Bennett says he’s ‘convinced’ Netanyahu will not go forward with annexation

Bennett says he’s ‘convinced’ Netanyahu will not go forward with annexation

Yamina party chief says premier needlessly dragging out talks on applying sovereignty to settlements, voices strong opposition to Palestinian state outlined in peace plan

Yamina party leader MK Naftali Bennett, at a press conference in Jerusalem on May 14, 2020. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)
Yamina party leader MK Naftali Bennett, at a press conference in Jerusalem on May 14, 2020. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

Yamina chairman Naftali Bennett said Wednesday that he does not believe Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu will go forward with annexing parts of the West Bank as he has vowed repeatedly to do in recent months.

The right-wing leader, now in the opposition, accused Netanyahu of needlessly dragging out the process and voiced his strong opposition to any establishment of a Palestinian state.

“When I see Netanyahu talking about this so often, I’m convinced more and more that he’s not going to do it. If you want to do it, then do it. You said you’ll apply sovereignty over all of Judea and Samaria, all the communities, and won’t establish a Palestinian state,” Bennett said, referring to the West Bank by its Biblical names. “‘If you’re going to shoot, shoot, don’t talk,’ just do it already. What’s he waiting for?”

“I’m in favor of sovereignty. I’m strongly opposed to establishing a Palestinian terror state in the heart of Israel. If this is Netanyahu’s legacy, with Gantz at his side — we’ll fight against a Palestinian state with all our strength,” Bennett told Channel 12 in an interview, his first since joining the opposition.

“We need to apply sovereignty, stop being afraid, do it already, but not establish a Palestinian state.”

He also affirmed in the interview that he considers US President Donald Trump a “great friend” to Israel.

Avigdor Liberman, head of the right-wing, secular Yisrael Beytenu party, similarly accused Netanyahu of dragging out the annexation process for his personal benefit in an interview published Thursday by The New York Times.

Knesset opposition leader Yair Lapid, meanwhile, has dismissed Netanyahu’s annexation vow as “spin” meant to distract the public’s attention from his ongoing corruption trial and the pandemic-induced economic crisis. Lapid has said he supports the Trump peace plan but opposes unilateral annexation.

Bennett accused Netanyahu of “using and throwing away” Israel’s right-wing as he reclaimed the premiership.

Benjamin Netanyahu, right, speaks with Benny Gantz, both wearing protective masks due to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic during the weekly cabinet meeting in Jerusalem, June 7, 2020. (Menahem Kahana/Pool via AP)

“He didn’t just toss us aside, he tossed aside the entire ideological right-wing public. Took the votes, said ‘we’ll restrain the justice system, establish a free economy and apply sovereignty.’ At the end of the day he transferred the Justice Ministry to [Blue and White MK Avi] Nissenkorn,” Bennett said.

In response to the interview, Netanyahu’s Likud party said: “Bennett refused every offer [to join the government].”

Bennett maintained that Netanyahu had not wanted his national-religious faction in the government.

“Netanyahu didn’t want us. There wasn’t a moment of negotiation,” Bennett said, though he stopped short of blaming the personal animus between himself and Netanyahu for the fallout.

The coalition deal signed between Netanyahu’s Likud party and Benny Gantz’s Blue and White allows the prime minister to begin moving forward with annexation on July 1. He has promised to annex all settlements and the Jordan Valley — some 30 percent of the West Bank in total. The parts of the West Bank that Israel would extend sovereignty over are those earmarked for it under US President Donald Trump’s peace plan.

Currently, a US-Israeli committee is working to map out the exact contours of potential annexation, with Washington saying the move should not go forward before that work is complete.

However, a minister in Netanyahu’s Likud party said last week that the July 1 target date for annexation could be pushed off by weeks, while a source told The Times of Israel that the US was “highly unlikely” to support Israel moving forward with annexation then.

A Blue and White minister on Tuesday said the centrist party has reached an agreement with Likud on annexing the Jordan Valley, but that party chair and Defense Minister Gantz would only support the plan if it was backed by the United States and some Arab countries.

View of the Israeli settlement of Efrat, in Gush Etzion, West Bank, on January 6, 2020. (Hadas Parush//Flash90)

Settler leaders in recent weeks have voiced criticism of the Trump plan. Some settler representatives oppose it because it conditionally provides for Palestinian statehood, and they claim it does not allow for annexation of a sufficient amount of West Bank land in addition to the settlements and the Jordan Valley. They also say the plan would transform several settlements into vulnerable enclaves.

The annexation plan has drawn a flurry of regional and international condemnations.

Jordanian officials, including the kingdom’s prime minister and foreign minister, have threatened to reconsider their treaties and agreements with Israel in the event of annexation.

Jordan’s prime minister has warned that if Israel goes ahead with the plan, the kingdom will review its peace agreement with Israel. Palestinian sources have reportedly said the kingdom could decide to cancel its peace accord with the Jewish state.

Visiting German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas on Wednesday restated his country’s opposition to annexation, but stopped short of announcing possible punitive measures Berlin could take if Jerusalem goes ahead with its controversial plan.

Maas made a one-day trip to the region, meeting with Netanyahu, Gantz and Foreign Minister Gabi Ashkenazi.

Foreign Minister Gabi Ashkenazi (right) with German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas at the Foreign Ministry in Jerusalem on June 10, 2020. (Olivier Fitoussi/Flash90)

Maas said Germany stands ready to help Israelis and Palestinians explore different ways to resume peace negotiations, stressing that he had come to the Middle East to listen to the sides and not to pronounce threats.

Meanwhile, Ashkenazi, at the same press conference, said Israel wants to implement the US administration’s peace plan. He indicated that annexation plans were not a done deal and that much work needed to be done before the government decided if and how to proceed with such a move.

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