Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu vowed Wednesday that no West Bank settlement homes would be demolished on his watch, after plans he advanced to grant permits for new Palestinian construction raised hackles among settler leaders.
“No settlement or settler will be uprooted. That is over,” Netanyahu said during a tour of the Efrat settlement, just south of Bethlehem. “What you’re doing here is forever.”
Netanyahu told Efrat Mayor Oded Revivi, one of the few settler leaders to voice support for the new construction permits for Palestinians, that he would advance plans for a further 8,250 housing units to be built in Efrat.
The premier inaugurated a new promenade alongside Revivi, who unveiled a plaque praising Netanyahu as “a builder and loyal partner of Efrat.”
In addition to the 700 building permits for Palestinians in Israeli-controlled Area C of the West Bank, the security cabinet approved on Tuesday 6,000 such licenses for homes in neighboring settlements.
The approvals came ahead of the arrival this week of a US delegation led by senior White House adviser Jared Kushner, who is slated to visit Israel and other countries in the region in order to promote US President Donald Trump’s administration’s peace plan.
In Efrat, Netanyahu, who is running for reelection, touted the advancement of new settlement construction during his tenure and what he said was his deep familiarity with the American public.
“You can’t do this without two significant things: a lot of experience, alongside a true ability to influence public opinion in the United States. Therefore we succeeded in acting and succeeding resolutely and wisely, even when the government was against us,” he said, in an apparent shot at the Obama administration.
“If there is no capability for public diplomacy and opposition in the United States, there will be concessions and capitulations,” Netanyahu added.
The prime minister has frequently boasted on the campaign trail of his close ties to Trump, who has been far more tolerant of settlement construction than his predecessors.
Most of the international community opposes Israel’s military and civilian presence in the West Bank, which it considers to be part of the territory of a future Palestinian state.
Left-wing NGO Peace Now called the approval of the Palestinian homes a “mockery,” alleging in a statement that the goal was to “promote the annexation of Area C and harm the chances for a Palestinian state.
“This is a step meant to advance the de facto extension of sovereignty by implementing planning steps according to the right-wing settler interests.”
Also Wednesday, Netanyahu’s chief election rival Benny Gantz toured the Jordan Valley, which he vowed would remain under Israeli control in any peace agreement, echoing one of the prime minister’s talking points.
“This is the eastern defensive shield of the State of Israel,” the Ynet news site quoted the Blue and White party leader as saying.
Gantz, a former military chief of staff, called for plans to improve infrastructure at settlements in the area, while saying the Palestinian residents of the Jordan Valley would be allowed to stay.
“We won’t move Palestinians from the valley. We’ll provide for them all their needs, but we’ll fight against all the water theft and lawbreakers,” he said.
Gantz has vowed to make reaching a peace agreement with the Palestinians a top priority if he’s elected prime minister, but has avoided explicitly endorsing the two-state solution formula favored by most countries.
Jacob Magid contributed to this report.