In a desperate bid to win far-right votes on the eve of neck-and-neck elections in Israel, embattled Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu delivered a surprise announcement on Monday rescinding his 2009 pledge to support a two-state solution to his country's impasse with Palestinians.
"I think that anyone who moves to establish a Palestinian state and evacuate territory gives territory away to radical Islamist attacks against Israel," Netanyahu said in an interview published by the website NRG, an outlet associated with the pro-settler newspaper Makor Rishon and funded by billionaire casino magnate Sheldon Adelson. "The left has buried its head in the sand time after time and ignores this, but we are realistic and understand."
When asked if he meant that a Palestinian state would not be established if he remained in power, the Likud Party leader replied in the affirmative.
While critics of Netanyahu's period in office note that his expansion of Jewish settlement construction in disputed land has always reflected a disinclination to deal honestly with the prospect of a Palestinian state, Monday's remarks are the sharpest indication that he has abandoned the pledge he delivered in 2009.
"If we receive a guarantee for security arrangements needed for Israel, and if the Palestinians recognize Israel as the home of the Jewish people, we will be willing in a future peace deal to reach a solution of a demilitarized Palestinian state side by side with the Jewish state," Netanyahu remarked in a speech delivered six years ago at Israel's Bar-Ilan University.
Netanyahu was already seen as having flip-flopped on the two-state issue earlier this month after his Likud Party released a statement attributed to the prime minister saying that the establishment of a Palestinian state was no longer relevant to the reality in the region.
"Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said that any evacuated territory would fall into the hands of Islamic extremism and terror organizations supported by Iran," the statement said. "Therefore, there will be no withdrawals and no concessions. It is simply irrelevant."
The line was quickly denied by the prime minister's office, and subsequent coverage suggested that the comment had in fact been drafted by another Likud politician.
Also on Monday, Netanyahu visited Har Homa, a controversial West Bank settlement built with his backing when he was first elected prime minister in 1996. Addressing a crowd of Likud supporters at the Jewish outpost, he claimed that if the political opposition were to take power, Jerusalem would be turned into "Hamastan."
The last polls before Tuesday's election show the Likud Party lagging between two to four seats behind its closest rival, the Zionist Union — a center-left coalition formed by Hatnuah and the Israeli Labor Party.
With just hours to go before polls open, Netanyahu's comments to NRG appear to be part of a wider effort to draw voters from the far-right parties over to Likud.
One particular example is Israel is Our Home. The Zionist party led by Avigdor Lieberman is one of a cluster of small parties that may not receive enough votes to pass the new 3.25 percent threshold to enter the Knesset following Tuesday's vote, and the prime minister seems to hope that a last-minute swing of its supporters towards Likud will be enough to close the gap.
At a right-wing rally in Tel Aviv on Saturday, Netanyahu told a cheering crowd of around 20,000 that a leftist plot backed by foreign funding was trying to oust him. He also said that he would never allow Jerusalem to be divided, dismissing the aim of Palestinians to base the capital of their own state in East Jerusalem.
"If Jews cannot build in Jerusalem, where can they build?" he asked to applause.
Chief Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erekat responded to the prime minister's statement by asserting that the Israeli leader was never serious about fostering piece with the Palestinian Liberation Organization.
"Netanyahu has done everything possible to bury the two-state solution," he said. "Netanyahu's statement at the illegal settlement of Har Homa is a response to all those governments who tried to block Palestinian diplomatic initiatives. He couldn't have done that without counting on full impunity from the international community. Now the world must learn its lesson and understand that impunity won't bring peace, only justice will."
Follow Harriet Salem on Twitter: @HarrietSalem