Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Tuesday implored right-wing leaders to unify behind him in future peace efforts, promising that he would not bring a “tragedy” upon the settlements and that not a single settler would be uprooted as part of a peace deal with the Palestinians.
In his remarks in the Knesset, during an event marking 50 years since the Six Day War and the beginning of the settlement enterprise, Netanyahu also hinted that US President Donald Trump was sticking to traditional peace-making formulas, influenced by “50 years of propaganda.”
‘We are still facing this problem,” he said, vaguely but unhappily, “… even when a new administration enters.”
During the election campaign, right-wing leaders had touted Trump as more supportive of the settlements than any of predecessors, buoyed by his campaign pledge to relocate the US embassy to Jerusalem and the reluctance by his fledgling White House administration to condemn West Bank building. However, those hopes have largely been dashed in the months since, as Trump has repeatedly expressed a desire to cut the “ultimate deal” between Israel and the Palestinians and sought curbs on settlement building. Trump told Netanyahu publicly in February to hold back a little on settlements.
Seeking to reassure the settler leaders, whom he referred to as “my friends” and “the pioneers of our generation,” Netanyahu pledged he would always protect the settlements.
“Alongside our desire to reach an agreement with our Palestinian neighbors, we will continue to protect the settlement enterprise and strengthen it,” says Netanyahu. “We are doing this responsibly and with discretion.”
He said that in talks with world leaders, in addition to demanding the Palestinians recognize Israel as a Jewish state, “I explain that everyone has the right to live in their home, that no man will be uprooted from his home.”
“No one will be uprooted from his home,” he reiterated, to applause. Netanyahu has in the past floated the suggestion that settlers be allowed to remain in Jewish enclaves within a Palestinian state, an idea forcefully rejected by the Palestinians.
Netanyahu argued that the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is “not a territorial dispute” but rather stems from the Palestinians’ refusal to recognize the Jewish state and their desire to “destroy the country.”
Thanks to attempts by Israel to drive this message home to world leaders, it “is starting to sink in,” he said, but “there is much work to be done.”
“Fifty years of propaganda” to the international community on the root of the conflict will not quickly be unraveled, he said. “We’ve made some strides, but there is a long way to go.
“And therefore, even when we went through difficult changes… here we are still facing this problem — even when [US] governments change, even when a new administration enters,” said Netanyahu. “I will not detail here what ideas were raised; those who need to know, know. And we did not accept things that would have harmed our basic rights and essential matters.”
In a plea for unity, Netanyahu promised again that the settlements would not be disturbed.
“I am doing what is necessary to protect the Jewish settlements in Judea and Samaria… we will continue to develop it. And we will not bring a tragedy upon the settlements, if we agree to work together. This is the most important thing — to work together.”
The prime minister also defended the security cabinet decision to self-impose some curbs on settlement expansion. The announcement on March 31 said future construction would be limited to existing settlement boundaries or adjacent to them. However, according to the decision, if legal, security or topographical limitations do not allow adherence to those guidelines, new homes will be built outside the current settlement boundaries but as close as possible to them. While billed as restrictions, the directives allow for considerable construction.
We are building “from the inside [of settlements] out,” he said. “This is the rule we decided on. This is something I think gives us a lot [of leeway].”
Regarding the Six Day War, Netanyahu maintained that Israel did not take the territory from any sovereign nation, saying that Jordan was retaining certain areas but without full international recognition.
“When the IDF waved its flag in Judea and Samaria and the Jordan Valley, it did not take control of an area from any sovereign state,” he said. “We did not take a foreign land… this is our country.”