Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has demanded that Israel retain a fourth settlement bloc in addition to three it has already demanded in negotiations with U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry, who has been working to hammer out a framework peace agreement between Israel and the Palestinians.
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The settlement bloc in question is in the vicinity of Beit El, adjacent to Ramallah in the central West Bank. Israel has already laid claim to three other settlement blocs – Ariel, Gush Etzion and Ma'aleh Adumim. Settlement blocs refer to areas in the West Bank where the majority of Jewish communities are located.
Palestinians fiercely oppose the latest Israeli request, according to an Israeli source who has been briefed by the Americans.
Netanyahu wants to annex the four blocs but, according to the Israeli source, at this stage opposes compensating the Palestinians with a land swap of equal size and quality. The prime minister did, however, raise the possibility of buying some of the land on which the settlement blocs rest from the Palestinians and compensating them for other parts with land that is in Israel proper.
In recent weeks, Netanyahu has made several public remarks about Beit El remaining under Israeli sovereignty as part of a peace agreement with the Palestinians. At a Likud faction meeting last week, for example, Netanyahu said, "We will not forgo places that others have relinquished in the past."
He also said that Hebron and Beit El are not part of settlement blocs, but "they are important to the Jewish people," and will not be evacuated.
In a recent cabinet meeting, Netanyahu also said, "We are not foreigners in Jerusalem, we are not foreigners in Beit El, we are not foreigners in Hebron. He added, "We want to reach an agreement, but that agreement cannot erase the state of Israel's rights or the rights of the Jewish people."
Netanyahu's latest demand was first revealed Thursday on Army Radio.