Education Minister Naftali Bennett on Monday expressed pleasure over Benjamin Netanyahu’s apparent abandonment of the two-state solution in the wake of his meeting with US President Donald Trump, though the prime minister has not made an explicit declaration to that effect.
Addressing American-Jewish leaders in Jerusalem, Jewish Home party leader Bennett laid out his vision for the future of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, which includes annexing some 60 percent of the West Bank, and offering Israeli citizenship to the Palestinians living there and autonomy to the remaining residents of the territories.
“I am very pleased to see that gradually Prime Minister Netanyahu is adopting this approach. It seems to be — the jury is still out on where exactly we are,” Bennett said. “I will be smarter in a week or two from now. But I am happy that Prime Minister Netanyahu and President Trump are willing to explore new ideas.”
On Wednesday, Trump appeared to walk back the longstanding US commitment to a two-state solution as the sole model for resolving the conflict. “So, I’m looking at two-state and one-state and I like the one that both parties like,” he said during a joint press conference with Netanyahu at the White House. “I can live with either one.” The next day, however, Trump’s UN envoy Nikki Haley said the US remained “absolutely” behind the two-state solution.
During his week-long trip to Washington, Netanyahu carefully avoided uttering the words “two-state solution” or “Palestinian state”; conversely, he refused to rescind his acceptance in principle, during a 2009 Bar-Ilan speech, of a demilitarized Palestinian state that recognized the Jewish state. He also said he did not want to annex the entire West Bank and give Israeli citizenship to 2.5 million Palestinians.
Speaking to the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations during its annual Israel mission, Bennett said that rejecting Palestinian statehood did not necessarily mean applying Israeli sovereignty over the entire West Bank.
“There are some who would present it as either a Palestinian state or a one-state solution; I don’t buy that,” Bennett said. “My plan is something between those. I don’t think we should apply rule over two million Palestinians. I have no desire to govern them.”
He claimed that there was a clear difference between the “autonomy on steroids” that he wished to offer the majority of Palestinians who would not be given Israeli citizenship, and a demilitarized state as envisioned by Netanyahu’s Bar-Ilan speech.
“You can’t unstate a state. You can’t unboil an egg,” he said, arguing that a full-fledged state posed a greater threat to Israel’s security than merely allowing the Palestinians to govern themselves without having full sovereignty.
Though he said he was encouraged by Wednesday’s press conference in Washington, Bennett was hesitant to state his expectations from the White House.
“We’re in the early days with the new administration,” he said. “America is our greatest friend, so we have to act as friends do — be clear what is vital to our security interest and discuss openly and coordinate.”
Next week, when Netanyahu returns from his visit to Singapore and Australia, Bennett plans to meet with him to “really understand what was agreed upon,” the Jewish Home party leader said. “We’ll take it from there.”
Bennett also said that he still believes Netanyahu will agree to establish a new West Bank community for settlers evacuated from the outpost of Amona last month.
After his meeting with Trump, Netanyahu reportedly backtracked from his promise to establish a new settlement, arguing that Jerusalem had to first reach agreements about settlement expansion.
“Prime Minister Netanyahu clearly promised the Amona residents that he would form a new town for them,” Bennett said. “Moreover, he signed an agreement with them. I am confident that he will meet his words and we will stand beside him while doing that.”