Hanan Porat, a driving force behind Israel's settlement of the West Bank, died Monday of cancer. He was 67.
Porat, a former Israeli lawmaker, was a founder of the now-defunct movement Gush Emunim _ Hebrew for "the bloc of the faithful" _ a messianic movement is committed to settling land Israel captured in the 1967 Middle East war. Followers believe God promised the West Bank to the Jewish people, and they set out to cement Israeli sovereignty there by creating a large-scale civilian presence.
But even before Gush Emunim was founded in 1974, Porat was a leading figure in the settlement movement launched after Israel captured the West Bank, Gaza and east Jerusalem in 1967. He helped establish the first settlement in the West Bank, Kfar Etzion, on the site of a kibbutz that had been captured by the Jordanian army in 1948.
He later helped create the Jewish enclave in the biblical city of Hebron, which is currently one of the most radical settlements. Hebron's ancient Jewish community was driven out after an Arab massacre in 1929.
Porat later turned to politics, and was elected to Israel's parliament in 1981, serving, except for a four-year hiatus, through 1999.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu expressed his sorrow over Porat's passing.
"Hanan Porat dedicated his life to building up the Land of Israel, and to educating generations of students about religious Zionism and loving the Land of Israel and the Jewish People," Netanyahu said in a statement. "I first met Hanan almost 40 years ago and was immediately impressed by his Zionist fervor and his deep commitment to restoring the Jewish People to its Land. This fervor did not lessen and accompanied him until his last day," Netanyahu said.
Today, about half a million Jewish settlers live in the West Bank and east Jerusalem. Israel withdrew settlers and soldiers from Gaza in 2005 _ a move Porat strongly opposed.
Israeli settlements, built on land the Palestinians claim for a future state, are widely denounced internationally. Continued construction there has been the latest wedge in relations with the Palestinians, who refuse to negotiate peace until the building stops.