JERUSALEM (AP) — Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu pledged 200 million shekels ($57 million) Monday to build safe bypass roads for Jewish West Bank settlers, in a move that looks to satisfy a key constituent but anger Palestinians who consider it a further encroachment upon their hoped for future state.
Facing bereaved families of those killed in Palestinian attacks in the West Bank at parliament, Netanyahu assured them the government was committed to improving the roads, as well as the lighting and cellular coverage there to help prevent such attacks.
"We have a clear commitment to solve or help solve the problem of the bypass roads in Judea and Samaria," he said, referring to the West Bank by its biblical name. "I come now from a meeting with the finance minister and we decided together to immediately allocate 200 million shekels to paving roads... We're not just talking, we're doing. Our actions are consistent, systematic and determined."
He said he planned to budget another 600 million shekels ($170 million) for further improvements. West Bank settlers have been demanding the improved infrastructure for some time, protesting outside Netanyahu's residence against what they called a cavalier approach to their safety.
Israel captured the West Bank, along with east Jerusalem, in the 1967 Mideast war. Most of the international community opposes all settlements there, considering them illegal obstacles to peace that gobble up land for a future Palestinian state. Israel says the fate of the settlements, home to more than 600,000 Israelis, should be decided through negotiations.
The announcement followed previous approval of additional settlement housing construction. The Palestinians see the roads as another way for Israel to seize land and entrench what they call a segregated system that favors settlers over Palestinians.
"The Israeli prime minister is accelerating the settlement enterprise on all levels," said Nabil Shaath, an adviser to Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas. "All of this has only one goal, which is to destroy any possibility to revive the peace process based on the two-state solution.
Abbas himself was scheduled to arrive Monday in Saudi Arabia for a meeting with King Salman bin Abdulaziz and Crown Prince Mohammad bin Salman about the recent Palestinian reconciliation efforts between the Islamic militant group Hamas and Abbas' Fatah movement. Also on the agenda are ideas presented to restart Israeli-Palestinian peace talks during a recent visit to Saudi Arabia by Jared Kushner, President Trump's son-in-law and adviser.
Also Monday, Netanyahu said Israel will not return the bodies of five Palestinian militants killed last week when it destroyed a tunnel running from Gaza into Israel. He implied that Israel will hold on to the bodies until Hamas militants agree to return the remains of two soldiers killed in a 2014 war, as well as two live Israeli civilians believed held in the Gaza Strip.
The family of one of the dead soldiers has urged the government not to return the militants' bodies.
"We will bring our boys home, there are no free gifts," Netanyahu said.