Netanyahu Defends West Bank Settlements Ahead of Israel Vote

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu defended building in the West Bank today as he sought to recapture the votes of settlers who have gravitated to the upstart Jewish Home party ahead of this week’s election.

Netanyahu went to the Ariel settlement to attend the funeral of its longtime mayor, Ron Nachman, who died Jan. 18, and sought to reassure residents it would not be dismantled in any peace deal with the Palestinians.

“In the same way that Jerusalem will forever be the united capital of our land, so will Ariel always be a part of Israel,” Netanyahu said in his eulogy at the service attended by about 1,000 people, including members of his Cabinet, settler leaders and Jewish Home chairman Naftali Bennett, who also spoke.

The prime minister’s support for building in the West Bank and east Jerusalem, which were captured in the 1967 Six Day War, has been criticized by the U.S., European Union and United Nations. Palestinian leaders have refused to engage in peace talks with Netanyahu unless he ceases settlement construction.

Netanyahu raised the issue earlier in the day at his weekly Cabinet meeting in Jerusalem, recounting a meeting over the weekend with a group of visiting U.S. senators in which he defended building in the settlements.

Parties that support Netanyahu remaining in office will win a majority of seats in parliament in the Jan. 22 election, according to a poll published Jan. 18 in the Yediot Ahronot daily.

The survey projected that the prime minister’s own Likud-Beitenu parliamentary list, which he formed by combining his Likud party together with foreign minister Avigdor Liberman’s Yisrael Beitenu faction on a single ballot, will garner 32 Knesset seats, 10 fewer than the two parties currently hold.

The Yediot survey also projected the Jewish Home party, which strongly supports settlement building, rising to 12 seats from its current three.

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