Education Minister Naftali Bennett on Thursday applauded the Washington summit between US President and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu the previous day, but refused to comment on Donald Trump’s request that Israel “hold back” on settlement construction.
Speaking to Israel Radio, Bennett, the head of the pro-settlement Jewish Home party, praised Netanyahu for “avoiding the dangerous idea” of a Palestinian state and moving away from what he called three Palestinian states — the Gaza Strip, Jordan (a majority of whose population is Palestinian) and the internationally backed proposal for a new Palestinian state alongside Israel. Bennett had predicted “an earthquake” were Netanyahu or Trump to publicly endorse a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
“After 24 years during which we were on track for Palestinian statehood, which brought us so much misery — killings in intifadas [armed Palestinian uprisings], critical harm to Israel’s international standing — I think it’s certainly a different era,” he said.
But pressed on Trump’s request that Israel hold back on settlements, he said, “I don’t want to criticize the prime minister when he’s on official duty overseas.”
Trump said to Netanyahu on Wednesday, “I’d like to see you hold back on settlements for a little bit.”
Responded Bennett: “We will sit down together on Sunday, after he’s returned, and we’ll understand what was said, and we’ll agree on the steps ahead. My position has been consistent for many years. We want to be able to continue to build freely in Judea and Samaria,” another name for the West Bank.
On Saturday, Bennett had warned on Facebook that “the earth will tremble” if the two leaders mentioned a commitment to the establishment of a Palestinian state or to a two-state solution when they met.
At a press conference given by the two leaders on Wednesday, Trump said he believed a peace deal was possible, but indicated that he was not going to tell Israelis or Palestinians how to reach it.
“I’m looking at two-state and one-state, and I like the one that both parties like,” he said, showing receptiveness to Netanyahu’s call for a regional initiative that relied on Israel’s improving relationships with Arab countries.
Netanyahu asked rhetorically what two states actually meant. “A state that doesn’t recognize the Jewish state? A state that basically is open for attack again Israel? You know, what are we talking about? Are we talking about Costa Rica? Are we talking about another Iran? So obviously, it means different things.”
At a post-White House press briefing, Netanyahu repeatedly dodged questions as to whether his previously stated commitment to a two-state solution was still valid.
He added, “I told you what are the conditions that I believe are necessary for an agreement.
“It’s the recognition of the Jewish state and Israel’s — Israel’s security control of the entire area. Otherwise, we’re just fantasizing. Otherwise, we’ll get another failed state, another terrorist Islamist dictatorship that will not work for peace, but work to destroy us, but also destroy any hope for a peaceful future for our people.”
Agriculture Minister Uri Ariel, head of the Tekuma faction within Naftali Bennett’s Jewish Home Party, posted Thursday, “Congratulations to Prime Minister Netanyahu who protected the national interests of Israel. Security, settlement, Zionism.”
“The next stages are economic development of the area, the transfer of the American Embassy to Jerusalem and bringing Jonathan Pollard home, to Israel.”
Pollard is an American Jew who spent three decades behind bars for spying on the US for Israel.
Opposition leader Isaac Herzog (Zionist Union) warned after Wednesday’s Washington summit, “Every Israeli should fear the idea of one state from the sea to the Jordan River, which means no Jewish state. It’s a disaster, it’s very dangerous, and we will fight it in every possible way.”
Posting on Facebook, he said it was “sad and shameful to see Netanyahu twist and turn just to avoid the idea of separating from the Palestinians via a two-state solution.”
Zehava Galon, leader of the left-wing Meretz party, posted on Twitter, “I’m not going to go into Trump’s interpretations. Israel’s interest remains the same — the two-state solution. Even if Netanyahu is ready to sacrifice it for another day on his leather chair.”