Israeli PM vows to retain control of West Bank 'in any peace deal'

DAILY SABAH WITH WIRES
Istanbul
Published 31.05.2017 23:52

Israel must maintain full military control over the West Bank in the event that they are able to reach a peace accord with Palestine, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said on Tuesday.

As the Palestinians have sought a full Israeli withdrawal from the occupied territories, Netanyahu reaffirmed his commitment to keep the West Bank under Israeli military control.

"The idea that we can give up territory and achieve peace is not right," Netanyahu told Army Radio, as reported by the Times of Israel. "In any peace agreement, we will have to maintain military control of all the territory west of the Jordan River."

The Palestinians want the West Bank as well as the Gaza Strip and east Jerusalem, areas captured by Israel in the 1967 war, as part of their hoped-for state.

U.S. President Donald Trump has been more sympathetic to Israel's settlement policies than the fiercely critical Barack Obama administration, and has also vowed to move the U.S. embassy from Tel Aviv to contested Jerusalem. Israel's nationalist government has welcomed the prospective change in policy, but it also risks igniting Palestinian and even regional unrest. Since Trump took office in January, Israel has announced plans to build over 6,000 settler homes in the West Bank and east Jerusalem, occupied territories claimed by the Palestinians. The former Obama administration was deeply opposed to Israel's expansion of the settlements and in December withheld its veto from a U.N. Security Council resolution condemning the policy.

The international community regards all Israeli settlements in the occupied Palestinian territories as illegal and a major obstacle to Middle East peace.

The area, captured by Israel in 1967, is not sovereign Israeli territory and Palestinians there are not Israeli citizens and do not have the right to vote.

The Israeli government marked the 50th anniversary of the Six-Day War on Sunday by holding a meeting at the Western Wall in Jerusalem's Old City instead of the Knesset building less than 5 kilometers away.

"Today's meeting in occupied east Jerusalem is an attempt by the Israeli government to normalize occupation, oppression and colonization," said Saeb Erekat, a leader of the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO), in a statement.

The meeting sends "a clear message" that Israel will continue to violate Palestinians' rights, Erekat added.

Among the projects announced by Netanyahu on Sunday was the building of a cable car that would make it easier for tourists to reach the entrance of the Western Wall area, which sits in east Jerusalem. They also approved an elevator and underground passage to the area from the Jewish Quarter. The Western Wall, also known as the Kotel, is an ancient retaining wall that sits at the foot of the Temple Mount. Known as the Noble Sanctuary to Muslims, the site is considered one of the holiest in Islam and Judaism.

Construction projects near the Temple Mount have caused tension in the past.

Netanyahu's decision to open an archaeological tunnel there during his first term in 1996 led to violence in the Palestinian Territories. It was in this tunnel that the Israeli cabinet held its special meeting Sunday.

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