JERUSALEM (Ma'an) -- Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu visited the Bethlehem-area settlement of Efrat on Monday, and insisted it and a nearby bloc of other settlements would forever remain part of the Israeli state, according to media reports.
"Efrat and Gush Etzion are integral parts of greater Jerusalem," Israeli daily The Jerusalem Post quoted Netanyahu saying.
"They are the southern gates of Jerusalem and will always be part of the State of Israel. We are building Efrat and Gush Etzion with enthusiasm, faith and responsibility."
The Palestinian villages surrounding Efrat and Gush Etzion fear plans to renew construction of Israel's separation wall around the settlements will result in their displacement, or encirclement by the barrier.
Palestinian leaders insist that Israel must halt all settlement expansion before they can return to peace talks. Negotiations have stalled since September 2010 when Israel refused to renew a partial freeze on Jewish settlements in the occupied West Bank.
The international community has repeatedly stated that Israeli settlements threaten a two state solution with the Palestinians.