JERUSALEM (JTA) — Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu planted a tree in a West Bank settlement to mark the Tu b’Shevat festival.
Netanyahu joined community members in planting trees Sunday in Kibbutz Kfar Etzion in Gush Etzion. He was scheduled to plant trees as well at the Maale Adumim and Ariel settlements.
Israelis plant trees from the beginning of the Hebrew month of Shevat until the holiday on the 15th of the month, which falls this year on Jan. 30.
"The message is clear — we are here, and we will stay here," Netanyahu said Sunday in Kfar Etzion. "We plant and build — this is an inseparable part of the State of Israel forever."
The planting came several hours after Netanyahu met with U.S. Middle East envoy George Mitchell to discuss ways to restart peace negotiations with the Palestinians.
The Gush Etzion, Maale Adumim and Ariel settlement blocs are widely expected to be part of Israel in any peace settlement.
During Sunday’s Cabinet meeting, Netanyahu said of the planting, "This expresses the unity that exists within the nation about how important it is for these places to remain part of the State of Israel forever. I encourage all members of parliament to get out and plant in the [settlement] blocs in our land."
Netanyahu has called a 10-month freeze on new construction in West Bank settlements.