Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu planted a tree in Gush Etzion, south of Jerusalem, Sunday afternoon, a symbolic move that firmly dug into place a message to the United States that large centers of Jewish population in Judea and Samaria will remain part of the State of Israel.
The ceremony took place several hours after the Prime Minister met with U.S. Middle East envoy George Mitchell, whose efforts to bridge the deep gaps between Israel and the PA have failed, leaving American officials publicly pessimistic for the first time in the 19 years since it pressured then-Prime Minister Yitzchak Shamir to debate Yasser Arafat in Madrid.
"Today's tree planting reinforces this international position,” the Prime Minister said. “Our message is clear. This [tree planting] is significant for making it clear that Gush Etzion is inseparable from the State of Israel forever. This is the first stop, and from here we will plant in Maaleh Adumin and Ariel.” The tree planting was staged several days before Jews celebrate Tu B'Shvat, the “New Year for Trees," which falls on this year on the Sabbath when planting is forbidden.
He added that Israel also will build in these areas, where he has clamped a 10-month temporary building freeze on new construction of Jews in a goodwill gesture to the Obama administration’s attempts to coax the PA to resume talks with Israel. PA Chairman Mahmoud Abbas has rejected American overtures and insists that Israel answer U.S. President Barack Obama’s call last year for a total and permanent freeze on Jewish building in eastern Jerusalem as well as in Judea and Samaria.
Prime Minister Netanyahu said at the tree planting ceremony, “There is a national consensus regarding this issue in Israel, and this recognition is slowly permeating the international arena.”.
The PA ridiculed Prime Minister Netanyahu’s tree planting Sunday as an “unacceptable act that destroys all the efforts being exerted by Senator Mitchell.”