Israeli P.M. vows no withdrawl from settlements

Josef Federman
Associated Press

Jerusalem — Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s vow to never evacuate Jewish settlements from occupied land drew outrage Tuesday from Palestinians and complicated matters for the Trump administration’s would-be peace envoys as they try to restart talks.

The Palestinians called on the White House to intervene, and visiting U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres challenged Netanyahu’s comments, reiterating the international community’s opposition to Israeli settlements.

Well over 100 settlements dot the West Bank and a string of U.S.-led peace plans over the past two decades have called for evacuating at least some of them to make way for the establishment of an independent Palestinian state alongside Israel. Netanyahu’s hard-line religious and nationalist base opposes such a move.

Netanyahu appears to have been emboldened by the election of President Donald Trump, who, unlike a string of predecessors, has not endorsed the idea of a two-state solution. Trump also has surrounded himself with a team of advisers who are longstanding supporters of settlements. These include his son-in-law Jared Kushner, who is leading the peace efforts and was in the region last week for meetings with the sides.

Netanyahu spoke at a ceremony Monday night in Barkan, a settlement in the northern West Bank.

“There is a momentum of development in Judea and Samaria,” he said, referring to the West Bank by its biblical name.

“We have returned here for eternity,” Netanyahu added. “There will be no more uprooting of settlements in the land of Israel. Settlements will not be uprooted.”

The Palestinians seek all of the West Bank, along with east Jerusalem and the Gaza Strip, for an independent state alongside Israel. Israel captured the areas in the 1967 Mideast war, though it withdrew from Gaza in 2005.

The Palestinians say that settlements on occupied lands are illegal and undermine the goal of a two-state solution by gobbling up territory they seek — a position that is widely backed by the international community. Over 600,000 Israeli Jews now live in the West Bank and east Jerusalem.

While Netanyahu has made similar pledges before, the timing — on the heels of Kushner’s visit and with the U.N. chief in town — raised questions about his intentions for resolving the Palestinian conflict.