The former head of military intelligence said Monday that there is no diplomatic impediment to leaving Israeli settlers under Palestinian rule in the West Bank.
Speaking at the Institute for National Security Studies in Tel Aviv, Amos Yadlin said 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.
Israel, he said, would need to take some sort of leading role for providing security in cases where the PA proved insufficient. Still, the difficulty of guaranteeing security for the group could preclude such a plan altogether, he acknowledged.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu put forth the position at a press conference in Davos, Switzerland, on Friday, when he said that he does not “intend to remove a single settlement” or “displace a single Israeli.”
An official in the Prime Minister’s Office told The Times of Israel on Sunday that Netanyahu does not intend to uproot Jewish settlements anywhere in the West Bank as part of a permanent peace deal with the Palestinians, and plans to allow settlers the choice of remaining under Palestinian rule.
Netanyahu came under 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. An unnamed official told Israel Radio that they were welcome to step down.
But Yadlin said that, diplomatically, the idea was sound, echoing the statement of an official in Netanyahu’s office that “if Israel can have an Arab minority, there’s no reason Palestine can’t have an Israeli one.”
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.”
A source in the PMO rebuked the PA for Erekat’s statement.
“Nothing reveals more the Palestinian Authority’s unwillingness to reach an agreement with the State of Israel than its radical and reckless reaction to an official report,” the PMO source said late Sunday. “An agreement will only be reached when the Palestinians recognize the Jewish state and only when Israel’s vital security needs are guaranteed.
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.
The Associated Press and Times of Israel staff contributed to this report.