In a scathing criticism of international opposition to Israeli plans to build additional housing units beyond the Green Line, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said Thursday that expanding already existing Jewish settlements does not impede the peace talks with the Palestinians.
“I don’t think it’s an obstacle to peace at all,” Netanyahu said at an event organized by the Government Press Office in Jerusalem. “Because the fact is that Jews live here on this land. I mean, what do they want, an ethnically cleansed state? They want to uproot people? I don’t think that’s going to advance peace.”
Netanyahu made his comments several hours after Israeli ambassadors in several European capitals, including London, Rome and Paris, were called in by their host countries to hear complaints over Israel’s settlement plans.
Netanyahu said the move was hypocritical.
“The European Union called in our ambassadors in the EU because of the construction of a few houses? When did the EU call in the Palestinian ambassadors to complain about the incitement that calls for Israel’s destruction? When do the Palestinian ambassadors get called in to hear complaints about the fact that security officers in the Palestinian security forces are participating in terrorist attacks against innocent Israelis?”
Last week the Housing Ministry announced plans to build 1,400 new homes over the Green Line, issuing the details soon after the end of a visit to the region by US Secretary of State John Kerry.
The prime minister defended settlement building as only happening within urban clusters and said that Israel hadn’t added a new settlement for 20 years.
“The fact that you add a few houses in the existing communities doesn’t change the map one iota,” Netanyahu said. “So this is a bogus claim.”
It is time to “stop this hypocrisy,” Netanyahu said. “I think it’s time to inject some balance and fairness into this discussion. I think this imbalance and this bias against Israel doesn’t advance peace. I think it pushes peace further away because it tells the Palestinians you can basically do anything you want, say anything you want, incite any way you want, and you won’t be held accountable.”
Addressing foreign journalists and diplomats at the event, Netanyahu also said that condemnations of Israeli settlement expansion during the current US-brokered peace talks are unfair because it was known in advance that construction would continue even during the negotiations.
“We’re keeping in line exactly with the understanding that we undertook at the beginning of the talks,” the prime minister said, asserting that it was “clear that Israel undertook no restraints on construction. That was understood,” he said. “So when people tell me that these negotiations are hampered by this, [they need to remember] that was part of the deal. Unspoken, unwritten, informal, everybody will say that they oppose it, but it was very clear.”
Earlier in the week, a US official denied claims that settlement plan announcement had been coordinated with the US.
According to Housing Ministry spokesman Arik Ben Shimon, 801 units were approved for West Bank settlements in the latest building plans, including 227 in Efrat, 169 in Elkana and 40 in Ariel.
In addition, Karnei Shomron would see an additional 86 units, Alfei Menashe 78, Adam 75, Beitar Illit 24, and Emanuel 102.
The Jerusalem neighborhood of Ramat Shlomo, over the Green Line, would receive another 600 units.