Speaking Wednesday at a state ceremony to mark 50 years of Israeli settlements in the West Bank, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu vowed that the Jewish communities in the territory will never be uprooted.
“Settlement is important to you in the same way that it is important to me, so I say very clearly: There will be no further uprooting of settlements in the land of Israel,” Netanyahu told the crowd at the event, which was held in the Gush Etzion bloc, a key settlement region that lies south of Jerusalem.
The prime minister was joined at the gathering by a roll call of ministers and dignitaries including Knesset Speaker Yuli Edelstein — but no representative from the Supreme Court after its chief justice, Miriam Naor, balked at sending a representative, saying that the court should not be involved in controversial political events.
“The way to make peace is not through uprooting — not of Jews and not of Arabs,” Netanyahu said.
“We did not get peace when we uprooted settlements, we got terror and missiles and we will not do that again,” he continued, referring to Israel’s 2005 pullout from the Gaza Strip. “The Gush will always be part of the State of Israel.”
“Any territory that falls into the hands of radical Islam becomes the basis for violence, murder and death, and so we will not abandon our national home to danger,” Netanyahu said. “Instead we will strengthen our home with this momentum.”
Much of the international community views West Bank settlements as illegal and has frequently tried to pressure Israel to halt construction beyond the Green Line. The Palestinians say the settlement enterprise is one of the major obstacles to reaching a peace deal. Israel says most settlements are legal under Israeli law — though Israel has never extended its sovereignty over the West Bank.
Education Minister Naftali Bennett called at the ceremony for Israel to extend its sovereignty to the West Bank.
“I don’t take such a step lightly, in order to implement sovereignty, it takes timing and courage,” Bennett said. “There is no better time than now, as it is clear that we are here by right and not by grace.”
“There is no better time that this, even if world resists, we shall overcome it,” he added. It [the world] also understands what the Israeli public understands, the Land of Israel will never again be divided!”
Edelstein echoed Netanyahu in declaring that removing the settlements would not resolve the conflict with the Palestinians.
“It is not the uprooting of settlements that will bring peace. A [settlement construction] freeze is not the way to an agreement. For years we will continue to build and develop our ancestors’ heritage in Jerusalem, in Judea, in Samaria, in the Jordan Valley, on the Golan Heights,” he said, using the biblical names for the West Bank.
Culture Minister Miri Regev was also at the ceremony. Defense Minister Avigdor Liberman was absent as he was on a work trip abroad.
Naor explained her decision to cancel Justice Neal Hendel’s attendance at ceremony saying it would be inappropriate for the court to attend a political event “devoted to one side.” Her decision drew criticism from right-wing lawmakers led by Justice Minister Ayelet Shaked, Liberman and Regev and support from opposition lawmakers including Yesh Atid’s Yair Lapid.