Under Netanyahu, construction reportedly began on nearly 6,900 settlement homes in the West Bank.
That’s a bit less than what was started by Netanyahu’s predecessor Ehud Olmert, but many of the new homes are deeper in the West Bank, the Israeli anti-settlement group Peace Now said this week. Thousands more apartments are in various stages of planning, Peace Now said, predicting an ‘‘explosion’’ of settlement construction in coming years.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu defended his position on settlements Friday in an interview with Channel 1 TV.
‘‘I don’t believe that settlements are the root of the conflict, I don’t believe that territorial dimensions are the root of the conflict, the root of the conflict was and remains the refusal to recognize the Jewish state within any border, Netanyahu said. ‘‘I am not in favor of a binational state. We need to reach a solution. I don’t want to rule the Palestinians and I don’t want them to rule us and threaten our existence.’’
‘‘We believe the two-state solution is still possible, but Netanyahu and his current and upcoming coalition are killing this solution, they...will be intensifying the buildings in the settlements, and they have no peace platform,’’ Ishtayeh said.
The conflict with the Palestinians has largely been missing from Israeli political discourse this campaign season in Israel. The centrist Labor Party, which led peace talks with the Palestinians in the past, has shifted almost exclusively to domestic concerns, such as growing income gaps.
Just one party, The Movement led by former Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni, has focused on peace talks. Livni has warned that Israel’s existence could be threatened without a peace accord, yet her message has not gained much traction.
Palestinians believe hopes for their state are slipping further away with each new settlement home, and that partition of the land between the Mediterranean and the Jordan River may soon no longer be possible.
Settlements are at the core of the paralysis in peace efforts talks since late 2008. Netanyahu refuses to freeze construction, rebuffing Abbas who says there is no point in negotiating while settlements steadily gobble up more of the occupied lands.
The standoff is likely to continue, though the Palestinians believe their diplomatic leverage has improved.
In November, the U.N. General Assembly recognized a state of Palestine in the West Bank, Gaza and east Jerusalem. The vote, while largely symbolic, affirmed the 1967 frontier which the Palestinians want to be the base line for future border talks. Netanyahu, while willing to negotiate, won’t accept the 1967 lines as a point of reference and wants to keep all of Jerusalem and parts of the West Bank.
Some Palestinian officials hope Obama will now be tougher with Netanyahu after what they considered a disappointing first term.
The Americans ‘‘keep talking about negotiations and the need to restart the negotiations,’’ Shaath said. ‘‘But what is needed is for the U.S. to pressure Israel to stop settlement activities and to go to real negotiations, to reach an agreement within six months.’’
Associated Press writer Dalia Nammari in Ramallah contributed to this report.