President Reuven Rivlin on Thursday declared that Jews will always live in the West Bank city of Hebron, including under any future peace deal with the Palestinians.
“I do not know if there will ever be a political agreement, and if there will be, what its nature will be,” the president told the crowd of over a thousand people in the city. “It is clear that in any agreement Jews and Arabs will continue to live here, and so all of us must care for the prosperity and flourishing of Hebron and Kiryat Arba.”
Rivlin was in the ancient city to mark the 50th jubilee of Israel’s capture of the West Bank from Jordan during the 1967 Six Day War, the subsequent establishment of the Kiryat Arba settlement and the return of a Jewish community to Hebron.
The president said the West Bank city, where a small enclave of Israeli settlers live in the midst of tens of thousands of Palestinians, should serve as an example of how the two sides can live together.
“Hebron is not an obstacle to peace, Hebron is a test of our abilities to live together, side by side,” Rivlin said, while urging the government to improve the quality of life of all of the city’s residents.
Hebron is home to some 200,000 Palestinians and fewer than 1,000 Israeli settlers, who live under heavy military protection. The city, religiously significant to both Jews and Muslims, has long been a hothouse of Israeli-Palestinian violence. Many of the Palestinian terrorists involved in the wave of terror attacks against Israelis over the past year and a half have come from Hebron or the surrounding area.
Palestinians want the West Bank and East Jerusalem as territory for a future Palestinian state and demand a full Israeli withdrawal from those areas.
Rivlin’s comments came days after Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu declared that under any future peace agreement Israel will continue to maintain a military presence in the West Bank, an arrangement flatly rejected by the Palestinians.
Hebron is the only West Bank city divided into areas of Israeli control (20%) and Palestinian control (80%). Other Palestinian West Bank cities are fully controlled by the Palestinian Authority, although Israeli retains overall authority in the West Bank.
Settlers first tried to recreate a Jewish presence in Hebron in 1968, but were moved to an area just outside, where they created the settlement of Kiryat Arba. Former prime minister Menachem Begin allowed Jews to move into Hebron itself in 1979. The previous Jewish community, which had been living in the city for centuries, was evacuated after a massacre in 1929 when local Arabs rioted and killed 69 Jews. Although some later returned, the last Jews left in 1947 shortly before the establishment of the State of Israel.