's election, Mr Netanyahu said he would not emulate previous Israeli governments by abandoning settlements in exchange for peace.
Asked by the newspaper 'Maariv' to guarantee that his next government would not demolish settlements, he declared: "The days of bulldozers flattening settlements is behind us, not in front of us." He also rejected US and European pressure to cease building in east Jerusalem and the West Bank on land the Palestinians want for a future state, saying: "The freezing of settlements has run its course."
The pledges were driven by polls showing the pro-settler Jewish Home party, led by Naftali Bennett, continuing to drain support from Mr Netanyahu's Likud Beiteinu bloc, jeopardising the prime minister's chances of forming a balanced, centre-based coalition.
Mr Bennett has wooed settlers by saying his conscience would prevent him from obeying orders to evict Jews from ancient biblical lands in the West Bank.
Refusing to freeze settlements amounted to a further snub to the Obama administration and the EU, which have condemned a recent wave of announcements to build more than 6,000 homes on occupied Palestinian territory.
Peace negotiations have been stalled since 2010 after Mr Netanyahu refused to bow to demands from Mahmoud Abbas, the Palestinian Authority president, that settlement building be halted as a pre-condition to talks.
However, Mr Netanyahu dismissed claims that the issue was derailing the peace process and insisted that the Palestinian reluctance to return to negotiations stemmed from an unwillingness to accept Israel's existence.
"When Israel unilaterally retreated from the Gaza Strip, the Palestinians continued showering Israel with missiles.
"They made it clear that their aim was not the liberation of Judea and Samaria (the West Bank) but the liberation of Ashdod and Beer Sheva (towns in Israel). That is the true Palestine. They are not willing to put an end to the conflict and not willing to acknowledge the Jewish state," he said.
Mr Netanyahu acknowledged in a separate interview that he and US President Barack Obama disagreed over how they might reach peace but dismissed warnings that his policies risked losing Israel the support of the Americans. (© Daily Telegraph, London)