Senior coalition politicians — including Economy and Trade Minister Naftali Bennett, Deputy Defense Minister Danny Danon, and Deputy Foreign Minister Ze’ev Elkin — slammed comments made Sunday to the Times of Israel by an official in the Prime Minister’s Office, who indicated that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is pushing to allow Israeli settlers the choice to remain in situ under Palestinian sovereignty as part of a future peace plan.
The official told The Times of Israel on Sunday that Netanyahu has no intention of forcibly uprooting any settlers even under a permanent accord, but rather wants them to have the choice of remaining in “Palestine” as a Jewish minority or voluntarily relocating to areas under Israel sovereignty. The official was elaborating on Netanyahu’s declaration in Davos on Friday that, “I do not intend to remove a single settlement, [and] I do not intend to displace a single Israeli.”
Explained the official: “Just as Israel has an Arab minority, the prime minister doesn’t see why Palestine can’t have a Jewish minority. The Jews living on their side should have a choice whether they want to stay or not.”
In response, right-wing Jewish Home party leader Bennett issued a call on Sunday night to Netanyahu to abandon the idea of settlers living under Palestinian rule, and said the prime minister’s position “reflects an irrationality of values.”
“Never,” Bennett posted on his Facebook page. “We did not return to the land of Israel after two thousand years of longing to live under the government of Mahmoud Abbas. Whoever advocates for the idea of Jewish life in Israel under Palestinian rule is undermining our ability to sit in Tel Aviv.”
Likud MK Danon also castigated the notion, and said he “would not wish upon my enemies to live under Palestinian rule.” Those who think Jews can live under Palestinian sovereignty are invited to visit Gaza, Danon said. “Where there is no military presence and responsibility, there will be no security for any Jew,” he added.
Elkin also sharply criticized the plan, and accused the unnamed official in the PMO of attempting to create a rift between Netanyahu and his fellow Likud members.
A statement released by the Yesha Council on Sunday night lambasted the plan, indicating that settlers themselves are opposed to it.
Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas has previously rejected the idea of settlers remaining in a future Palestinian state, insisting there can be no Israeli civilian or military presence, and on Sunday night Palestinian official Saeb Erekat reiterated that position.
“Anyone who says he wants to keep the settlers in a Palestinian state is really saying he does not want a Palestinian state,” Erekat said. “No settler will be permitted to stay in a Palestinian state, not one, because the settlements are illegal and the presence of settlers on occupied lands is illegal.”
The idea of letting settlers choose whether they want to return to Israel proper or remain in a future Palestinian was first suggested in 2006 by then-prime minister Ehud Olmert. “Each and every one of the settlers who live in territories that stand to be evacuated will need to decide whether to live in a Jewish state, the State of Israel, or in a Palestinian state,” Olmert said, in response to a question about whether he intended to uproot tens of thousands of people from their homes in a future peace deal.
Netanyahu was and remains a fierce critic of the 2005 disengagement from Gaza, under which prime minister Ariel Sharon forced the evacuation of all Gaza settlers and the demolition of the settlements.
Raphael Ahren contributed to this report