Tags: naftali bennett | settlement

Israel's Bennett Bucks U.S. by Seeking More Settlement Building

Thursday, 11 Sep 2014 07:46 PM

Israeli Economy Minister Naftali Bennett says he sees “no problem” with building settler homes in the West Bank, defying U.S. censure of construction on land the Palestinians claim for a future state.

Polls show Bennett, a onetime aide and now rival to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, gaining popularity at his former boss’s expense. His demands for harsher action against Palestinian militants in the Hamas-ruled Gaza Strip have helped to make him the darling of the Israeli right, one poll showed, outdoing Netanyahu as best representing their views.

Bennett, a 42-year-old son of American immigrants and leader of Israel’s religious right, wants Israel to do what it has refrained from doing for almost half a century: annex parts of the West Bank. Additional settlement construction fits into that vision, he said in an interview in his Tel Aviv office yesterday.

“Since anyway they will be under Israeli sovereignty, at the end of the day I see no problem,” he said. “That is a way to provide ongoing stability.”

The U.S. and the United Nations regard settlement building as an obstacle to peacemaking and criticized Israel earlier this month for authorizing almost 1,000 acres of West Bank land for new construction.

Freeze Refusal

Netanyahu’s refusal to agree to a settlement freeze during the last round of U.S.-sponsored peace talks contributed to their breakdown in April. Netanyahu, 64, officially called them off after Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas won backing for his government from Hamas, considered a terrorist organization by the U.S., European Union and Israel.

Bennett wants Israel to apply its sovereignty to the 60 percent of the West Bank where 350,000 Jewish settlers live. “The 100,000 Palestinians that live there, I offer them Israeli citizenship,” he said. “If they don’t want to become citizens it is up to them.”

The Palestinians want to found a state in the West Bank, east Jerusalem and Gaza, territories Israel captured in 1967. Israel annexed east Jerusalem in 1967 while avoiding the same move in the West Bank, now home to 2.3 million Palestinians. It evacuated settlers and soldiers from Gaza in 2005. The Palestinians see any construction on occupied lands as cementing Israel’s hold.

12 Seats

Bennett led his Jewish Home party to win 12 of parliament’s 120 seats in last year’s election. While his background as a former military commando and successful high-tech entrepreneur have allowed him to extend his appeal beyond the religious right, his policies put him in the camp that takes a hawkish stand on settlements and Israel’s security. During Israel’s recent 50-day campaign in Gaza, he unsuccessfully urged the government to continue the operation until militants were disarmed.

“Ultimately we are going to have to eradicate Hamas,” he said. “It will have to happen sooner or later.” He doesn’t call for reoccupying Gaza.

Polls show Jewish Home soaring after the Gaza offensive, winning as many as 19 of parliament’s 120 seats if elections were held today. Bennett cemented his hold on the party leadership on Sept. 10, winning changes to Jewish Home’s charter that would allow more secular people to run on its list and reserve slots for candidates he handpicks, the Jerusalem Post reported yesterday.

Palestinian Dead

While the war left more than 2,100 Palestinians dead and thousands of homes destroyed, it has turned into a political boon for Hamas, with polls showing the Islamist group on course to beat Abbas’s Fatah party in the next general election.

Palestinians in both the West Bank and Gaza are impressed with the group’s willingness to confront Israel’s vastly superior military with rockets and a network of tunnels to stage cross-border attacks, said Ahmad Attoun, a member of the Palestinian Legislative Council representing east Jerusalem.

“What happened in Gaza brought people hope,” he said in an interview at his office in Ramallah yesterday. Attoun was released last week from 20 months in an Israeli prison, where he said he was held under administrative detention with no formal charges filed.


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Israeli Economy Minister Naftali Bennett says he sees "no problem" with building settler homes in the West Bank, defying U.S. censure of construction on land the Palestinians claim for a future state.Polls show Bennett, a onetime aide and now rival to Prime Minister...
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Thursday, 11 Sep 2014 07:46 PM
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