Bennett in favor of ‘unilateral moves’ in West Bank

Following Netanyahu interview, in which PM said idea gaining traction in Israel, Jewish Home leader reiterates call to annex territory

Then Jewish Home leader Naftali Bennett (left) with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in the Knesset, April 22, 2013 (Miriam Alster/Flash90)
Then Jewish Home leader Naftali Bennett (left) with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in the Knesset, April 22, 2013 (Miriam Alster/Flash90)

Economics and Trade Minister Naftali Bennett (Jewish Home) said Friday that he supports Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s talk of Israeli unilateral action in the West Bank as an alternative to negotiating with the Palestinians. While it was not clear whether Netanyahu was talking about annexing mainly Jewish-settled territory or withdrawing from mainly Palestinian areas, Bennett made plain he was backing annexation.

“The era of negotiations has come to an end. I’m hearing talk about unilateral action on Israel’s part and I support that,” Bennett wrote on his Facebook page.

Bennett’s made the remark following an interview Netanyahu gave to Bloomberg, published overnight Thursday-Friday, in which the Israeli head of state hinted that Israel may have to consider taking unilateral steps with regard to the West Bank after laying blame for the collapse of peace talks on Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas.

“We [Jewish Home] are pushing [for Israel] to implement the law in Gush Etzion, Ariel, the Jordan Valley, Maaleh Adumim… and everywhere Jews live,” Bennett wrote.

“It’s time that the state of Israel did what was good for the state of Israel,” he was quoted by Army Radio as saying.

In Netanyahu’s first comments to the press since peace talks with the Palestinians broke down late last month, the prime minister struck a pessimistic tone during the interview regarding the possibility of restarting negotiations.

The Palestinian leadership is unwilling to make compromises for peace, calling into question the efficacy of diplomatic negotiations, Netanyahu said.

Speaking to Jeffrey Goldberg of Bloomberg, Netanyahu blamed Abbas for the collapse of peace talks and intimated that Israel may have to consider taking unilateral steps.

“Negotiations are always preferable. But six prime ministers since Oslo have failed in their pursuit of a negotiated settlement,” he said. “They’ve always thought we were on the verge of success, and then [Yasser] Arafat backed off, Mahmoud Abbas backed off, because they can’t conclude these negotiations. We don’t have a Palestinian leadership that is willing to do that. The minimal set of conditions that any Israeli government would need cannot be met by the Palestinians.”

Asked about the possibility of a unilateral withdrawal from the West Bank, Netanyahu acknowledged that the idea was gaining traction across the political spectrum, but warned that Israel could not risk another Gaza, which was taken over by Hamas after Israeli unilaterally disengaged.

“Many Israelis are asking themselves if there are certain unilateral steps that could theoretically make sense. But people also recognize that the unilateral withdrawal from Gaza didn’t improve the situation or advance peace,” he said. Negotiations collapsed after nine months in April amid mutual recriminations that each side refused to live up to its pre-talks commitments.

While Netanyahu backed efforts by Secretary of State John Kerry to bring the sides to the table, he blamed Abbas for not taking the Americans seriously.

“What has Abbas done? Nothing. He’s refused to entertain Kerry’s efforts to try and lock horns on the core issues. He internationalized the conflict,” he said, referring to the Palestinian leader’s decision to apply to 15 international treaties, which, according to Jerusalem, broke a Palestinian commitment not to apply for statehood to the UN.

On Syria, Netanyahu said he supported US President Barack Obama’s decision not to strike Damascus after a devastating chemical attack, saying he “appreciated the effort” to instead force Syrian president Bashar Assad to give up his chemical stockpile. However, he noted that Assad had not relinquished all his arms, worrying Israel.

“We are concerned that they may not have declared all of their capacity. But what has been removed has been removed. We’re talking about 90 percent,” said Netanyahu.

While highlighting differences of opinion on how to tackle Iran’s nuclear program, the prime minister also praised defense cooperation with the US, which he said had not suffered under Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel, seen by some as anti-Israel.

“The relationship has truly been fine. Our defense cooperation and intelligence sharing, which has been substantial in both directions, and our work on anti-missile and anti-rocket defense have been very good… That doesn’t mean we can’t have differences of opinion on Iran.”

The interview was published Friday morning in Israel, hours after Netanyahu presented former New York mayor Michael Bloomberg, owner of the Bloomberg news empire, with the $1-million Genesis Prize. Bloomberg, a billionaire, said he will donate the prize to charity.

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