With peace efforts stalled, Israel should annex over half of the West Bank and give Palestinians in the affected areas full Israeli citizenship, Economy Minister Naftali Bennett said Sunday.
Bennett, a coalition hawk who heads the Orthodox-nationalist Jewish Home party, was one of two senior government officials Sunday to float the idea of Jerusalem extending sovereignty to Area C of the West Bank, which Israel maintains civilian and security control over as part of the Oslo Accords.
“We are not going to reach a peace agreement in the foreseeable future,” Bennett said in a speech to foreign journalists. “I think we need to be realistic about what we can achieve.”
Bennett said he advocated giving the Palestinians “autonomy on steroids” in areas of the West Bank they already control, while annexing the remaining 60 percent of the West Bank that Israel rules and that contains the vast majority of settlements.
He said the goal should now be making conditions as livable as possible, by giving Palestinians freedom of movement and supporting their economy, and allowing them to hold elections in their autonomous areas and run their day-to-day affairs. Full independence, however, would be impossible, he said.
“I know it is not as sexy as the perfect two-state solution but this is realistic,” he said.
Bennett, who campaigned on the issue of annexation during the 2012 elections, painted a saccharine picture of life in the Israeli-annexed West Bank with “life becoming more and more bearable for everyone.”
“What can the Palestinians hope for? Already they have the best life in the entire Arab world — they’re not being hanged because they are gay, women are allowed to drive,” he said.
“But full self-governance, have your anthem, have your flag, pay your own taxes, have your own elections — we’re fine with it.”
Bennett noted that Israel has twice annexed territory — after the Six-Day War when it annexed East Jerusalem and in 1981 when it extended sovereignty to the Golan Heights.
The minister said that the unilateral move would be in response to the recent Palestinian unilateral actions.
Although admitting that his suggestions were not an official government stance he said that other ministers, not just from his Jewish Home party, also support the idea of annexing part of, if not all, of Area C.
Palestinians living in those areas would become full Israeli citizens, Bennett said.
Earlier in the day, Communications Minister Gilad Erdan (Likud) called on the Israeli government “to start preparing for the annexation of Area C.”
The struggling peace talks took a nose dive at the end of March when Israel reneged on a pledge to release two dozen Palestinian prisoners and the Palestinians responded by asking to join 15 international treaties in a step denounced by Israel.
Last week, Israel suspended negotiations in response to a Palestinian reconciliation deal that saw Fatah and Hamas agree to share rule and form a unity government. Israel and the West consider Hamas, which has killed hundreds of Israelis in attacks, to be a terrorist group.