Bennett backs Palestinian autonomy ‘on steroids’

Jewish Home leader says he won’t allow Palestinian state on his watch, touts security cabinet achievements in recent coalition spat with Netanyahu

Jewish Home leader Naftali Bennett on Channel 2's 'Meet the Press', June 4, 2016  (Channel 2 screenshot)
Jewish Home leader Naftali Bennett on Channel 2's 'Meet the Press', June 4, 2016 (Channel 2 screenshot)

Jewish Home leader Naftali Bennett said Saturday that while he vehemently opposes the establishment of a Palestinian state, he does back the formation of “a Palestinian autonomy on steroids.”

The education minister told Channel 2’s “Meet the Press” that such an agreement would include imposing full Israeli rule over Area C, which constitutes over 60 percent of the West Bank.

Bennett has previously spoken of a “Stability Plan” in which Palestinians living in areas A (under full Palestinian control) and B (under joint Israel-Palestinian control) would govern themselves, without Israeli interference, but without true independence. Area C, which houses all Israeli settlements, would be annexed to Israel. The tens of thousands of Palestinians living in that region would be offered full Israeli citizenship, under the plan.

In the interview, segments of which were aired on Thursday, Bennett said he was not opposed to holding talks and pursuing diplomacy with the Palestinians but warned that he would topple the Likud-led government if necessary in order to prevent the establishment of a Palestinian state.

Responding to recent promises made by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Defense Minister Avigdor Liberman to pursue a peace agreement with the Palestinians, Bennet vowed that “as long as we are here [in the coalition], a Palestinian state will not be established… and Jerusalem will not be divided.”

He added that his party would “stand as a fortified wall against historic mistakes,” making a reference to the Hebrew name of Operation Protective Edge, Israel’s 2014 conflict with Hamas in Gaza.

He noted that Palestinian statehood was not part of the government’s policy guidelines as set down in last year’s coalition talks when Netanyahu sought to form his government after the elections.

“We’re in a government that I insisted not have [the establishment of] a Palestinian state in its guidelines,” he said. “If we are talking about a return to the 1967 lines and the division of Jerusalem, I won’t just resign from the government, I’ll topple it.

“We shouldn’t give up an inch of land, we shouldn’t give any land to the Palestinians,” he said emphatically.

Bennett’s withdrawal of his eight-seat party from the coalition, which has a scant majority of 66-54, would effectively topple it.

Likud efforts to bring in the largest opposition party, Zionist Union, into the coalition failed last month, with both sides blaming each other for the break down. Netanyahu has repeatedly called on the party’s leader, Isaac Herzog, to reconsider and join the government.

Bennett said he was not opposed to the Zionist Union joining the coalition “as long as the government’s guidelines remain unchanged.”

The minister also touted his “historical” achievements in a recent political struggle with Netanyahu, after his demand for an overhaul of the security cabinet briefly threatened to throw the coalition into crisis.

Education Minister Naftali Bennett (left) and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu (Haim Hornstein/Flash90)
Education Minister Naftali Bennett (left) and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu (Haim Hornstein/Flash90)

His demand to appoint a military attaché to the cabinet was partially met by Netanyahu last week, when the two agreed to appoint the acting head of the National Security Council to the position. A committee will be formed to find a more permanent solution.

“I improved the security of Israeli citizens and IDF soldiers,” he said Saturday. “In the last two wars the cabinet was blind. I won’t agree to that anymore and that is why I insisted [on the change].

Bennet had demanded that an attaché provide ministers with real-time security updates, coordinate additional fact-finding visits to IDF bases and other military zones, and facilitate easier access to classified information.

“I want an effective cabinet that investigates and asks questions,” he explained. “We all vote and send soldiers into battle and we need to be a professional body that knows what it’s doing.”

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