A top Likud minister on Monday urged Israel to step up settlement construction, including in outlying areas of the West Bank, in what he described as a “clear price” for the Palestinian refusal to recognize Israel as a Jewish state.
Ahead of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s trip to Washington, Public Security Minister Gilad Erdan hailed the new US administration for saying settlements were not the obstacle to peace, but glossed over President Donald Trump’s criticism of settlements as “not helpful” to peace efforts.
Unlike former president Barack Obama, who had an “opposite worldview, by 180 degrees” to the Israeli government, Erdan said there was “a lot of hope, a lot of optimism” about Trump.
Trump is a “friend of many years to the State of Israel,” said the minister at the B’Sheva Jerusalem Conference, sponsored by nationalist news outlet Israel National News. “We have a historic opportunity here for a new era.”
Erdan specifically referred to a White House statement earlier this month that maintained that settlements were not an impediment to peace. However, the statement — and Trump’s weekend interview with the pro-Netanyahu daily Israel Hayom — also referred to settlements as “not helpful” to peace.
“While we don’t believe the existence of settlements is an impediment to peace, the construction of new settlements or the expansion of existing settlements beyond their current borders may not be helpful in achieving that goal,” the White House said earlier this month.
The minister recommended a “price for Palestinian obstinacy,” later describing that “clear price” as a construction boom in the settlements, and not merely within the blocs that Israel states publicly that it aims to retain under a deal with the Palestinians.
Israel must build outside the blocs and anyone who says otherwise is “adopting left-wing” views, Erdan said. That penalty will bring the Palestinians to the negotiating table, he predicted.
He also called for the annexation of areas that were expected to remain under Israeli control under a peace deal.
“Now is the time to extend sovereignty to areas on which there is no controversy” that they will remain Israel’s in a final status agreement, he said.
Also addressing the conference, Social Equality Minister Gila Gamliel (Likud) called Trump “a real friend to Israel and the settlements.”
She called on the government to adopt the 2012 Edmund Levy report to legalize West Bank outposts.
Herzog makes plea for two-state solution
Opposition leader Isaac Herzog said at the conference that most Israelis are in favor of the two-state solution, and was greeted by boos from the largely right-wing crowd.
“I say to President Trump and administration — in the State of Israel there is a clear majority in favor of separating from the Palestinians and the vision of the two-state solution,” he said. “Not appropriation and not annexation of millions of Palestinians who will demand full citizenship rights.”
Herzog said annexing the West Bank would spell the end of Israel as a Jewish state.
“Therefore, Prime Minister Netanyahu, who is taking off [for Washington] right now — and I wish him luck — must decide whether he will continue be dragged behind Naftali Bennett and the radical right who are going wild to annex millions of Palestinians to the State of Israel or whether he will act responsibly and, in his meeting with the US president, reiterate Israel’s commitment to the two-state solution.”