Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, reversing an earlier stance on Palestinian statehood, says he will never support a Palestinian state if he is returned to office in Tuesday's elections.
Netanyahu spoke a day before Israel's nearly 6 million voters go to the polls to decide whether the conservative Likud party leader will serve a fourth term as prime minister.
Trailing his center-left opponent Zionist Union leader Isaac Herzog in opinion polls, the three-term leader has sought to shift the focus away from socioeconomic issues and on to security challenges, saying he alone can defend Israel.
Having previously hinted that he would accept a Palestinian state, Netanyahu reversed course on Monday, citing risks that he linked to the regional spread of Islamist militancy. He said that if he is re-elected, the Palestinians would not get the independent state they seek in the occupied West Bank, East Jerusalem and Gaza.
"Whoever moves to establish a Palestinian state or intends to withdraw from territory is simply yielding territory for radical Islamic terrorist attacks against Israel," he told the Israeli news site NRG.
Asked if that meant a state would not be established if he remained prime minister, he said: "Indeed."
Herzog, leader of Israel's Labor party, favors reviving peace talks with U.S.-backed Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas. Herzog's centrist running mate, Tzipi Livni, was formerly a member of Netanyahu's conservative coalition government and handled negotiations with Abbas until they stalled last April.
Herzog and Livni have accused Netanyahu of playing up fears over the Palestinians and Iran's nuclear program to distract voters from the high cost of living and other social issues, which according to surveys are Israelis' principal concerns.
With neither Netanyahu or Herzog expected to win the 61-seat parliamentary majority, there has been a furious campaign push by the candidates to rally support from smaller groups ranging from communist and Arab-led parties to orthodox Jewish blocs.
No single party has ever won an outright majority in the legislature, making coalitions the norm. Israel's president picks the political leader whom he believes has the best chance of forming a coalition to have a go first.
In that respect, Netanyahu's pledge, coupled with his visit to a prominent West Bank settlement earlier on Monday where he promised to go on building on occupied land, appeared designed to draw as much of the right-wing vote as possible.
Tuesday's polls were called by Netanyahu three months ago when he fired his senior coalition partners. Analysts say these elections have become a referendum on the prime minister's leadership.
Netanyahu critics cite his reversal on Palestinian statehood as evidence that he was never fully committed to the long-stalled Middle East peace process. Supporters largely attribute his revised stance to rising tensions with Hamas and its widely perceived Iranian backers.
Some information for this report provided by Reuters.