Senior members of two ruling parties spoke out this week against any territorial concessions in the framework of possible agreement with the Palestinians. They reminded Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu that large parts of his coalition are adamantly opposed to his declared policy of seeking to establish a Palestinian state in the West Bank — just as he was until a few years ago.
As the prime minister was heading to a meeting with US Secretary of State John Kerry on Sunday, in part to discuss the current peace negotiations, 17 MKs from the Likud and Jewish Home parties handed him a letter. It stated: “Twenty years after the wretched Oslo Accords, we call on the prime minister to present our clear position to the US secretary of state: Israel will not return to the Oslo outline, and will not hand further parts of the homeland to the Palestinian Authority.”
The missive, initiated by the Knesset Caucus for Eretz Israel [the Land of Israel], was signed by five deputy ministers: Ze’ev Elkin (foreign affairs), Danny Danon (defense), Tzipi Hotovely (transportation), Ofir Akunis (a deputy minister in the Prime Minister’s Office tasked with liaising between the Knesset and the government), Eli Ben Dahan (religious services) and Avi Wortzman (education).
In late July, the stalled peace process resumed after Kerry exerted immense pressure on both Israelis and Palestinians. Led by Justice Minister Tzipi Livni and the top Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erekat, the negotiations are currently ongoing at undisclosed times and locations.
“We think that it is very important, nowadays, when we know that negotiations are being held by Minister Livni, that the prime minister knows that major parts of his coalition are against surrendering land to the Palestinians,” Danon told The Times of Israel Monday. “We just marked the 20th anniversary of the Oslo Accords, which we believe was a mistake that we paid a heavy price for.”
The Declaration of Principles on Interim Self-Government Arrangements, as the first part of the Oslo Accords is formally known, was signed on September 13, 1993, at the White House. Many right-wing politicians still see the agreement, which in 1995 led to the creation of the Palestinian Authority, as the root of subsequent Palestinian terrorism.
Danon said he and his co-signers were not afraid that the current peace talks would actually lead to a final-status agreement and the creation of a Palestinian state, “but we want to make sure we won’t be surprised. We know the positions of Minister Livni and of Erekat and Martin Indyk [a former US diplomat tasked with facilitating the talks] — so we want to make sure that our ideas too are being heard and represented during these negotiations.”
The signatories of the letter to Netanyahu said they actively sought to prevent an agreement with the Palestinians that would entail any territorial concessions without getting anything in return, the deputy defense minister emphasized. “We don’t want to wait and wake up one morning and see a draft that we cannot live with. That’s why we’re speaking out and making sure that our voice will be heard and I think we represent a major part of the Israeli population on this issue.”
Elkin: ‘Agreements do not always bring peace and security, sometimes it just brings more blood’
Deputy Foreign Minister Elkin also pulled no punches when on Sunday night he attacked Netanyahu for working toward a Palestinians state, 22 years after having forcefully rejected it during a meeting of the Likud Central Committee 11 years ago.
“Netanyahu said [during a May 12, 2002, speech] that we shouldn’t be alarmed about the international community does not see eye to eye with us on the question of a Palestinian state. In the past we didn’t worry about their position,” Elkin said at a conference in Tel Aviv. “And at the end of his remarks, [Netanyahu] said something that is still so true today: A ‘yes’ to a Palestinian state means a ‘no’ to the Jewish state, and a ‘yes’ to the Jewish state means a ‘no’ to a Palestinian state.”
Extensively quoting from that speech — during which Netanyahu argued passionately against a Palestinian state “today or tomorrow” — the deputy foreign minister called on the prime minister to discuss the issue in the Likud Central Committee and hold a vote on it.
Elkin also referred to the 20th anniversary of the Oslo agreement, rhetorically asking whether it was reason to rejoice. “Since the founding of the state, 2,500 people died in terror attacks, 1,500 of them after the Oslo Accords — the numbers speak for themselves,” he said.
“Today we state: We shall no longer give up on Israel’s security. Agreements do not always bring peace and security, sometimes it just brings more blood. Today it’s already known that the reason for the conflict is not the settlements, regardless of what they tell us. There was a conflict even before the settlements started. Then, as today, the [Palestinians’] goal is to get rid of us.”
Netanyahu on Sunday met with Kerry in Jerusalem mainly to discuss the Syria crisis, but the two leaders also discussed “at some length” the peace process. Netanyahu said, “We both know that this road is not an easy one, but we have embarked on this effort with you in order to succeed, to bring about a historic reconciliation between Israelis and Palestinians that ends the conflict once and for all.”
Kerry said he had a “very productive” meeting with Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas in London last week, but added that all sides agreed not to discuss publicly the state of the negotiations. “We will not lose sight of the endgame,” Kerry stated. “I know that from talking with the prime minister today. And I think both of us remain deeply committed, and we hope very much with our partners in the region, to doing our best to try to make this journey towards peace get to its destination.”