The possibility of leaving Israeli settlers under Palestinian rule in the West Bank is “not a bad nor an unrealistic idea,” former Labor head MK Shelly Yachimovich said Tuesday.
Speaking with Israel Radio, Yachimovich stated that the plan might help advance peace talks, as it would not involve widespread evacuation of Israeli citizens from their homes.
The Labor MK added that the Palestinian Authority leadership had been presented with such a plan in the past.
“The outrage expressed by Palestinian officials [over the plan] is not quite clear to me,” Yachimovich said.
“The idea has been raised in the past, and has been discussed with Palestinian negotiators, who at the time did not seem to think the offer was such a dramatic one.”
On Sunday, an official in the Prime Minister’s Office told the Times of Israel that Prime Minister Benjamin 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 he does “not intend to remove a single settlement, [and] I do not intend to displace a single Israeli.”
Following Netanyahu’s statements, former head of military intelligence Amos Yadlin said Tuesday that Israeli settlers who chose to remain in the West Bank under Palestinian sovereignty could have their security needs taken care of by the Palestinian Authority if it proves itself capable. He added that there is no diplomatic impediment to implementing such a plan.
However, Netanyahu came under heavy fire for the plan from the right wing, including Jewish Home leader and Economics Minister Naftali Bennett and Likud members Deputy Defense Minister Danny Danon, Deputy Foreign Minister Ze’ev Elkin, Deputy Transportation Minister Tzipi Hotovely and Deputy Minister Ofir Akunis.
On Tuesday, Jewish Home MK Uri Auerbach called Netanyahu’s plan “a ludicrous” idea, and told Israel Radio that it should not have been raised “even as a joke.”
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.”
The Palestinian Authority has consistently rejected the idea as well, and its top negotiator in the current round of peace talks reiterated this stance Sunday night.
“Anyone who says he wants to keep the settlers in a Palestinian state is really saying he does not want a Palestinian state,” Saeb Erekat declared. “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.”
Hanan Ashrawi, a member of the PLO’s Executive Committee, elaborated on the PA’s stance on Monday, saying that a clear distinction must be made between settlers and Jewish individuals who choose to live in a Palestinian state.
“Any person, be he Jewish, Christian or Buddhist, will have the right to apply for Palestinian citizenship,” Ashrawi told The Times of Israel. “Our basic law prohibits discrimination based on race or ethnicity.”
She added, however, that Palestinians would not accept “ex-territorial Jewish enclaves,” where residents will maintain their Israeli citizenship status. PA President Mahmoud Abbas, she said, had no problem with Jews within the Palestinian state, including in the international security force deployed in the Jordan Valley.