BARKAN, West Bank — Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu pledged on Monday that his government will never evacuate another settlement, issuing the promise days after he met with a US delegation to discuss restarting the peace process with the Palestinians.
At an event celebrating 50 years of Israeli settlements in Samaria — the biblical name for the northern West Bank — Netanyahu told a crowd of thousands, “We are here to stay forever. There will be no more uprooting of settlements in the land of Israel.”
“This is the inheritance of our ancestors,” he said. “This is our land.’
He also stressed the dangers Israel would face if it withdrew from the West Bank, a key demand of the Palestinians in any future peace deal.
“Samaria is a strategic asset for the State of Israel,” the prime minister said. “It is the key to our future. Because from these high hills, the heights of Mount Hatzor, we can see the entire country, from one side to the other.”
He said that Israel had withdrawn from settlements in the past but received nothing in return.
“We’ve uprooted settlements. What did we get? We received missiles. It will not happen again,” the prime minister said, referring to Israel’s 2005 withdrawal from the Gaza Strip. “To those who want to uproot what we’ve planted, [I say] we will deepen our roots.”
“Imagine that on these hills were the forces of radical Islam,” Netanyahu said that he tells world leaders. “It would endanger us, it would endanger you, and it would endanger the entire Middle East.”
The prime minister also gave his recollections of the first time he came to Samaria, as a soldier, and said that he felt he was walking in the footsteps of the patriarchs, walking the hills with a Bible in his hand.
“I remember the excitement that gripped me when I came to Shiloh, the place where the [biblical] kingdom of Israel stood,” he said.
Netanyahu has spoken at three events in the West Bank in the last two months. Earlier in August, he addressed a ceremony marking the establishment of a new neighborhood in Beitar Illit. And in June, he spoke at ceremony inaugurating a new medical school at Ariel University, which was funded by casino magnate Sheldon Adelson.
Netanyahu’s comments came days after the visit of a delegation from US President Donald Trump, who is looking to get the Israelis and the Palestinians back to the negotiating table.
A senior Palestinian official said Monday that the Americans last week asked for a three-to-four-month “grace period” in order to prepare and present a peace plan.
Nabil Shaath, speaking to the official Voice of Palestine radio, said the Palestinians had reiterated their demands that Israel end settlement construction and withdraw from the West Bank, which Israel captured in the 1967 Six Day War.
Shaath, a former Palestinian negotiator, said that the Palestinians told the American delegation its demands are “the end of the occupation, the establishment of an independent Palestinian state on 1967 borders with East Jerusalem as its capital, as well as the resolution of all permanent status issues, including the right return for [Palestinian] refugees.”
Netanyahu was enthusiastically welcomed by settler leader Yossi Dagan, and the large, exclusively religious, crowd greeted the prime minister’s words with loud cheers.
Speaking to The Times of Israel after the event, Dagan said that while the event was “nice and festive, this was also a political event. We had the prime minister here and a majority of government ministers. This sends a clear message on the importance of Samaria.”
But not everyone felt the same way about the prime minister, who was responsible for the evacuation of the illegal Amona outpost in February.
While the international community regards all Israeli construction over the Green Line as illegitimate, Israel officially differentiates between government-approved settlements and wildcat outposts built on private land, which are sometimes evacuated and demolished in compliance with court orders.
Israel demolished the Amona outpost in February after a 10-year legal battle during which the High Court determined it had been built on private land.
Asked what he thought of the warm reception, long-time settler leader Benny Katzover said, “I’m here to support Yossi Dagan.”
A statement from the residents of the Netiv Ha’avot outpost, which is slated to be demolished in March, struck a similar tone. “The prime minister thinks that people who are expelled from their homes… were not uprooted,” they said, referring to the Amona evacuees. “From our point of view, the unnecessary destruction of homes is the same as uprooting, and we will not make it easier on this government.”
Fifteen homes are slated to be demolished in the Netiv Ha’avot neighborhood in the settlement of Elazar after the High Court of Justice ruled that they had been constructed on private Palestinian land.