Netanyahu: Israeli presence in West Bank essential to secure country’s future

PM makes his third trip to the West Bank since the start of the election period.

Netanyahu and Ya'alon (photo credit: OHAD TZVEIGENBERG‏)
Netanyahu and Ya'alon
(photo credit: OHAD TZVEIGENBERG‏)
Israel's continued presence in Judea and Samaria is essential to its existence, given the existential threats from Islamic Jihadist groups, which could take over the area, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said.
He spoke on Tuesday morning as he stood at the IDF headquarters in Judea and Samaria, located just outside of the Palestinian city of Ramallah.
“An additional thing that is fateful to Israel’s future and the security of its citizens is our presence here in Judea and Samaria,” Netanyahu said.
“I am accompanying the defense minister and IDF commanders to see the military activity that occurs here which makes all the difference,” he said.
“In the reality that exists in the Middle East, without our presence here, in the area between the Jordan and the Mediterranean, we would find ourselves in a situation in which radical Islamic extremists [terrorists] would rule over the area. Our presence here, and no less important, IDF activity, is essential to prevent radical extremists forces from taking control of the area,” Netanyahu said.
If that happened, he said, those terrorist forces would threaten and attack Israel.
“They would also threaten the PA and rule over the Palestinian public. We will continue to act in a way that will preserve Israel’s security and to prevent radical Islamic forces from taking over the area,” Netanyahu said.
Netanyahu’s visit to the IDF base on the edge of the Beit El settlement, marks his third trip to the West Bank since the start of the election period, and follows visits to the settlements of Ma’aleh Adumim and Eli.
The media visual of Netanyahu and Defense Minister Moshe Ya’alon underscores the prime minister’s statement from Sunday that territorial concessions cannot be made to the Palestinians at this time out of fear that Iran-backed terrorist organizations would seize that land.
During his last six years in office, Netanyahu has had a love-hate relationship with the settlers, who believe he is strong on security but weak on settlement building. They are also frustrated that he has failed to create a standardized system to legalize unauthorized Jewish building in Judea and Samaria.
In the last election, the combined Likud and Yisrael Beytenu list fell behind the Bayit Yehudi party in Judea and Samaria by 8,000 votes.
The Bayit Yehudi has a clear platform to annex Area C of the West Bank, where all the settlements are located, and is opposed to a two-state solution.
On Friday, the Hebrew daily Yediot Aharonot published an article that said Netanyahu had been willing to make major territorial concessions to the Palestinians during the last round of US-led talks that ended in April 2014 without any tangible results.
Netanyahu shot back by speaking against concessions, in a statement that led many to speculate that he had now disavowed his 2009 Bar-Ilan speech in which he supported two states for two peoples.
The Prime Minister’s Office denied that interpretation.
But Deputy Transportation Minister Tzipi Hotovely said there was no other way to understand his words.
Tzipi Hotovely of Likud
Hotovely is among the more right-wing members of the party, and on Monday she traveled in a blue Likud campaign bus, nicknamed the “Bibi bus,” to the West Bank settlements of Ariel, Eilon Moreh and Shiloh to show her party’s support for those communities.
The Likud has promised that Judea and Samaria, as well as a united Jerusalem, will forever remain in Israeli hands, she said.
Hotovely has supported legislation to annex Judea and Samaria under Israeli sovereignty, even though Netanyahu has not.
Hotovely noted that she had the idea long before Bayit Yehudi head Naftali Bennett, and that many legislators in the Likud also stood behind this idea.
It was clear to her that the Likud is the best option for those who want to secure the future of the settlement enterprise.
“There is just one party that will make sure that this beautiful enterprise will remain and blossom after the election,” she said.
Hotovely warned that without a strong Likud, the next government could be led by Isaac Herzog and Tzipi Livni of the Zionist Union.
“Netanyahu’s announcement is that we cannot speak of giving up Judea and Samaria when the fundamental Islamic movements are on our borders. It is very clear that no agreement can be signed when you have such a thought about this place,” Hotovely said.
“This place will remain [in Israeli hands] and Jerusalem will remain united. I do not know of even one Arab [Palestinian] who would accept a Jewish state in any borders,” she said. “It means that today, more than ever, we need to go on strengthening these areas and not those parties who would give up these areas.”
She spoke as she stood atop Mount Kabir by the Eilon Moreh settlement, with its view of the Palestinian city of Nablus and the surrounding hilltops.
In Washington, US State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki on Monday chalked Netanyahu’s pledge not to give territory to the Palestinians for a state to election campaigning.
“A lot of things are said during elections campaigns. We will wait to see what the policies of the next government will be. We will see what happens during the course of the elections,” she said.
But Saeb Erekat, the chief Palestinian negotiator to the peace talks, said that he hoped Netanyahu’s statements would be “an eye-opener.”
“He was never a man of the two-state solution,” The New York Times quoted Erekat as saying.
Erekat told Al Jazeera on Sunday that when Netanyahu was given a choice between settlements and peace he has repeatedly chosen settlements.
“Netanyahu’s policies are a major threat to peace and stability in the region,” Erekat said.
The Palestinians have insisted that they will only negotiate a final-status agreement with Israel on the basis of a withdrawal to the pre-1967 lines with minor land swaps.
Following Netanyahu’s comments, Zionist Union co-leader Tzipi Livni said that the prime minister had caused Israel to be isolated.
“When the Bar-Ilan speech cannot be believed, then the speech on Iran cannot be believed either,” Livni said, referring to the speech on Iran that Netanyahu delivered to the US Congress last week.
The Zionist Union hopes to retain the settlement blocs for Israel in any final-status agreement with the Palestinians, while relinquishing the isolated settlements.
Last week, Herzog visited the Gush Etzion bloc and said he believed it should be part of Israel’s final borders. Netanyahu had planned to visit Gush Etzion on Tuesday, but canceled the trip.
Jerusalem Post staff contributed to this report.