Bennett promises to prevent capitulation to Palestinians

Following Obama visit, hardline minister sounds skeptical on diplomatic solution, says ‘only force can beat terror’

Naftali Bennett (photo credit: Flash90)
Naftali Bennett (photo credit: Flash90)

Minister of Economics and Trade Naftali Bennett pledged Friday that he would never surrender to popular opinion when Israel’s safety is at stake, voicing his skepticism regarding the possibility of attaining a peaceful solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

“I am a minister and the Israeli public’s representative in the government and the security cabinet. I will do everything in my power to prevent another disaster, even if it isn’t popular to do so,” Bennett wrote in a Facebook post.

Bennett, who is the head of the national-religious Jewish Home party, wrote that during US President Barack Obama’s recent visit to Israel, he told Obama, “It is time to examine new, different and creative, directions” to tackle the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. According to Bennett, the US president agreed that it was important for him to hear different opinions.

Obama’s visit to Israel, the West Bank and Jordan last week, and Secretary of State John Kerry’s meetings with regional leaders since then, have revived talk of a possible resumption of peace negotiations between Israel and the Palestinians.

Bennett said he finds the current political climate reminiscent of the bygone days of the Oslo Accords. “It feels like, if we just want it enough, if we make enough concessions, the long-awaited peace will arrive,” he wrote. “You have to take risks for peace; both sides want peace; a Palestinian state alongside Israel is the only chance for peace — these are all beautiful statements, yet sadly detached from reality.”

The Oslo accords, signed in Washington on September 13, 1993, by then prime minister Yitzhak Rabin and Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat, established the Palestinian Authority’s rule over parts of the West Bank.

The agreement gave the Palestinians administrative and military control over certain parts of the territory, and was seen as a stepping stone toward a peace agreement and a two-state solution. The agreement was meant to last for a five-year period, by which point a final-status negotiation was to be concluded.

However, the peace process largely stalled after that, stymied among other factors by ongoing Palestinian terrorism, the assassination of Rabin and the onset of the Second Intifada, a period of intensified Palestinian–Israeli violence which erupted in 2000 and ended circa 2005.

Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas has said that he won’t resume talks without an Israeli settlement construction freeze, but is rumored to be willing to accept a private promise from Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to stop building, possibly forgoing a more public policy announcement.

Netanyahu has thus far refused to halt construction and instead calls for an immediate return to negotiations without preconditions. In an apparent reversal of US policy, Obama sided with Israel’s position last week, saying that talks toward a “broad agreement” should resume without preconditions.

Bennett referred to the Second Intifada as an example of the utility of the IDF in combating Palestinian terror.

“Even then, they said you can’t defeat terrorism by force, and that there isn’t a military solution to terrorism and that only political negotiations could bring calm. Then we launched Operation Defensive Shield and proved everyone wrong — that only force can beat terror. The IDF, not diplomacy, defeated terrorism,” he wrote.

Bennett, whose party’s platform calls for the annexation of 60 percent of the West Bank, joined the Netanyahu-led coalition after six weeks of intense negotiations. One of the sticking points was Hatnua leader Tzipi Livni’s appointment as chief negotiator in talks with the Palestinians. Jewish Home members believed the dovish Livni would not be sufficiently forceful in her defense of Israel’s interests.

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