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Israel’s prime minister rejected international criticism of West Bank settlement construction on Friday, equating it to “ethnic cleansing” of Jews and insisting the settlements are not an obstacle to peace. Israel has been widely criticized, including by its close ally the United States, for building settlements in territories captured in the 1967 Mideast war, land the Palestinians want as part of their future state.
Benjamin Netanyahu said in a video posted online that he has “always been perplexed” by claims that Israeli settlement building is “an obstacle to peace.” He pointed to Israel’s Arab minority, which enjoys citizenship and voting rights but often faces discrimination in housing and employment. “No one would seriously claim that the nearly 2 million Arabs living inside Israel, that they’re an obstacle to peace,” Netanyahu said. “Yet the Palestinian leadership actually demands a Palestinian state with one precondition: No Jews. There’s a phrase for that: It’s called ethnic cleansing.”
“It’s even more outrageous that the world doesn’t find this outrageous,” he added. “Since when is bigotry a foundation for peace?” Palestinian officials could not immediately be reached for comment. Israel captured the West Bank and east Jerusalem, home to holy sites sacred to Jews, Muslims and Christians, in the 1967 war. The Palestinians want the territory for their future state, along with the Gaza Strip and east Jerusalem as their capital. Israel says Jews have been living in those areas for centuries, and that their presence does not undermine prospects for peace. It also blames failed peace efforts on Arab denials of Jews’ historical connections to the land.
Some 120 settlements have been built in the West Bank, now home to about 400,000 people. Some 200,000 Israeli Jews live in east Jerusalem, which Israel annexed and considers part of its “eternal, undivided” capital. The Palestinians, along with most of the international community, view Israel’s settlements in the West Bank as illegal or illegitimate. The Palestinians have demanded a halt to settlement construction ahead of any new peace talks.
Russia and other countries have been trying to restart peace talks that collapsed over two years ago, in part because of the settlements issue. The Palestinians have long accused Israel of ethnic cleansing during the 1948 war, when hundreds of thousands of Arabs fled or were expelled in the fighting.