Around 10,000 West Bank settlers and their supporters protested in the streets of Jerusalem Wednesday night, vowing to defy the Israeli government's new 10-month restrictions on settlement building.
Ever since Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's decision in late November to institute a temporary freeze on building, he's faced vehement opposition from Israel's settler groups - a segment of society that was once his largest base of support.
The protesters gathered Wednesday night claiming they'll continue to build no matter what. In recent days, settlers have blocked government inspectors from entering their communities, with police even arresting some demonstrators.
Protesters carried signs blaming both the Netanyahu government for going soft and the Obama administration for pressuring Israel - the U.S. has continued to call for a full settlement freeze, hoping the gesture would bring the Palestinians back to the negotiating table.
The Palestinians have already regected the offer, calling the 10-month curb on building an empty gesture since it doesn't include homes where construction has already begun, east Jerusalem - which Palestinians claim as the capital of their hoped-for state - and some 3,000 buildings already approved for construction in the West Bank. An Israeli rights group issued a report yesterday saying that construction in settlements is still continuing at a staggering pace.
Still, protestors Wednesday were outraged at the very notion of a compromise on settlements in the West Bank - many consider the land promised to them by God.
The Netanyahu government is using the freeze, and the backlash from some of its most ardent supporters, to its political advantage, saying it proves that Israel is ready to make deep, hard sacrifices for peace, while at the same time criticizing the Palestinians for failing to make any gesture of their own. Netanyahu has already said publicly that the freeze is only temporary, and that construction will continue unfettered after 10 months.