A day before national elections, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Monday attended a cornerstone-laying ceremony for a new neighborhood in a West Bank settlement and said his Likud party supports the legalization of unrecognized outposts.
“We support the regulation of the young settlement movement communities,” Netanyahu said at the ceremony in Revava, employing terminology used by pro-settler groups for outposts.
He blamed the lack of official recognition of the community on his power-sharing agreement with Defense Minister Benny Gantz’s Blue and White party in the outgoing government.
“Why didn’t we pass the entire regulation? Because we were in a rotation [government]. We didn’t have 61 [Knesset seats]. Now we can change that,” the premier said.
He added: “A right-wing government under my leadership will continue to build in the Land of Israel.”
Netanyahu has in the past made similar pre-election promises that weren’t kept. Last year he vowed to annex settlements and West Bank lands slated for Israel under then US president Donald Trump’s peace plan, but shelved the plan as part of the agreement to normalize ties with the United Arab Emirates. He insisted, though, that the plan was “not off the table” but needed White House backing to be implemented.
He reiterated in an interview Saturday that he will only go through with annexing parts of the West Bank if the US president backs the move, a remote prospect under Democrat Joe Biden.
In January, Netanyahu sought to legalize several outposts but was thwarted by Gantz.
While the international community considers all settlement activity illegal, Israel differentiates between legal settlement homes built and permitted by the Defense Ministry on land owned by the state, and illegal outposts built without necessary permits, sometimes on private Palestinian land.
Some 120 outposts exist throughout the West Bank. Most of the small communities were established by national religious settlers intent on expanding Israeli presence in the West Bank while preventing the establishment of a future Palestinian state.
Netanyahu’s trip to Revava came a day after his right-wing rivals Naftali Bennett and Gideon Sa’ar, who respectively head the Yamina and New Hope parties, visited the West Bank.
The two attended a conference near Khan al-Ahmar, a Bedouin village slated for demolition.
In 2018, the Supreme Court okayed the state’s plans to raze the hamlet east of Jerusalem and Netanyahu has pledged to do so. However, the move has been repeatedly delayed amid concerns over the expected diplomatic fallout.
The razing of Khan al-Ahmar has been a key concern for many settlers, as well as others in the broader Israeli right, who have criticized the government for carrying out demolitions at the Netiv Ha’avot and Amona outposts while allowing the Palestinian village to remain standing.
There has been strong international pressure on Israel to reverse its plans to raze the village, which Israeli authorities say was built illegally. The village is located near several major Israeli settlements and close to a highway leading to the Dead Sea.