Settlement construction now would harm international support for the tough measures Israel is taking against terrorism, a solemn Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said Thursday at a special evening press conference that underlined the crisis mode the country has now entered.
Netanyahu, sitting alongside Defense Minister Moshe Ya'alon, Public Security Minister Gilad Erdan ,Chief-of-General-Staff Lt. General Gadi Eizenkot, and acting police commissioner Bentzi Sau, said settlement construction announcements now would only divert attention from the battle against terrorists, and dilute important international backing.
His comments come amid persistent calls from the right flank of his party and his coalition to respond to the constant drumbeat of attacks with massive construction in the settlements.
This was Netanyahu's first press conference since the current wave of attacks, and was reminiscent of similar press conferences he held during the days of Operation Protective Edge in the summer of 2014.
“No one will teach me about the settlements or about being faithful to the Land of Israel,” he said. But, he added, his primary obligation was the security of Israel, and this necessitated as much international backing as possible for the current steps to tamp down the raging terror.
Settler leaders plan to hold a protest outside the cabinet meeting on Sunday to call on Netanyahu to authorize more building in West Bank settlements and improve security. Since last Thursday they have sat every day in tents outside the prime minister’s Jerusalem home.
In reaction to Netanyahu’s words against settlement building in the press conference, Samaria Regional Council head Yossi Dagan said, “we also don’t need anyone to teach us about the settlement enterprise.”
He charged, that as prime minister, Netanyahu had taken a number of steps that made it easier for Palestinians to carry out attacks against Israelis such as removing road blocks and increasing access to roads.
The press conference in Netanyahu's office came at the end of yet another day of multiple stabbing attacks around the country and was meant to calm the fears of a jittery nation by reassuring them that Israel has defeated worse waves of terror in the past, and that the country was taking stringent actions to restore security.
“I was asked today what to say to a mother afraid to send her kids outside,” Netanyahu said. “I I want to say to her, ‘Your fear is natural, there is no need to ignore it, or sweep it under the carpet.’ We now have a difficult situation, and we have to be aware, and follow the instructions of the security agencies. But I want to say something else, the security team here is doing everything to restore security to you, your kids and to all of Israel.”
"Islamist extremism plaguing Middle East has arrived at Israel's doorstep"
Netanyahu said that the Islamist extremism plaguing the Middle East has arrived at Israel's doorstep as well.
"Hateful terrorists are trying to hurt our people," Netanyahu said, praising security forces for their bravery in combating the attacks.
Israel has always known how to push back the terrorists and build the country and "we will defeat them this time as well," Netanyahu said.
He said that the terror was not organized, but nonetheless came as the result of a campaign of incitement by Hamas, the Islamic Movement in Israel, the Palestinian Authority and countries in the region, particularly lies about Israel seeking to change the status quo at the Temple Mount, a flashpoint for violence during the recent tensions.
Netanyahu said that Israel had already taken steps to root out the terror, including destroying terrorists homes and increasing penalties for stone-throwers.
"We will take aggressive steps against the Islamic Movement in Israel and other inciters," he added. "We will prove that the terror won't win and we will defeat it," he vowed.Calls for broad government
Netanyahu repeated calls he has made in the past for a broader government.
“I have said from the beginning that I think at this time, in light of what is happening in the Middle East, there is a reason for a wide government, and wide united front,” he said.
Netanyahu added that many of the disagreements he has with the Zionist parties of the opposition are not real, and that the same Arab terrorist “coming to kill in Tel Aviv is not thinking about Yitzhar, and Itamar or even a Palestinian state. He is thinking about destroying everything here, everyone of us."
Netanyahu said that he has always wanted a wide government and has not changed his mind.” But the decision on whether to join the government is in the hands of the opposition, they have to decide what they want.”
Channel 2 reported that Labor central committee members were being polled about whether they favor entering the government. The office of Zionist Union leader Isaac Herzog denied that he had initiated the poll.
Zionist Union MK Shelly Yacimovich tweeted afterward: "Unity government? Why? To create a false impression that that the opposition has a part in his failure to provide security?"
Netanyahu said that the current terrorism of knives, rocks and drive-by shootings is not organized, but rather the result of the “wild and lying incitement” of Hamas, the Palestinian Authority and “some countries in the region.” In addition, and often times out in front of the rest, is the Islamic Movement in Israel, he said, blaming it for “lying claims about our intentions on the Temple Mount and the supposed change we want in the status quo, which is a complete lie.”
After enumerating the steps Israel was taking to quell the violence, he said that he directed that both Jewish and Arab politicians be prevented at this time from going to the Temple Mount. “We do not need more detonators to ignite the ground,” he said.
Ya'alon said that the IDF will “hit terror with an iron fist everywhere,” but that this will demand patience from the country.
He said that the “lone wolf” attacks were “complicated” to deal with and flowed from the the Palestinian Authority's “wild incitement.” These attacks, he said, necessitated continued heightened awareness by the country's citizenry.
Ya’alon said Israel did not want an escalation of the violence, but would not tolerate a return to the terrorism that marked the days of the beginning of the second intifada at the beginning of the last decade.
He called on everyone – “Jews and Arabs, ministers MKs and public officials” -- to “refrain from militancy, and sloganeering that only fans the flames and causes extreme elements to sometimes take the law into their own hands.”
This theme was picked up by Sau, who said that it was natural that feelings will be at a boiling point during these days of violence, as will the desire to express them.
“In a democratic state there is a place for freedom of expression, but with that there is a need for civic responsibility to express the protest within the limits of the laws,” he said. “ I want to say very clearly that anyone who tries to take the law into their hands, anyone who disturbs the peace, the police will act against him with full determination -- we will protect the civil order in the streets of Israel.”
Eizenkot said that Israel has faced worse waves of terrorism in the past, and beat them back. “We will this time as well,” he said.
He stressed that even in the current tense situation the IDF “knows how to distinguish between terror and the civilian population, and acts in a focused manner.”
Erdan praised the Israeli public for the acts of heroism it has demonstrated. “Israeli citizens are on the front, together the police and emergency services,” he said. “I walk around and see the help of citizens in stopping terrorists and aiding the injured. Everywhere the terrorists go, the police and civilians immediately go to defend their brothers.”
Gil Hoffman, Tovah Lazaroff and Jpost.com contributed to this report.