Benjamin Netanyahu: Israel to Retain Key West Bank Settlement in Any Peace Deal

Premier makes remarks during tree-planting ceremony in northern West Bank settlement of Ariel.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu vowed Friday that Israel would retain control of a large West Bank settlement under any future arrangement with the Palestinians.

During a tree-planting ceremony in the northern West Bank settlement of Ariel on Friday, Netanyahu reaffirmed the town's historic and strategic significance.

"Anyone who understands the geography of the Land of Israel knows how important Ariel is," Netanyahu said. "The settlement enterprise here is the heart of our land."

"Here is where our forefathers dwelled and here is where we will stay and build," the prime minister said. "We want to strengthen the peace and co-existence with our neighbors but this will not stop us from continuing with our lives here, where we'll continue to plant trees and to build."

"Ariel, the capital of Samaria (the northern West Bank), will be an integral, inseparable part of the state of Israel in any future arrangement," Netanyahu said.

Last week, Defense Minister Ehud Barak ordered a college in Ariel to be recognized as a "university center," thereby winning praise from the right but an outraged response from both the political left and many academics.

The decision was vehemently opposed by the Council for Higher Education, which oversees all colleges and universities inside the Green Line. But because the Ariel University Center of Samaria is located in the West Bank, it is subordinate to a different, parallel, body, the Council for Higher Education in Judea and Samaria - which, like all Israeli institutions in the West Bank, is formally subordinate to the Israel Defense Forces' GOC Central Command, who in turn answers to the defense minister.

The CHE-JS approved Ariel's status upgrade back in 2007, and yesterday, Barak - who is also the Labor chairman - ordered GOC Avi Mizrahi to confirm this.

Recognition as a university center moves the college closer to full recognition as Israel's eighth university, and Barak's approval of this step had been part of the coalition agreement between Netanyahu's Likud party and a third coalition member, Yisrael Beiteinu.