Jews and Arabs will not be evacuated in the pursuit of peace, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said on Wednesday as he pledged his support to the settlement movement at the national ceremony marking its 50th anniversary.“Settlement is important to you my friends, it is equally important to me, so I say before all and clearly: There will be no more uprooting of settlements in the Land of Israel,” he said.
“It is not just a question of the connection to the homeland, of course that is correct, but first of all, it is not the way to make peace. We will not uproot Jews, and not Arabs,” Netanyahu said.He stood on a large makeshift neon-lit stage that was set up on a field outside of the Alon Shvut settlement and near Kibbutz Kfar Etzion, the first community built in Judea and Samaria after the Six Day War in 1967.The fall of four Gush Etzion communities during the War of Independence and the subsequent return of Israelis to that region 19 years later, has been the symbolic heart of the five-decade-old settlement movement.Out of all the regions in Area C of the West Bank, Gush Etzion is considered to be the spot that is most in consensus in the eye of the Israeli public.But the symbolism of a formal government jubilee celebration on land outside of sovereign Israeli territory – even in Gush Etzion – sparked enormous public controversy. Ambassadors and leftwing and centrist Israeli politicians boycotted the ceremony.Supreme Court President Miriam Naor barred judges for the High Court from attending the ceremony because of its political nature.In spite of the controversy thousands of people streamed into the large arena- like area, which included bleachers and Israeli flags.Wearing jackets or covered in blankets they sat on plastic chairs to listen to singers and watch dancers, light shows and fireworks.At a time when US President Donald Trump is pushing for a renewed peace process and his envoy Jason Greenblatt is in Israel, Netanyahu stood before the pro-settlement audience pledged his continued commitment to their endeavors.He reiterated his often repeated phrase that the demolition of settlements does not pay.He pointed to the missiles launched at Israel from Gaza after the demolition of 21 settlements there as proof that further withdrawals would only lead to terrorist bases.“We did not receive peace,” said Netanyahu who explained that the opposite occurred. Israel received “terrorism and missiles. And we will not return to that.” The violence against Israel, he said, was only the “promo,” to what is happening now in the Middle East. “Any territory that falls into the hands of radical Islam becomes a base of destruction, of violence and of death,” Netanyahu said.“Therefore we will not abandon our national home to that danger,” Netanyahu said.Outside the event both right- and left-wing activists held protests.Peace Now stood outside with signs that said, “there is no reason for celebrations – the settlements are ruining Israel.”Right-wing activists urged Netanyahu to prove he supports the settlements by approving one for the Migron families who have been living in modular housing five years after they were evacuated from their outpost homes.They also demanded that he prevent the execution of the High Court ruling that 15 homes in the Netiv Ha’avot outpost must be evacuated in March.Earlier in the day Netanyahu held a New Years toast in Jerusalem with settler leaders in which he also spoke of ways in which he had supported the settlement movement, including convincing Trump to drop the distinction between building inside and outside the settlement blocs. Instead, Israel has promised the US to only build in areas next to existing housing.Settler leaders, however, failed to gain the necessary assurances they wanted from Netanyahu that he would support plans they had for increased settlement building, particularly with regard to infrastructure and roads.
Gush Etzion Jubilee celebration sights and sounds (Tovah Lazaroff)