JERUSALEM (AP) — Israeli Prime Minister Naftali Bennett Tuesday welcomed a recent decision to expand Jewish settlements in the occupied West Bank, which Palestinians and most of the international community consider illegal.
While visiting the Elkanah settlement, he raised the issue of settlement expansion in response to recent Palestinian violence† The Palestinians view settlement building as the main obstacle to peace because it further undermines their hopes for an independent state on lands Israel has occupied through war.
“In the face of enemy violence, the Zionist response has always been settlement, security and immigration,” Bennett said. “Last week, here in Elkana, we approved what I believe to be the largest volume of construction at one time since the city was founded.”
He seemed to be referring to the approval of more than 4,000 settler homes by a military planning agency. That decision came a week after Israel’s Supreme Court upheld an expulsion order of at least 1,000 Palestinians from a region in the West Bank declared a military firing zone.
Israel captured the West Bank in the 1967 Middle East War, and the Palestinians want it to be the bulk of their future state. Israel has already built more than 130 settlements that are today home to nearly 500,000 settlers. Nearly 3 million Palestinians live in the West Bank under Israeli military rule.
Most of the international community, including the Biden administration, sees the settlements as an obstacle to peace because they narrow and divide the area where an independent Palestinian state would be established. But the world powers have given no incentive to Israel to stop building it, despite calling for a two-state solution.
Bennett, a longtime settlement proponent who once headed the main settler council, is against the Palestinian state. He heads a government that includes parties from across Israel’s political spectrum, including some anti-settlement parties.
To keep the coalition together, they have ruled out major peace initiatives or full annexation, while continuing to expand settlements and take some steps to help the Palestinians economically.
There have been no serious or substantive peace talks in more than a decade. Many Palestinians see attacks on Israel as an inevitable response to nearly 55 years of military occupation with no end in sight.