Bennett accuses Trump of ‘planning a Palestinian state right over our heads’

Escalating criticism of White House peace plan, New Right head calls on US president to ‘let my people know’ the details of his proposal

Raoul Wootliff is a former Times of Israel political correspondent and Daily Briefing podcast producer.

Education Minister Naftali Bennett speaking at a New Right party press conference in Tel Aviv on February 7, 2019. (Tomer Neuberg/Flash90)
Education Minister Naftali Bennett speaking at a New Right party press conference in Tel Aviv on February 7, 2019. (Tomer Neuberg/Flash90)

New Right chair Naftali Bennett launched a direct assault on Donald Trump Wednesday morning, accusing the US president of “planning a Palestinian state right over our heads,” and calling on him to release his closely guarded Middle East peace plan before Israel’s April elections.

‎‏”We all know the ‘deal of the century’ will be launched right after the Israeli elections, but we, the Israelis, are in the dark about the plan itself,” Bennett said in English-language comments during an address at a conference for local government in Tel Aviv.

While calling Trump “a true friend to Israel,” Bennett added that “friends do not keep secrets one from another.” The comment could be seen as a thinly veiled swipe at Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who has held talks with administration officials regarding Trump’s proposal, and whose Likud party is vying for the same voters Bennett’s New Right is aiming to win.

“It seems that everybody is in the loop, planning the Palestinian state right over our heads: the Americans, the Saudi prince, the Palestinians, the Jordanian king — even Erdogan of Turkey, blatant anti-Semite! Even he’s in the loop!” Bennett charged. “Everybody’s in the picture. Everybody but us, the people of Israel.”

In a wry parody of Moses’s biblical demand that Pharaoh release the Israelites from slavery, Bennett declared: “President Trump, let my people know.”

L-R: US President Donald Trump’s envoy to the Middle East Jason Greenblatt, Jewish Home chair Naftali Bennett and US Ambassador to Israel David Friedman after meeting in Jerusalem, July 12, 2017. (Jewish Home)

A spokesperson for the education minister said the remarks were a “direct request to President Trump” to reveal the plans immediately.

The Trump administration has closely guarded details of its peace proposal, which the president’s senior adviser and son-in-law Jared Kushner said last week would be released after Israeli elections on April 9.

Bennett, in comments aimed at the public as much as at Trump, said that due to the plan, the election was now “a referendum on the creation of a Palestinian terror state, which will threaten our very existence. This is not theory. This is about the lives of our children.”

“Let my people know what will happen to Jerusalem. It’s our land. It’s our lives. It’s our future. And it’s our right to decide our fate,” he added. “The Land of Israel has been our homeland for almost 4,000 years. Nobody can tear it apart. Nobody can divide Jerusalem again.”

The comments, the latest in a series of remarks by Bennett slamming both the as-yet-unrevealed peace proposal and Netanyahu for allegedly going along with it, came after Kushner gave an interview earlier this week on the administration’s plan, saying it will focus on “establishing borders and resolving final status issues.”

“The goal of resolving these borders is really to eliminate the borders. If you can eliminate borders and have peace and less fear of terror, you could have freer flow of goods, freer flow of people and that would create a lot more opportunities,” Kushner told Sky News Arabic on Monday.

White House Senior Adviser Jared Kushner at a conference on Peace and Security in the Middle East in Warsaw, Poland, on February 14, 2019. (AP Photo/Michael Sohn)

Kushner said that since “very little has changed over the last 25 years,” the administration’s team had worked to “formulate realistic solutions for the issues of 2019, which will improve quality of life.

“We want to bring peace, not fear. We want to ensure there is free flow of people and of goods. We must create new opportunities,” he said.

Kushner also called for unified rule over the West Bank and the Gaza Strip, areas that are currently split between the internationally recognized Palestinian Authority and the Hamas terror group, respectively.

“We want to see the Palestinians united under one leadership; the Palestinians want a non-corrupt government that cares for their own interests,” he said.

Kushner said that the peace plan wants to help get the Palestinians “what’s been elusive to them for a long time.” But he did not explicitly mention a Palestinian state, nor did he even vaguely endorse a two-state solution.

Nonetheless, the statements set off a combative back-and-forth between New Right and Netanyahu’s Likud, with the two parties jostling to boost their right-wing credibility.

“There’s a clear and present danger in front of us: the establishment of a Palestinian state,” Bennett said Monday in response to the Kushner interview.

“What Kushner said proves what we already knew — the day after the elections the Americans will push the Netanyahu-Lapid-Gantz government to allow for the establishment of a Palestinian state… and for the division of Jerusalem,” Bennett said in a statement.

“There’s only one way to prevent this: a strong and powerful New Right party that will boost Netanyahu but put pressure on him against Palestine,” he said.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, right, and Education Minister Naftali Bennett, left, attend the weekly cabinet meeting at the Prime Minister’s Office in Jerusalem, Tuesday, August 30, 2016. (Abir Sultan/Pool/via AP)

Likud responded to Bennett’s charges, saying on Monday: “When Bennett and [Ayelet] Shaked established the New Right they said they were doing it in order to pull votes from Lapid and Gantz to enlarge the right-wing bloc, and that they wouldn’t subject us to friendly fire. Now they are making false charges against Likud with the goal of pulling votes from Likud, which will bring about the rise of the left-wing government of Lapid and Gantz, whose party will be bigger than Likud.”

Likud further claimed that representatives of the New Right have “made contact with Lapid and Gantz to join them after the elections,” while Netanyahu “has made it unequivocally clear that he will form a right-wing government.

“Prime Minister Netanyahu has safeguarded the Land of Israel and the State of Israel against Obama’s hostile government and will continue to do so in the face of Trump’s sympathetic administration,” it said.

Responding to Likud’s claim that the New Right had held talks with Benny Gantz and Yair Lapid, heads of the centrist Blue and White party, Bennett’s party said: “The Likud announcement is pure fake news and utter nonsense. The pressure is clear… It’s the right or Palestine. Only the New Right will prevent the establishment of Palestine in the Land of Israel.”

Times of Israel staff contributed to this report.

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