Ahead of US President Donald Trump’s trip to Israel, Jewish Home party leader Naftali Bennett on Saturday warned that Jerusalem must present its own vision for the future of the Middle East, or risk the country’s fate being decided by others.
On Friday US National Security Adviser H.R. McMaster told reporters during a daily press briefing in Washington that Trump will work toward a “just and lasting peace” between Israel and the Palestinians on his upcoming trip to the region. McMaster added that Trump will meet again with Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas, and will “express his desire for dignity and self-determination for the Palestinians.”
Responding to those comments, Bennett, a top coalition partner of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, called for explicit withdrawal of Israeli support for the two-state solution and the presentation of a bold alternative plan.
“We cannot continue to run a ‘bunker’ policy, or Israel’s fate will be decided by others,” he said.
Referencing Netanyahu’s seminal 2009 address at Bar-Ilan University, in which the prime minister expressed support for two states, Bennett claimed the speech and its acknowledgement of Palestinian national aspirations had “brought upon us boycotts, terrorism and a serious demographic threat. It is now time to revoke it.”
The education minister charted two possible paths ahead. The first was “the continuation of the Bar-Ilan policy that champions the establishment of a second Palestine, in addition to the one in Gaza,” which he called “a failed messianic formula that has so far led to bloodshed, diplomatic deterioration and will bring about a demographic catastrophe.”
The second, he suggested, was for the Jewish state to present a new initiative, based on economic development, which would see Israel “enacting its sovereignty on the Israeli parts of Judea and Samaria,” the “stabilization of the Gaza Strip” and the reinforcement of Israel as a pillar of security, intelligence and economic (strength) in the region.”
Bennett’s comments appeared to reflect growing concern in the Israeli right that, rather than allowing Israel to operate with impunity in the region as some had initially hoped he would, Trump is intent on pursuing regional peace, while reinstating Abbas at the center of the diplomatic stage.
Responding to Bennett’s comments, the prime minister’s Likud party said they were “an example of bizarre self-flagellation… The boycotts against Israel are the result of opposition to the very existence of a Jewish state and nothing else. It is Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu who fights for the acceptance of the Jewish state around the world.”
Zionist Union leader Isaac Herzog said earlier in the day that Trump’s Special Envoy for International Negotiations Jason Greenblatt had “unequivocally” stressed to him that the White House is striving to achieve a peace deal between Israel and the Palestinians.
Herzog dubbed Trump’s upcoming visit to Israel as a “tiebreaker,” adding that it was now up to Netanyahu to decide whether to cooperate with the Trump administration to try to reach a deal.
“Netanyahu has to decide whether he is working for the people of Israel or working for [Coalition chairman David] Bitan and [Culture Minister Miri] Regev,” Herzog said, referring to two Likud MKs with a hawkish stance on matters concerning the Palestinians.
Herzog promised opposition support if Netanyahu, who heads a multi-party coalition, does attempt to make substantive progress with the Palestinians.
Trump’s incoming Ambassador to Israel David Friedman also told Israeli diplomats that Trump is intent on reaching a peace deal, and urged them to cooperate and aid the president in his endeavor, Haaretz reported Friday.
An Israeli government source told the newspaper that Friedman claimed Trump’s enthusiasm for relaunching the peace process presented a great opportunity for the Jewish state, and advised officials to avoid confrontation with the president over the matter. However, Friedman has also advised Trump that the prospects of achieving peace at present are low, two people who spoke with the envoy said.
Trump’s visit to Israel, which was officially announced last week, will take place from May 22 to 23 — just before Jerusalem Day — after he stops in Saudi Arabia and before he goes on to the Vatican. He will also travel to Brussels and Sicily for NATO and G7 summits on the final leg of his first foreign trip.
There has been speculation since Trump’s travel plans were announced that he would seek to facilitate a trilateral meeting with Netanyahu and Abbas. When McMaster was asked if such a plan was in the works, he demurred. “It will be up to the president and those leaders,” he said.
Trump has already hosted both Netanyahu and Abbas at the White House, expressing optimism in his ability to succeed in brokering a peace deal where his three immediate predecessors have failed.