Bennett: Any peace agreement that excludes Hamas is ‘a joke’

Responding to American officials’ optimism, senior minister compares peace talks to buying a car from someone who only owns half of it

Haviv Rettig Gur is The Times of Israel's senior analyst.

Economy Minister Naftali Bennett, November 6, 2013 (photo credit: Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)
Economy Minister Naftali Bennett, November 6, 2013 (photo credit: Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

Economy and Trade Minister Naftali Bennett sounded a decisively pessimistic tone on peace talks Sunday morning.

“I’m for an agreement,” he told Israel Radio from Australia, where he is on an official visit, “but a real one that doesn’t harm our interests.”

“Maybe I missed the news and Hamas in Gaza recognized Israel and stopped firing rockets,” he added sarcastically. Peace talks that did not include the leaders of Gaza were “a joke,” Bennett insisted.

He compared a final peace agreement to a car. “Imagine you’re negotiating over a car with someone who only owns half the car, and the owner of the other half says he won’t recognize any agreement you reach. You give him all the money but only get half the car.”

Bennett’s comments on Gaza came a day after three Kassam rockets were fired from the Gaza Strip at Israeli towns on Saturday afternoon, though all three landed inside Gaza, Army Radio reported.

Bennett was responding to optimism sounded by US leaders, including President Barack Obama and Secretary of State John Kerry, at the Brookings Institution’s Saban Forum in Washington over the weekend.

Obama told the gathering that he believed “it is possible over the next several months to arrive at a framework that does not address every single detail but gets us to the point where everybody recognizes it’s better to move forward than move backward.”

“If you care about Israel, its future, if you care about Palestinians, we need to believe that peace is possible and we need to act on that belief,” Kerry said.

Asked about American pressure on Israel to reach a deal with the Palestinian leadership, Bennett asked rhetorically, “So you’ll commit suicide and relinquish our responsibility over our security because someone puts pressure on you? [Former premier] Ehud Barak promised everything [to the Palestinians] and we got 1,000 dead. We were promised Gaza would turn into Singapore and we got thousands of rockets. The result of Oslo [peace agreements] was 1,500 dead. Not American dead, Israeli dead.”

Despite his opposition to the current framework of the peace talks, Bennett promised his party was “not going to be the problem. We’re not demonstrating. We’re not yelling.” But, he said, his camp would take the peace talks more seriously “when the entire Palestinian people, including Hamas in Gaza and the Palestinian Authority in the West Bank, is involved.”

Bennett’s comments echoed the skepticism expressed in recent days by other senior Israeli officials. While Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has repeatedly reiterated his commitment to reaching an agreement, Foreign Minister Avigdor Liberman and Defense Minister Moshe Ya’alon sounded a decidedly different view in recent days.

“To speak frankly,” Foreign Minister Avigdor Liberman said Friday night, also at the Saban Forum, “I don’t believe it is possible in the next year to achieve [a] comprehensive solution, to achieve some breakthrough, but I think it’s crucial to keep our dialogue, because we live in the same region, we’re neighbors. It’s important at least to think about coexistence.”

Defense Minister Moshe Ya’alon was similarly reserved.

“As someone who supported the Oslo Accords, I’m learning that we have no partner on the other side” in the quest for a two-state solution, Ya’alon said Saturday night at a Tel Aviv conference.

“On the other side, there isn’t, and hasn’t been since the dawn of Zionism, a leadership that’s willing to recognize our right to exist as the nation-state of the Jewish people, and to see in an agreement an end to the conflict and an end to all demands. We won’t talk about an inch, a millimeter of land so long as we don’t see that we have a partner that’s talking about recognition, about the end of the conflict and the end of the right of return.”

Ricky Ben-David and Times of Israel staff contributed to this report.

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