Israel’s ruling party and the governing coalition are staunchly opposed to a two-state solution and would block the creation of a Palestinian state if such a proposal ever came to a vote, Deputy Defense Minister Danny Danon said, contradicting statements by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and senior cabinet members who say Jerusalem is committed to the principle of two states for two peoples.
Danon’s statements, made Wednesday to The Times of Israel in his first major interview with an Israeli news outlet since he became deputy minister, underline the low likelihood of the current government being able to sign a peace agreement with the Palestinians.
“Look at the government: there was never a government discussion, resolution or vote about the two-state solution,” Danon said. “If you will bring it to a vote in the government — nobody will bring it to a vote, it’s not smart to do it — but if you bring it to a vote, you will see the majority of Likud ministers, along with the Jewish Home [party], will be against it.”
Danon said Netanyahu calls for peace talks despite his government’s opposition because he knows Israel will not arrive at an agreement with the Palestinians in the near future. (* This sentence was reworded for accuracy on June 9. See note at end of article.)
“Today we’re not fighting it [Netanyahu’s declared goal of a Palestinian state], but if there will be a move to promote a two-state solution, you will see forces blocking it within the party and the government,” Danon said.
“If there’s a move to promote a two-state solution, forces will block it within the party and the government’
The deputy minister said “there is no majority for a two-state solution” among the 31 lawmakers that make up the Likud-Yisrael Beytenu Knesset faction. The Likud party’s central committee, about 10 years ago, passed a motion against the creation of a Palestinian state, Danon said, adding that “legally” the party was opposed to the concept of two states for two people.
In a much touted 2009 Bar-Ilan University speech, Netanyahu in principle agreed to a Palestinian state, on the condition that it be demilitarized and it recognizes Israel as the homeland of the Jewish people. In recent weeks the prime minister has vowed to cooperate with US efforts to restart peace negotiations and has repeatedly called on Palestinian leaders to resume talks without preconditions.
On Tuesday, International Relations and Strategic Affairs Minister Yuval Steinitz acknowledged that some members of the government oppose the two-state solution but asserted that “the entire cabinet” backs Netanyahu’s efforts to arrive at a two-state solution.
“Prime Minister Netanyahu made it very clear that he and his cabinet and the entire government are totally committed to his Bar-Ilan speech about [a] two state for two peoples solution,” Steinitz told reporters in Jerusalem. “And even if there are different positions within the coalition or the government, any member of the government is very well aware [of] and therefore committed to the prime minister’s vision, to the prime minister’s approach.”
Several key members of the current government, including Deputy Foreign Minister Ze’ev Elkin, Deputy Transportation Minister Tzipi Hotovely, Knesset Speaker Yuli Edelstein, Deputy Knesset Speaker Moshe Feiglin, coalition chairman Yariv Levin and other senior Likud MKs, are staunchly opposed to a two-state solution, advocating instead the partial or complete annexation of the West Bank to Israel. The entire 12-member Jewish Home faction, including three ministers, likewise rejects the creation of a Palestinian state in the West Bank and Gaza.
The members of the remaining parties in the coalition — Yesh Atid and Hatnua — endorse a two-state solution, yet together have merely 25 Knesset seats, compared to a combined 43 mandates of Jewish Home and Likud-Beytenu.
Hatnua chairwoman and Justice Minister Tzipi Livni, who has been tasked with conducting peace talks with the Palestinians, acknowledged that some in the government “pray” for her failure but said that she is willing to attempt a peace agreement nonetheless.
“I know that I have the support of the prime minister in the attempts to relaunch the negotiations,” Livni told reporters last week. “You’re asking about the government? It’s a coalition, with different parties. I am going to have the support of some, and other would pray that maybe it would not succeed.”
Even Jewish Home chairman and Economy Minister Naftali Bennett said he is “willing to live with negotiations,” Livni added. “So this is a window that I can work [with] — for a while. This is the coalition that was created, and frankly it is not the coalition that I wanted, and it was not, maybe, the coalition that the prime minister wanted. But this is what we have and we need to work with it.”
Speaking to The Times of Israel in his Knesset office, Danon said that there is currently zero debate about the two-state solution within the Likud because there is no “viable partner” on the Palestinian side and it seems unlikely that peace talks would resume any time soon. In recent weeks, US Secretary of State John Kerry has engaged in shuttle diplomacy in a serious bid to get the two sides to return to the negotiating table — so far to no avail.
If Kerry were to succeed, however, and Netanyahu and the Palestinians agreed on the implementation of a two-state solution, “then you have a conflict” within the government, Danon said. “But today there is no partner, no negotiations, so it’s a discussion. It’s more of an academic discussion.”
Asked whether Netanyahu truly is in favor of a two-state solution, Danon replied that the prime minister tied the creation of a Palestinian state to conditions he is certain the Palestinians will not agree to. “He knows that in the near future it’s not possible.”
‘US condemnation of East Jerusalem building is racist’
Speaking about the international community’s routine condemnations of Israeli construction in East Jerusalem, Danon declared that the government can do whatever it pleases, wherever it pleases.
“The international community can say whatever they want, and we can do whatever we want,” he said.
Danon said he stood by comments he made before he became deputy defense minister, in which he suggested Washington’s rebukes of Israel for expanding Jewish neighborhoods beyond the 1967 lines are racist.
In November, after President Barack Obama won a second term in the White House, Danon released a statement that read: “Instead of wasting time and resources to impose housing zoning laws on Israel that can be described as nothing less than ‘racist,’ now is the time for our two nations to come together to combat the greatest threat to freedom in our time.”
During Wednesday’s interview, Danon said that at the time he was referring to Obama stating that “Jews should not build in Gilo.” According to Danon, Obama “could have said: ‘Until the final agreement in Jerusalem, I expect that Jews and the Arabs will not take unilateral action.’” But by saying that “Jews” should not build in East Jerusalem, he was created an unfair distinction, Danon said.
Asked later to provide the exact quote in which Obama allegedly singled out Jews for building in East Jerusalem, Danon’s office stated that news articles often use the terms “Jewish” and “Israel” interchangeably.
“So what [Danon] was saying was that the American policy that disallowed the building of Jewish/Israeli homes in certain parts of Jerusalem while not commenting at all on Palestinian illegal construction all over Jerusalem can definitely be described as racist,” a senior adviser said.
(* This sentence was updated on June 9. The original version inaccurately paraphrased Danon to say Netanyahu knows Israel will never arrive at an agreement with the Palestinians.)