‘We’re Here to Stay, forever. We will deepen our roots, build, strengthen and settle,’ Netanyahu tells settlers
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu declared that he will not evacuate Israeli settlements in the West Bank.
“We are here to stay, forever,” the prime minister said at an event in the settlement of Barkan, commemorating the 50th anniversary of Israel’s occupation of the West Bank.
“There will be no more uprooting of settlements in the land of Israel. It has been proven that it does not help peace,” he said. “We’ve uprooted settlements. What did we get? We received missiles. It will not happen anymore.
“And there’s another reasons that we will look after this place, because it looks after us. In light of everything that is occurring around us, we can just imagine the result,” he said, citing threats to Israel’s Ben Gurion International Airport and a main highway that runs along the border with the West Bank.
“So we will not fold. We are guarding Samaria against those who want to uproot us. We will deepen our roots, build, strengthen and settle,” he said, using the Jewish name for part of the West Bank.
The prime minister has made similar pledges in the past. “I have no intention of evacuating any settlement or uprooting any Israeli,” he said in a January 2014 briefing for Israeli reporters between his meetings with then-U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry in Davos, Switzerland. “The days of bulldozers uprooting Jews are behind us, not ahead of us,” he said in an interview with the Maariv daily in January 2013.
Settlements are one of the core issues in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. The issue reached headlines only last week, as part of U.S. attempts to restart the peace process, when Donald Trump’s senior adviser Jared Kushner met with Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas.
Palestinians are still seeking a pledge of support from the Trump administration for the creation of a Palestinian state alongside Israel – the foundation of U.S. Middle East policy for the past two decades. The last round of peace talks between the two sides collapsed in 2014.
For his part, Netanyahu faces pressure from right-wing coalition partners not to give ground on Jewish settlement building in occupied territory that Palestinians seek for an independent state. The settlement issue contributed to the breakdown of negotiations three years ago.
Most countries consider settlement activity illegal and an obstacle to peace. Israel disagrees, citing biblical, historical and political connections to the land – many of which the Palestinians also claim – as well as security interests.
Education Minister Naftali Bennet also spoke at the event, attended by a few thousand residents of the surrounding settlements, saying “we shouldn’t need permits, building in Judea and Samaria should be unrestricted. The freedom to build in our country.”
Netanyahu added that “it’s simply wonderful to see the developments here. I remember when we came to Barkan and we saw the vineyards, we saw the grapes, we stomped on the grapes – but today there are new grapes here. In the [settlement of] Tapuach, there’s high-tech fruits, and this industry is ripe. We are working to advance industry, employment, water, tourism, public diplomacy and to fight against organizations calling for a boycott.
“We are doing this for two reasons: the first reason is simple, this is the land of our forefathers. This is our country.”
This was the third time this week that Netanyahu spoke inside the West Bank this year. Earlier this summer, he spoke at the stone laying ceremony of the ultra-Orthodox town of Betar Ilit, and at the cornerstone laying ceremony at Ariel University’s department of medicine, which Sheldon Adelson also attended.
An estimated 450,000-500,000 Israelis live across the Green Line including the Jewish neighborhoods of East Jerusalem. A widespread consensus has emerged that any future agreement on a two-state solution should include some of the settlement blocs (anywhere from 2 to 5 percent of the area beyond the Green Line) within Israel’s permanent border. Some past and present Israeli officials cite security rationale, while others say that uprooting so many people from their homes is not a viable option. Israel, in exchange, would agree to swap a more-or-less equivalent amount of its own land with a future Palestinian state.
Judy Maltz and Reuters contributed background to this report
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