Likud ministers promote conference on reestablishing Israeli settlements in Gaza

Katz and Zohar urge participation in Jerusalem gathering, which they will attend, assert that Israeli communities in Palestinian territory are only path to security

Tourism minister Haim Katz arrives for a cabinet meeting at the Prime Minister's Office in Jerusalem on December 10, 2023. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)
Tourism minister Haim Katz arrives for a cabinet meeting at the Prime Minister's Office in Jerusalem on December 10, 2023. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

Two Likud ministers are promoting an upcoming conference that calls for the reestablishment of Israeli settlements in the Gaza Strip as a way to boost security for Israel after the war against the Hamas terror group ends.

Tourism Minister Haim Katz and Sports and Culture Minister Miki Zohar have encouraged attendance at the conference, in which several other lawmakers from Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s ruling Likud party also plan to participate, the Ynet outlet reported Tuesday.

Ministers and lawmakers from the far-right Otzma Yehudit and Religious Zionism parties will also take part in the event.

The conference, under the heading “Only settlement will bring security,” is organized by a group of movements that want to resettle Gaza, led by Samaria Regional Council head Yossi Dagan and the Nachala Settlement Movement. It is scheduled for Sunday at the International Convention Center in Jerusalem.

So far, Zohar and Katz, and Likud MKs Hanoch Milwidsky, Nissim Vaturi, Amit Halevi, Tally Gotliv, Etty Hava Atia, Moshe Passal and Ariel Kallner have all said they will attend, according to the report.

Israel’s mainstream leaders have repeatedly dismissed the idea of reestablishing settlements in Gaza, though the military campaign in the Strip to fell Hamas following the October 7 massacre — when terrorists rampaged through southern Israel, killing 1,200 people and taking 253 hostages — has raised hopes among some stalwarts of the settlement movement.

Israel withdrew from the Gaza Strip in 2005, dismantling its settlements in the territory and leaving it in the control of the Palestinian Authority. Hamas took control of Gaza in a violent coup in 2007, and no elections have been held since. In the years since its withdrawal from Gaza, Israel has faced repeated attacks from terror groups, primarily Hamas, based in the coastal enclave. Alongside the evacuation from Gaza in 2005, several small outposts and settlements in the northern West Bank were emptied of their residents.

The Palestinians want the Gaza Strip as part of a future Palestinian state, excluding the presence of Israeli settlements in the enclave.

A poster advocates for the resettlement of Gush Katif and the Gaza Strip amid Operation Swords of Iron, October 23, 2023. (Shalom Yerushalmi)

In a statement lauding the conference, Katz said reestablishing the settlements “will be a resolute message to our murderous enemies that we will never be broken.”

The Hamas attack on October 7, showed the “folly of uprooting the settlements in Gush Katif and northern Samaria must be corrected,” he said, referring to the evacuated communities in Gaza and the northern West Bank, respectively.

Removing the settlements, Katz said, “created the Nazi monster in the Gaza Strip and the wave of terror that has come out of northern Samaria in recent years.”

He claimed that most of the Israeli public agrees with the principle that “only settlement brings security.”

A December survey found that 56 percent of the Israeli public oppose reestablishing settlements in the Gaza Strip.

Sports and Culture Minister Zohar said in a promotional video that the conference will explain “why settlement is important, why preventing the establishing of a Palestinian state is important.”

October 7, he said, showed that the only way for Israel to be victorious is “through the values and principles” expressed by the settlement enterprise.

Culture and Sports Miki Zohar arrives for a cabinet meeting at the Prime Minister’s Office in Jerusalem on December 10, 2023. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

“When the terrorists understand that in response to what they do, we will settle this land, they will quickly come to different conclusions from what they thought on October 7,” Zohar said.

Other cabinet members and coalition lawmakers set to attend the conference are National Security Minister Itamar Ben Gvir; Minister for the Development of the Periphery, the Negev and the Galilee Yitzhak Wasserlauf; and Heritage Minister Amichai Eliyahu, all from the Otzma Yehudit party. Fellow party members MKs Limor Son Har Melch, Yitzhak Kroizer, Almog Cohen and Zvika Fogel will also attend, the report said. Religious Zionism MKs Moshe Salomon, Zvi Sukkot and Michal Woldiger are also planning to participate.

The report did not say if Religious Zionism leader Finance Minister Bezalel Smotrich will be at the conference, although he has publicly called for resettling Gaza and the transfer of Palestinians out of the territory.

His remarks at the beginning of the month, which were echoed by Ben Gvir, drew a rebuke from the US, with State Department spokesman Matthew Miller saying, “This rhetoric is inflammatory and irresponsible.”

Smotrich and Ben Gvir both rejected the US criticism.

For months, Netanyahu has bucked US requests to begin planning for who will govern the Gaza Strip after the war, ostensibly recognizing that his far-right coalition partners would reject proposals that do not include Israel’s re-occupation and resettlement of Gaza — which the security establishment and Washington oppose.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu speaks during a press conference at the Defense Ministry in Tel Aviv on January 18, 2024. (Yariv Katz/Flash90/Pool)

Netanyahu has not personally addressed the uproar over resettlement calls, but his office has issued statements insisting they do not represent government policy.

However, he has also made clear his determination not to allow a full-fledged, Palestinian state to emerge, apparently contrasting the expectations of Washington.

The Biden administration has called for the war against Hamas to wind down alongside a pathway toward a two-state solution at the end of the fight.

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