Palestinians would kill Jewish Israelis left under their rule, Economy and Trade Minister Naftali Bennett said on Tuesday, continuing a campaign against Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s ostensible willingness to leave Israeli settlers under Palestinian rule under a future peace agreement. Bennett also outlined his own plan for the West Bank — which he has largely been mum about since joining Netanyahu’s government — under which Israel would annex most of the territories.
“Do you know why? Why Jews cannot live under Palestinian rule? Do you know why? Why Palestinians can’t rule over Jews?” Bennett said in an address at the Institute for National Security Studies Conference, reiterating a point he’d made on Facebook earlier in the day. “Because they will kill them. And do you know how I know this? Because it has already happened.”
Bennett went on to recount in gory detail some of the events of the 1929 massacre in Hebron, in which 67 Jews were killed during Arab riots, and of the year 2000 lynching in Ramallah of two off-duty IDF soldiers who had sought refuge in a Palestinian police station.
He warned ominously that, “Our forefathers and our descendants will not forgive an Israeli leader who gives up our country and divides our capital,” and spoke out against giving up any of the settlements in a peace agreement, before going on to present the central aspects of his own proposal, under which Israel would annex most of the West Bank.
“We would extend our sovereignty over the Jewish parts of [West Bank], where 400,000 Israelis live and just 70,000 Palestinians,” said Bennett, who heads the Orthodox-nationalist Jewish Home party. “We would offer the Palestinians [in those areas] citizenship. I am not afraid of this because we are not Palestinian slaughterers. This will not harm our demographics in the rest of [Israel].”
Israel should not care if the world did not officially recognize that annexed territory, he went on; the world didn’t recognize israeli sovereignty at the Western Wall, he noted. I the end, what the world respects is power, and “if we are strong the world will respect us; if we are weak, then we’ve seen what happens,” he said, referring to the situation near the Gaza border, where Israeli towns take frequent rocket fire after 2005’s unilateral Israeli withdrawal from the Strip.
Bennett also cited figures to bolster a claim that demographics were working in Israel’s favor, and argued that to cite the demographic challenge was a fallacious excuse for giving up the settlements as part of a peace deal with the Palestinians. As of today, he said, the Jewish population is growing faster than the Palestinian population – 3.04 children per Jewish family compared to 2.91 per Palestinian family. He did not cite the source of those statistics. “The demographic clock is working in Israel’s favor,” he said. “[But] the establishment of a Palestinian state will flood Israel with refugees,” he said, presumably creating an actual demographic challenge.
An official in the Prime Minister’s Office, elaborating on a statement Netanyahu made in Switzerland Friday, told The Times of Israel on Sunday that the prime minister does not intend to uproot Jewish settlements anywhere in the West Bank as part of a permanent peace deal with the Palestinians, and wants to allow settlers the choice of remaining under Palestinian rule.
The comment elicited a flurry of criticism from right-wing politicians, including Bennett and many members of the prime minister’s own Likud party.
In his INSS speech, Bennett urged that the idea of settlers-in-Palestine be dropped. Bennett had similarly issued a call on Sunday night to Netanyahu to abandon the idea, and said the prime minister’s position suggested “ethical insanity.”
“Never,” Bennett posted on his Facebook page. “We did not return to the land of Israel after 2,000 years of longing in order to live under the government of [Palestinian Authority President] Mahmoud Abbas. Whoever advocates for the idea of Jewish life in Israel under Palestinian rule is undermining our ability to sit in Tel Aviv.”
An unnamed PMO official told Israel Radio on Monday that Likud MKs who spoke out against Netanyahu’s proposal were welcome to relinquish their posts. Another official took Bennett to task for behaving in a “nationally irresponsible” manner for the sake of making headlines, and hindering the prime minister’s effort “to reveal the true face of the Palestinian Authority” as an unwilling peace partner.
The proposal was roundly dismissed by the Palestinian Authority, prompting a sharp condemnation from the PMO.
“Nothing shows the Palestinian Authority’s unwillingness to reach an accord with Israel more than their extreme and reckless reaction to an unofficial report,” Netanyahu’s office said late Sunday. “An accord will only be reached when the Palestinians recognize the Jewish state and when the essential interests to the security of Israeli citizens are guaranteed.”
In the wake of that exchange, Israel’s chief negotiator, Justice Minister Tzipi Livni, implied that, rather than pursue a peace agreement in earnest, some Israeli officials have been baiting the Palestinians so as to elicit responses that could be construed as rejectionist.