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Netanyahu repeats vow not to uproot Jewish settlements in the West Bank

Earlier he reportedly told a meeting of settler leaders not to be 'pigs' in their demands for more building

Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Wednesday repeated his refrain that no more Israeli settlements will be dismantled in the West Bank, at a controversial ceremony marking fifty years since Israel took control of the West Bank and Gaza.

"Settlement is important to you my friends. It is no less important to me and therefore, I tell you clearly and before anything: There will be no more uprooting of settlements in the land of Israel," the Israeli premier declared to thunderous applause at the event in the large Gush Etzion settlement bloc south of Jerusalem.

He then added that "We will uproot neither Jews nor Arabs," an indication of his opposition to Defense Minister Avigdor Liberman's desire for "population swaps" between Arab citizens of Israel and Jews living in settlements.

The ceremony marking just over fifty years since Israel took control of the West Bank and Gaza -- from Jordan and Egypt respectively -- in the 1967 Six Day War was marked by a controversial decision by Israel's Supreme Court President not to send delegates from the court to the ceremony because it was seen as too political.

Israeli settlements are considered illegal by the bulk of the international community, along with Israel's annexation of east Jerusalem and the Golan Heights.

Elsewehere in his remarks, Netanyahu spoke emotionally of Israel's connection to the West Bank, and said that "we renewed that continuity of history and it will never be disconnected once again."

Diplomatic machinations

US Embassy in Tel Aviv

The Gush Etzion ceremony came as Donald Trump's Middle East peace envoy Jason Greenblatt IS undertaking his most recent visit to Israel and the Palestinian Territories.

During their meeting earlier Wednesday in Jerusalem, Netanyahu told Greenblatt that a slew of recent diplomatic moves by the Palestinian Authority (PA) "are seriously undermining the chances of achieving peace".

He drew the White House official's attention to Wedensday's ascension of the 'State of Palestine' to the international policing body Interpol, as well as the PA's vow to bring Israelis to trial at the International Criminal Court in The Hague, according to a readout from the prime minister's office.

Netanyahu also expressed his ire at the absence of an official PA condemnation of a terror attack on Tuesday in which three Israelis were killed.

Earlier on Wednesday the Israeli premier reportedly told a meeting of settler leaders not to be "pigs" in their demands for bolstered settlement construction and told them it would be unwise to irk the White House while the Trump administration prepares a plan to revive moribund peace talks with the Palestinian Authority, Haaretz reported.

Courting controversy

Jordana Miller/i24NEWS

Supreme court president Miriam Naor said that an official invitation to send a representative contained the wording "to celebrate the jubilee of the liberation of Judea, Samaria, the Jordan Valley and the Golan Heights".

On her instructions, the court declined the invitation.

The biblical term Judea and Samaria is used by the Israeli government to refer to the West Bank, of which the Jordan Valley is also part.

Gush Etzion has now grown into a large bloc of settlements located outside Jerusalem, and officials expect it will be part of Israel under any future peace deal with the Palestinians.

"The settler celebrations on our occupied lands are unacceptable and make the atmosphere very tense," Palestinian presidential spokesman Nabil Abu Rudeina told AFP.

"We ask the American administration to urgently intervene to stop these provocations."

The event is to be attended by settler leaders and ministers from Netanyahu's coalition government, seen as the most right-wing in Israel's history.

Menahem Kahana (AFP/File)

Leftist and centrist politicians have said they will not attend the event, which Labour MP Eitan Cabel wrote on Facebook is "totally meant to glorify Bibi and his group of extremists who lead us to the abyss," using Netanyahu's nickname.

Chief Justice Naor's decision to keep the court away from the event drew outrage from the right.

But she was quoted in a court statement as saying that she was acting in accordance with established procedure and not taking a stance.

"The president reached the conclusion that the event deals with an issue that is the subject of public controversy," it said.

"Therefore, without the president or justices of the supreme court taking a position on the controversy itself, the president decided that it would be appropriate for the judiciary not to participate in the event."

About 430,000 Israeli settlers live in the West Bank among 2.6 million Palestinians.

(Staff with AFP)

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