Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu declared on Wednesday that he will not remove any Israeli settlements in occupied West Bank in the context of any peace deal.
As reported by the Jerusalem Post, Netanyahu was speaking at a conference organised by influential right-wing think-tank the Kohelet Policy Forum, alongside US envoy David Friedman among others.
“I will not let any settlements be uprooted in any diplomatic plan. This idea of ethnic cleansing…it will not happen,” Netanyahu said.
Israeli settlements in the occupied Palestinian territory are illegal under international law.
Addressing the upcoming elections in March, Netanyahu suggested that urgent action was needed to consolidate Israel’s hold on the West Bank.
“There is a window of opportunity. It opened, but it could close,” Netanyahu said, warning of “weak leadership” that will “hit rewind”, reportedly a reference to Blue and White (Kahol Lavan) leader Benny Gantz.
Netanyahu focused a portion of his remarks on justifying Israel’s permanent occupation of the West Bank, claiming that Palestinians “don’t have an economy without it [the settlements]”.
The Israeli prime minister also praised US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo’s declaration last year that Washington no longer sees Israeli settlements as illegal.
“In a clearly defensive war, we returned…to the land where our forefathers put down roots thousands of years ago,” Netanyahu said.
“Unlike some in Europe who think the Pompeo declaration distances peace, I think it will promote peace, because peace must be based on truth, not lies. Settlements are not the root of the conflict. We are standing with justice and the truth. It is a great struggle.”