Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said Sunday that the real threat to regional security is not West Bank settlements but rather Iran’s nuclear program. He reiterated his pledge not to evacuate West Bank settlements should he be reelected in the upcoming national vote.
Speaking to his cabinet, Netanyahu said he told a group of visiting US senators this weekend that “the problem is not building [settlements]… The problem in the Middle East is Iran’s attempt to build nuclear weapons… This was, and remains, the main mission facing not only myself and Israel, but the entire world.”
Netanyahu also promised in an interview published Sunday with the Walla news site that so long as he is prime minister, Iran will not acquire nuclear weapons.
“But in order for that not to happen, it is necessary to garner the strength to lead the State of Israel and focus on the essentials,” he said.
With less than 48 hours remaining before parliamentary elections, Netanyahu again touted his pro-settlement record to Walla news.
“I have not uprooted a single settlement and I do not plan to uproot any settlements,” he said. “The whole method of bulldozing has been wrung out and we have seen where it has led to. We uprooted settlements and got rockets. I do not intend to do that.”
Netanyahu said his government intended to approve some construction outside the main settlement blocs, but noted that the majority of West Bank building had taken place in the major settlement areas.
“Everybody knows that the Etzion bloc, Ariel, and Maaleh Adumim will all stay part of the State of Israel” in a future agreement with the Palestinians, and the remainder “will be up for negotiations but to the extent possible” will remain Israeli, he said.
Last week, Peace Now reported that 2012 was a record year for settlement construction; hours later, the Construction and Housing Ministry announced tenders for 198 housing units for Jews in the West Bank.
In a Friday interview on Channel 1, Netanyahu said that, contrary to the contentions of Palestinian and international leaders, he does not regard settlements to be the cause of the impasse between Israel and the Palestinians.
“I don’t believe that settlements are the root of the conflict, I don’t believe that territorial dimensions are the root of the conflict,” he said. “The root of the conflict was and remains the refusal to recognize the Jewish state within any border.”