Most Israelis support peace deal; Bennett vows settlement expansion

(JTA) — With Israeli-Palestinian talks set to begin, Israeli Economy Minister Naftali Bennett pledged to continue building in Israeli West Bank settlements.

Bennett, head of the pro-settlement Jewish Home Party, won 12 Knesset seats in January’s elections running on a platform of vehement opposition to a Palestinian state.


“We will continue building, and you will see this soon,” said Bennett at a Tuesday event in Shiloh, an Israeli West Bank settlement, according to the Times of Israel. “I am sending the message from here to all the parties in the negotiations: The land of Israel belongs to the nation of Israel.”

The Palestinian Authority has long demanded that negotiations come along with a freeze on settlement expansion. But other Israeli cabinet ministers have expressed opposition to such a freeze. Last week, Israeli Intelligence Minister Yuval Steinitz, from the right-wing Likud, said a freeze “isn’t on the table.” Housing and Construction Minister Uri Ariel — also from Jewish Home — said Sunday that a freeze would be “inappropriate for the Jewish people, for the land of Israel and for a sovereign state” and that “we are in favor of building as much as possible,” according to the Times of Israel.

On the Palestinian side, Palestinian United Nations representative Riyad Mansour accused Israel of committing “war crimes” and supporting “terror” against Palestinians through its activity in the West Bank. He said that along with a settlement freeze, the Palestinians should insist that any negotiations be based on Israel’s pre-1967 border, with east Jerusalem as the Palestinian capital.

“Israel speaks of negotiations without preconditions, but sets conditions on the ground,” Mansour said, according to Ynet News. “Settlements are the main obstacle to peace and sabotage any effort to achieve a two-state solution.”