Contrary to what many people believe, Israeli settlement construction has significantly decreased in recent years, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said Tuesday, arguing that he has built fewer housing units in the West Bank than his more centrist predecessors.
“In my first term in office [1996-1999], we built an average of 3,000 units annually in Judea and Samaria,” he said in a speech in Jerusalem, using the West Bank’s biblical name.
During Ehud Barak’s term in office, from July 1999 until March 2001, 5,000 units were constructed; under Ariel Sharon (from 2001-2006) the number was 1,900 a year; and under Ehud Olmert (2006-2009) it further dropped to 1,700 annually, Netanyahu said. Since he took office in the spring of 2009, the number has dropped to 1,500 per year, the prime minister said.
“There are reasons for that; we can discuss that some other time. But facts are facts. These numbers are exact. Far from seeing a settlement surge, there’s actually been a decline in construction,” he said. “I raise this because this is raised again and again and again: ‘The Palestinians are protesting because of the surge in settlement activity.’ Sorry, not true.”
The numbers likely include a 10-month building moratorium in the West Bank in 2010, part of a failed bid to jump-start peace talks.
Addressing hundreds of delegates of the 37th Zionist Congress, which was taking place in the capital, Netanyahu attempted to rebut what he said are 10 lies routinely hurled at Israel.
The first two untruths concern Israel’s alleged intention to change the status quo at Jerusalem’s Temple Mount and efforts to destroy the Al-Aqsa mosque. The last lie especially is a century old and has fomented many attacks on Jews, but Israel remains the only country in the Middle East that respects religious freedom for all faiths, he said.
The third point on the prime minister’s list was the claim that the current violence is inspired by a “surge” in settlement activity, which he sought to debunk by quoting the above-mentioned statistics.
Furthermore, Netanyahu refuted claims that Israel executes Palestinians in cold blood and uses excessive force against terrorists.
The sixth “lie” is the assertion that the current terror wave is caused by the stagnation in the peace process, the prime minister said, arguing that the two were utterly unrelated.
“Some of the worst terrorism that Israel has experienced in its history occurred when the peace process was at its peak. We had terrorism when there was a peace process; we had terrorism when there was no peace process. We had terrorism when there was an Israel; and we had terrorism when there was no Israel. We had terrorism when there were settlements; and we had terrorism when there were no settlements.”
The “real reason” for terrorism is not the attackers’ frustration over the absence of a peace process, Netanyahu continued. “They’re frustrated that there is a State of Israel, and that frustration will continue.”
The prime minister then took a swipe at Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas.
“The seventh myth is that Abbas is a moderate. Abbas doesn’t send his security forces to attack us, this is true. There is ongoing [security] cooperation, that is true, too,” Netanyahu said. “But on the other hand, he’s a steady inciter. He incites all time. He and his Fatah partners and the official websites of the PA incite day in and day out on social networks.” The Palestinian leader has not condemned a single one of the 30 recent attacks against Israelis and even welcomed “every drop of blood” spilled in Jerusalem, he went on. “Are these the words of a moderate?”
The eighth “big lie” is that only international observers can restore calm to the Temple Mount, Netanyahu said. “The last thing we have to do is to take the most explosive square kilometer on earth and put there the General Assembly of the United Nations. That is not a force for moderation.”
It also a mistake to profess that the current violence is due to the failure to create a Palestinian state, the prime minister said. “The Palestinians have repeatedly refused to accept a nation-state for themselves” if that meant recognizing Israel as a Jewish state, he declared. “That was and remains the core of the conflict.”
Even if Israelis and Palestinians were to solve most of the conflict’s core issues, Palestinians are not ready to recognize Israel as a Jewish nation-state. “Because they don’t want a state to end the conflict; because they want a state to continue the conflict and eradicate the Jewish state,” he said. “This is what this conflict has always been about.”
Finally, Netanyahu disputed the notion that the Palestinian-Israeli conflict is at the heart of the troubles in the wider Middle East. Years after the Arab Spring started, chaos prevails in Syria, Iraq, Sinai, Yemen and elsewhere. “What’s that got to do with the Palestinians? The answer is nothing,” the prime minister said.
“There’s no way to battle lies except to tell the truth,” he concluded. “Any attempt to forge peace based on lies will crash against the realities of the Middle East; will crash against the rocks of reality.”