Knesset members spoke effusively of the settlements in the West Bank at a ceremony marking the 50th anniversary of the Six-Day War in the Knesset on Tuesday, with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu pledging to strengthen them.
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Hundreds of guests were in attendance at the event, whose main speakers were Netanyahu and Knesset Speaker Yuli Edelstein. Meretz Party lawmakers boycotted the Knesset session after members of the opposition have criticized Edelstein, whom they said was glossing over the negative aspects of Israeli rule in the West Bank and East Jerusalem.
“As a young soldier in the summer of 1976, I remember being in orienteering exercises,” Netanyahu recalled. “My comrades and I were breathing the night air, and we felt that a great privilege had befallen us to fulfill a dream of generations.”
He stressed: “It is important to remember that the Israel Defense Forces did not take control over another country’s sovereign territory. The international community did not recognize the Jordanians who occupied it until 1967. We returned to our homeland by right. Hebron and Kiryat Arba are thriving. Gush Etzion has returned to its former glory. And one goes down to the Dead Sea by way of Jericho Road. I recently visited Ariel, a lively city with a university at its center. And I am proud that the governments I headed approved it. Arabs and Jews study there together, and it illustrates what coexistence is.”
Netanyahu pledged to “preserve” and “strengthen the settlement enterprise." The prime minister said: “I say what I told world leaders, Obama, Trump and many others: This conflict is not territorial and is not about Judea and Samaria and the Gaza Strip,” he declared. “The conflict is not about establishing a state. It is a conflict about destroying a state, and I expect countries to demand that the Palestinians finally recognize Israel. This principle is fundamental, the headstone and the root of the conflict. This message is beginning to seep through although there remains much work to be done, mainly after decades of Palestinian propaganda.”
Netanyahu stated, “Everyone has a right to live in his home and no one may uproot him.” He added: “I will do everything necessary to maintain settlement of Judea and Samaria. We can keep the settlements without bringing disaster if we know how to work together. The past proves that when we all stand together, we succeed. When we are divided, the state of Israel is hurt.”
Knesset speaker Edelstein waxed biblically, stating that the Jewish people for 2,000 years had been on life support because its heart – the hills of Jerusalem, Judea and Samaria, was beating far away from it. “50 years ago, we returned to breathe the mountain air as clear as wine,” he said. “The unification of Jerusalem and the liberation of the homeland, returned us to life – and returned the land to life.”
He spoke of the encouragement he felt from seeing the development of the settlements. “But these are not the reasons we insist on residing in Jerusalem, Judea and Samaria, despite all the difficulties,” he said. “We settle in Judea and Samaria because there is our heart and the source of our life. There lies the historical infrastructure for our national existence. If Beit El and Kfar Sava, Nablus and Haifa, Hebron and Tel Aviv are not united, our national pulse will weaken, and our settlement in the land of Israel will be shaken up.”
Edelstein stressed his aspiration for the Knesset to formally annex the territories. “I am full of hope that the news will come soon from this legislature recognizing de jure, and not only de facto, our eternal connection to Judea and Samaria,” he said. “It will be a great privilege for me, as Knesset spokesman, to make this announcement, which could not be more just or correct.”
Avi Roeh, the chairman of the Council of Judea and Samaria, and other settlement leaders, also gave speeches.