Thousands on Monday paid their final respects to Ariel mayor and former Likud MK Ron Nachman, who succumbed to cancer Friday at the age of 70. Among the dignitaries in attendance at his funeral were Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, Strategic Affairs Minister Moshe Ya’alon, Finance Minister Yuval Steinitz and Education Minister Gideon Sa’ar.

Nachman, known for his fiery personality and commanding media presence, helped establish Ariel in 1978 and served as its first mayor. He became its mayor again in 1985, and had filled the post ever since.

“Israel departs from Ron — the one and the only, the unforgettable — with grief and sorrow,” Netanyahu eulogized the deceased politician. “Dear Ron, you were a great friend and a true partner. I first met you when I was envoy to the UN, and even then you spoke enthusiastically about erecting a university town in Samaria.”

In late 2012, Israel made the then-Ariel University Center into a full-fledged university, drawing international and some local criticism.

Netanyahu noted Nachman’s 35 years of devoted service to Ariel. “I had the privilege to recognize it as a city during my first term, and Ron was to remain at its helm until his death. Ron was blessed with a great soul, but also with a sense of humor, and his smile will be with us forever.

“Ariel is a key link in the security belt around the State of Israel, just as Jerusalem will forever remain our capital,” the prime minister added. “The tree I once planted here together with you shall never be uprooted.”

Jewish Home leader Naftali Bennett also paid his respects at the funeral, saying of Nachman, “Not many people can boast building a city. Ron’s determination brought about the prosperity of this city.”

“When I first met him he told me: ‘Remove the word occupation from your lexicon. You can’t occupy your own home,'” said Bennett. “And it really is our home.”

“Without Ron Nachman all that we see today in Ariel would not have come to be,” Netanyahu concluded.

Ariel is the fourth-largest settlement in the West Bank, and it’s the largest settlement that does not lie adjacent to Israel’s pre-1967 borders. It has a current population of approximately 18,600 residents.