Settlement building has declined in the last six years, said Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu as he lambasted continued attempts to tie such construction to the terrorist attacks sweeping the country.
“The false claim that an increase in settlement construction led to this last wave of terrorism, is simply a lie,” the prime minister said as he toured the southern border.
He repeated this line earlier in the day, when he delivered a very long address to the 37th Zionist Congress in Jerusalem about Palestinian incitement and its campaign of falsehoods against Israel.
The characterization of a massive settlement drive is “patently absurd,” but its proponents believe in it with “religious fervor,” he asserted, recalling Israel’s 2005 unilateral withdrawal from the Gaza Strip.
Tel Aviv and other cities outside of Judea and Samaria are also considered settlements by the Palestinians, he added.
While Netanyahu has a reputation as a strong proponent of settlement expansion, data from the Central Bureau of Statistics indicate that under Netanyahu housing starts in settlements dropped 19 percent, and the number of finished settler homes fell 15% when compared with 2003 to 2008.
“Here are the numbers,” he told the Zionist Congress, as he explained that he had built fewer settler homes in Judea and Samaria since entering office in 2009 than his predecessors Ehud Barak, Ariel Sharon and Ehud Olmert had.
“In Barak’s single year, he built 5,000,” Netanyahu said. On average, per year, “[under] Sharon, it was down to 1,900. [Under] Olmert, it was down to 1,700. And given the circumstances, in my successive terms, it’s down to 1,500.”
Last week, US Secretary of State John Kerry linked settlement building with the current wave of terrorist attacks here, saying “There’s been a massive increase in settlements over the course of the last years, and now you have this violence because there’s a frustration that is growing.”
After heated objections from Israel and Jewish groups, the State Department partially walked back Kerry’s comments.
“The secretary wasn’t saying, well now you have the settlement activity as the cause for the effect we’re seeing,” a spokesman told The Jerusalem Post. “Is it a source of frustration for Palestinians? You bet it is, and the secretary observed that. But this isn’t about affixing blame on either side here for the violence. What we want to see is the violence cease.”
Netanyahu has blamed the rise in violence on Palestinian incitement generally, and on PA President Mahmoud Abbas specifically.
Speaking on Palestinian Authority television recently, Abbas stated that, “We bless every drop of blood that has been spilled for Jerusalem, which is clean and pure blood, blood spilled for Allah, Allah willing...
“Al-Aksa [Mosque] is ours, the Church of the Holy Sepulchre is ours, and they have no right to defile them with their filthy feet. We will not allow them to, and we will do everything in our power to protect Jerusalem.”
Speaking to the Zionist delegates, Netanyahu stated that despite the Temple Mount being holy to Jews long before the advent of Islam, Jerusalem has no interest in changing the status quo at the site in which Jewish prayer is forbidden and the Wakf Muslim religious trust controls day-to-day operations.
He also rejected the claims of the leaders of the Arab world that Israel wants to destroy al-Aksa. “This lie is 100 years old. But going to the Temple Mount, al-Aksa Mosque stands.
“Israel is the only one that preserves the mosque,” said Netanyahu, noting that Islamic holy places were destroyed during recent internal conflicts in the Arab world.
“We have witnessed a lot of changes since the last Congress, a lot of opportunities, a lot of challenges,” the prime minister said. “Despite our efforts for peace we are in a campaign aimed at killing Israelis wherever they may be. We know the various attackers use Facebook to deliver messages and their intentions. We are fighting not only against physical attacks, but also attacks against the truth.”