The idea of a Palestinian state has run its course and Israel must seek another solution to the conflict with the Palestinians, Economics Minister Naftali Bennett (Jewish Home) said Monday, joining a growing number of coalition members who have recently expressed firm opposition to the two-state solution.
“The idea of forming a Palestinian state in Israel has reached a dead end,” Bennett said at a meeting of the Yesha Council, the umbrella organization of Jewish communities in the West Bank. Never in the history of the Jewish people has so much energy been invested in “something so pointless,” and “we should put the idea behind us,” he added.
“The biggest problem is that the leaders of Israel are not prepared to say clearly that the Land of Israel belongs to the Jewish people,” Bennett said.
“There is a shift from seeking a solution to the problem to finding a situation that we can live with,” he said, adding that “the way to deal with the Palestinian problem is to establish separate rule for [West Bank] Palestinians, Israeli sovereignty over Area C and a broad improvement in economic conditions for Judea and Samaria for Jews and Palestinians alike.”
Judea and Samaria are the Biblical terms for the area known internationally as the West Bank.
Said Bennett, “Those who dare to say that the occupation corrupts [Israel] and fret over the occupation all day long — occupation, occupation. What occupation? Can one be an occupier in one’s own home? This is our home.”
The senior minister was reiterating publicly, for the first time since becoming a member of the cabinet, his position that Israel should annex areas of the West Bank with a large concentration of settlers. These sections of the territories, known collectively under the terms of the Oslo Accords as “Area C,” are under full Israeli security and civil control. Area C constitutes some 60 percent of the West Bank and is home to over 150,000 Palestinians in addition to over 300,000 settlers.
The annexation plan is part of the Jewish Home party’s platform, and stands at odds with, but does not directly contradict, the government’s formal position. According to the platform of the Netanyahu government, “Israel will strive to achieve a peace agreement with the Palestinians with the objective of attaining a diplomatic solution that will end the conflict.”
Bennett also suggested that the conflict with the Palestinians was analogous to bomb fragments that could not be dislodged from the body; a two-state solution would permanently hobble the country, making annexation the lesser of two evils, he indicated.
“I have a friend who’s got shrapnel in his rear end, and he’s been told that it can be removed surgically but it would leave him disabled,” said Bennett, a reservist in the prestigious Sayeret Matkal commando unit. “So he decided to live with it. There are situations where insisting on perfection can lead to more trouble than it’s worth. ”
Bennett’s position contradicts statements made by Prime Minster Benjamin Netanyahu in support of a demilitarized Palestinian state. Deputy Foreign Minister Ze’ev Elkin (Likud), a settler who also came out in favor of annexation before the elections, said on Monday that Bennett’s statement “does not represent the position of Prime Minister Netanyahu, just as the opinion of [Justice Minister] Tzipi Livni doesn’t represent the prime minister’s opinion.”
Livni, who is charged with managing peace talks with the Palestinians, has been one of only a number of outspoken proponents of the two-state solution in the Netanyahu government.
Bennett’s statements elicited condemnation from opposition and coalition members alike.
Such comments, said Science and Technology Minister Yaakov Peri (Yesh Atid), “harm the delicate fabric of the relations [with the Palestinians] and the attempts to build bridges and establish confidence-building measures between Israel and the Palestinians. The establishment of a Palestinian state is an existential Israeli interest… the only solution that can avert a binational state and the end of Zionism.”
MK Eitan Cabel (Labor Party) also raised the specter of a binational state and said he was unsurprised by Bennett’s statements.
“That’s only the less unpalatable part of Bennett’s worldview,” he warned. “Bennett has to understand that the question isn’t whether there will be a diplomatic agreement but rather when… because it’s in our interest.” The Jewish Home minister must “stop the rush toward a binational state,” Cabel added.
The Palestinians’ chief negotiator, Saeb Erekat, also condemned Benett’s remarks.
“Within the past few days, several high-ranking Israeli officials, from the ministries of foreign affairs, defense, and religious affairs, have made clear statements regarding their position to actively work against the internationally endorsed two-state solution on the 1967 border,” Erekat was quoted by the Palestinian Wafa news agency as saying.
“These are not isolated events but a reaffirmation of political platforms and radical beliefs. Israel has officially declared the death of the two-state solution,” he added.
Bennett’s comments come in the wake of a political and media firestorm generated by Deputy Defense Minister Danny Danon, who earlier this month told The Times of Israel that the current government would never allow a Palestinian state.
US Secretary of State John Kerry is engaged in an intense effort to coax the Israelis and Palestinians back to the negotiating table. However, the Palestinians have refused to engage in peace talks with Israel unless it halts construction in the West Bank and eastern Jerusalem.
Israel has declined to meet any preconditions and has expressed its readiness to discuss the issue in the framework of talks.
Editor’s note: This article was slightly amended to reflect the fact that Bennett’s comment about shrapnel referred to the conflict with the Palestinians rather than the Palestinians themselves.