Israel’s Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has made a contentious visit to the occupied West Bank city of Hebron, a move condemned by the Palestinians and widely perceived as his bid to garner support from ultra-nationalists in the run-up to elections in less than two weeks.
The embattled prime minister on Wednesday delivered a speech outside a contested holy site known to Jews as the Tomb of the Patriarchs, and to Muslims as the Ibrahimi Mosque.
Netanyahu said that Hebron would not become “Judenrein”, a term used during Nazi Germany for “free of Jews”.
“We’re not seeking to disinherit anyone, but nobody will disinherit us,” Netanyahu said at the ceremony. “We are not strangers in Hebron, we will remain here forever.”
Around 800 Jewish settlers live in Hebron under hefty Israeli army security in the city, surrounded by around 200,000 Palestinians. The city has long been a flashpoint between Israeli occupation forces and the Palestinians.
In 1994, Baruch Goldstein, a Jewish ultranationalist, carried out a mass shooting in the Ibrahimi Mosque, killing 29 worshippers and wounding scores of others before he was killed.
Akiva Eldar, a columnist with Al-Monitor’s Israel Pulse, told Al Jazeera that Netanyahu would “do much to get such coverage … in trying to grab extra voters from the radical right”.
Eldar said the Israeli prime minister’s biggest concern was to “try and come out as the largest party” and secure the mandate to form the next government.
The Israeli settlements in Hebron voted heavily in favour of religious nationalist parties in the previous election, with just 7.5 percent of the city’s settlers voting for Netanyahu’s Likud, according to census data.
‘Colonialist, racist visit’
The Palestinian Authority (PA) condemned Netanyahu’s visit – his first since 1998, according to Israeli media – and Palestinian protesters burned pictures of the Israeli leader in Hebron’s Old City.
“This is a purely colonialist, racist visit that Netanyahu is doing at the height of an election battle in an attempt to win votes from the right and the extreme right,” the PA’s foreign ministry said in a statement.
Issa Amro of the Palestinian organisation Youth Against Settlements told Al Jazeera that Palestinians were angry about Netanyahu “storming the city of Hebron” for election purposes.
“We feel provoked to be used as Palestinian citizens, for our city to be used, for our mosques to be used, for our properties to be used as part of this political election campaign by Netanyahu, so he would gain votes of the extremist Israeli right,” Amro said.
Israel occupied the West Bank in the 1967 war, a move not recognised by the international community, which considers Israeli settlements there illegal and an impediment to peace with the Palestinians.
The Palestinians seek the West Bank as part of their future state.