Dismissing the idea of an independent Palestinian state, Interior Minister Gideon Sa’ar (Likud) on Sunday called for Jordan to play an integral part in solving the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, apparently leaning toward the “Jordan is Palestine” formula embraced by far-right leaders but rejected by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.
“I thought in the past, and I still think today, that the inclusion of a Jordanian component in a solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is one of the possible options,” Sa’ar said at the Herzliya Conference, an annual security event. “An agreement that includes a Jordanian component would be an agreement with depth, as opposed to a tiny unstable Palestinian state ruled by terrorist organizations.” The creation of such a Palestinian state, the minister added, would not end the conflict but “rather perpetuate it with a better vantage point for the Palestinians.”
Unsurprisingly, the minister’s hawkish address drew applause from Israel’s settlement movement. “Sa’ar’s lecture was the only one that honored the conference,” said Dani Dayan, the chief foreign envoy of the Yesha Council (a Hebrew acronym for the umbrella organization of municipal councils of Jewish settlements in the West Bank and formerly in the Gaza Strip), in a tweet.
Jordan effectively relinquished claims to the West Bank and East Jerusalem in 1988, with the exception of its role in the Muslim guardianship of holy sites, and has since backed Palestinians demands for independent statehood there.
A senior government official in Jerusalem emphasized, however, that Netanyahu remained committed to the principle of two states for two people, and that his idea of a final-status agreement does not include Jordan. Sa’ar was expressing his own personal opinion did not speak in the name of the government, the offical told The Times of Israel. “The government as a whole understands that the peace treaty between Israel and the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan is a crucial foundation for regional stability. The government of Israel honors the peace treaty with Jordan and will continue to do so.”
Sa’ar’s 20-minute address followed speeches by Finance Minister Yair Lapid (Yesh Atid), Economy Minister Naftali Bennett (Jewish Home), Justice Minister Tzipi Livni (Hatnua) and Opposition leader and Labor Party head Isaac Herzog. While Bennett reiterated his call for Israel to annex the West Bank’s Area C (where most Jewish settlers live), Lapid, Livni and Herzog issued passionate pleas for the government to resume peace talks with the Palestinians. They argued that a two-state solution, with the establishment of a Palestinian state in the pre-1967 lines with land swaps, was the only feasible option to solving the conflict and guaranteeing Israel’s future as a Jewish and democratic state.
Lapid, who has so far focused mainly on domestic issues since his Yesh Atid party entered the Knesset with 19 seats last year, launched his own peace plan, calling on the government to present its own maps to show how it sees the future borders and to make unilateral moves such as freezing settlement building outside the settlement blocs. The Prime Minister’s Office rejected the finance minister’s initiative, with officials saying that, “anyone with political experience knows that you don’t make concessions without [getting] anything in return.”
In his speech, Sa’ar sought to disprove the argument, often quoted by centrist and leftist politicians, that Israel would cease to be a Jewish state if it failed to implement the two-state solution. Such arguments, he said, were made before Israel withdrew from Gaza, and are still made today. He argued that the left and the Palestinians would continue citing the demographic threat even if Israel were to dismantle settlements in the West Bank.
Concluding his remarks, Sa’ar said that “in the foreseeable future” there is no solution to the conflict acceptable to Westerners, and that the status quo was better than an “irresponsible change of the status quo.”
While Israel has an interest to improve the everyday lives of Palestinians, any territorial concessions are unacceptable, he said.