The Prime Minister’s Office on Saturday firmly distanced itself from comments made to the Times of Israel by Deputy Defense Minister Danny Danon that a strong majority in the government and the coalition oppose a two-state solution with the Palestinians and would block the creation of a Palestinian state if such a proposal ever came to a vote.
Danon’s comments “do not represent the position of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and the government of Israel,” the sources said in response to Danon’s interview, which was published on Thursday.
Taking the highly unusual step of contacting The Times of Israel during Shabbat to make Netanyahu’s position clear, the sources went on to say that the prime minister “is interested in a resumption of negotiations without preconditions,” and that his positions regarding support for a two-state solution remain in force.
“Netanyahu calls on the president of the Palestinian Authority to restart talks without delay at which all issues will be raised to discussion,” the sources said. “The Palestinian Authority will raise its demands, and Israel will raise its demands which include, among others, stringent security arrangements, recognition of Israel as the nation state of the Jewish people, and the declaration of an end to the conflict.”
The sources indicated that it was very important that Netanyahu’s position be prominently restated.
It would appear that Danon’s comments, which have been widely reported, have discomfited the prime minister and caused dismay in the international community, exposing the government’s internal divide on the issue just as US Secretary of State John Kerry heads back to the region on June 11-12, for his fifth visit since taking office, in an effort to get Israel and the PA back to the negotiating table. Earlier in the week, Kerry warned that this might be the last chance to secure a two state solution. “The status quo is simply not sustainable,” Kerry said. “We will find ourselves in a negative spiral of responses and counter-responses that could literally slam the door on a two-state solution.”
Danon’s statements to The Times of Israel came in his first major interview with an Israeli news outlet since he became deputy minister.
“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 further said that 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. “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.
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.
But 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.
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.
If Kerry were to get the talks restarted, 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.”