Friday’s ceremony capped off tree-plantings in honor of the holiday of Tu B’Shvat, the Jewish New Year of Trees. The festival begins Friday night, the beginning of the Sabbath when planting trees is forbidden.
Accompanied by several strongly nationalist Likud Knesset Members, the Prime Minister reinforced an about-face in Israel’s policy statements, which previously have concentrated on meeting American demands for “goodwill” measures to the PA. "Everyone who sees the geography here understands how important” Ariel and the surrounding areas are, he said.
Prime Minister Netanyahu added that he was planting not only a tree but also "three principles: Growing strength, Jewish settlement and culture in the heart of our land of our forefathers and where we will remain and build.” His remarks implied that the current temporary 10-month building freeze on new homes for Jews in Judea and Samaria will remain an interim measure, as he previously has promised.
Earlier in the week, he planted a tree at Maaleh Adumim several hours after meeting with U.S. Middle East envoy George Mitchell, who has been trying to negotiate with Israel and the Palestinian Authority PA Chairman Mahmoud Abbas to return to talks for establishing a new Arab state within modern Israel’s borders that have existed since 1967. The same areas were part of the ancient Jewish kingdoms and since then were without a Jewish state until the Six-Day War more than 42 years ago.
Prime Minister Netanyahu has consistently balked at efforts by the Obama administration to ignore promises made in writing by former U.S. President George W. Bush to former Prime Minister Ariel Sharon that major Jewish population centers would remain part of Israel in any future arrangement with the PA.
The American administration has justified its position by stating that Bush’s promises are not legally binding, although the refusal to recognize the Bush policy is a rare if not unprecedented diversion from accepted diplomatic protocol.
Abbas has refused to concede a claim to "every inch" of Judea and Samaria as well as eastern Jerusalem and has demanded that any resumption of talks begin at the stage where they were when previous Prime Minister Ehud Olmert left office. Olmert recently revealed in an interview with an Australian newspaper that he offered Abbas land within pre-1967 Israel in order to give it a direct link between Gaza and Judea and Samaria.