French President Emmanuel Macron told Prime Minister Naftali Bennett that he opposed Israeli settlement activity, on the same day that the Israeli leader made his first visit to a Jewish community in Judea and Samaria since taking office last year.
“The president expressed his concern about the recent Israeli announcement on settlements,” Macron’s office said after the call on Tuesday. According to Bennett, the two leaders agreed to meet soon.
France last week authored a statement of condemnation last week after the Civil Administration’s Higher Planning Council for Judea and Samaria advanced and approved plans for over 4,000 new settler homes. It was the first such meeting this year. Thirteen other European countries signed the statement.
Elkana which is celebrating its 45th anniversary this year, was among the largest beneficiaries of the council’s meeting, where plans for 500 new settler homes were deposited, a move that bring them one step close to final authorization.
If the homes were to be built, the Elkana population of close to 4,000 people would likely increase by at least 50%.
“Last week,” Bennett told the community, “we approved here in Elkana, I believe, the largest single building initiative since the community was established. I have no doubt that this will be an answer for the younger generation.”
During the visit, Bennett went to a lookout point to see where the new neighborhood Givat Maoz will be built.
He came to Elkana after a spate of Palestinian terror attacks this year that claimed 19 lives.
“Against the violence of the enemy, the Zionist response has always been settlement, security and – aliyah – [immigration]. We are doing these three things,” the prime minister stated.
Bennett is the former director-general of the Yesha Council and heads the right-wing Yamina party, but he was hardly a favorite among the settlers in the last election, coming in fourth place among their voters, just below the Likud which was third.
The Right has continued to attack Bennett. They have argued that he betrayed their values and turned to the left, now that he heads a rainbow coalition of politicians from the left, right and center of the political map.
Yamina was the most popular party in Elkana in the last election, garnering 37.93% of the votes, edging out the Religious Zionist party, which held second place with 37.03% of the votes.
Bennett on his Twitter page posted photos of his visit that showed him shaking hands with elementary school children and residents.
Some of them, he wrote, told him, “We pray that you will continue to be strong and protect the government and the country.”
But other residents and activists held a protest against him in Elkana, in which one activist held a sign that called him a “traitor.״
They took issue in particular with the presence of an Arab party in the government and with plans for Bedouin development in the Negev and potential government plans for Palestinian development in Area C of the West Bank.
One sign with a photo of Bennett and Ra’am Party head Mansour Abbas stated; “Israel is in danger, we want a Jewish state.”
Another sign stated, “Bennett, Elkana is not something you can sell to the Arabs.” A third one said, “The settlements are not something you can use and then toss.”
Activists also chanted, “Bennett resign, we don’t want you anymore.”
Bennett told the residents of Elkana that they were the torchbearers of Zionism. “The story of Elkana, your story, is the story of Zionism, of hope, of building up the land...
“As prime minister, I wish that this spirit, the spirit of Elkana, the spirit of contributing, the spirit of the past, will continue,” he said.
It is important, he said, that the government represents Israeli society as a whole.
“The government is for the benefit of everyone. I will make every effort in the world to hold it together... Now, when they ask me what time is it, it is a time for unity,” Bennett said.
“This is the people of Israel’s greatest need today – it is a time for unity. Unity means coming into contact with different people even if they are – ‘Heaven forbid!’ – leftists.”
Bennett also visited the Efraim Brigade and pledged to root out terrorism.
“My directive is clear: Strike at the terrorists wherever they are with every kind of weaponry.
“We are giving full backing to the IDF and Israel Police to strike at every terrorist – in Jerusalem, in Judea and Samaria and anywhere else in the country,” Bennett said.
“Whoever raises a hand to an Israeli civilian or IDF soldier – will pay the price,” he added.