Two days before US Secretary of State John Kerry is set to visit the region in ongoing efforts to jump-start peace talks, senior coalition member and Jewish Home party head Naftali Bennett said that a peace agreement with Palestinians would lead to more rockets and violence.
“Do I really want my home in Raanana to be 10 minutes from a Palestine armed with missiles?” he asked during an interview with Israel Radio Tuesday morning.
A Palestinian state, he said, would lead to another outbreak of violence. “If you look at when there’s violence, it’s on the heels of peace [agreements].” He pointed to the breakout of the Second Intifada after the Camp David summit in 2000, and said that the Oslo process led to thousands of deaths.
Still, Bennett said, he had no problem with talks themselves as long as there are no preconditions. “It’s OK to speak. I won’t oppose negotiations.”
Bennett criticized gestures that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu was reportedly considering to entice the Palestinians back to the negotiating table, including freeing prisoners and freezing settlement construction. “I’ve participated in dozens of negotiations in my life; never have I paid a price for the simple right to negotiate. If you want to sit and talk, by all means. I’m not about to pay for this sacred right to sit and talk to [Abbas].”
Netanyahu is prepared to release a limited number of Palestinian prisoners in exchange for Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas dropping the return to the ’67 lines as a precondition to resuming peace talks, diplomatic sources said Monday.
He might also announce a construction freeze in West Bank settlements outside of major blocs, according to a Maariv report.
Both concessions are said to be central demands by the Palestinians before they will enter talks with Israel, which have been largely on hold since 2008. On Monday, Israel’s Channel 2 reported that Abbas was willing to return to the table, but the PA denied the report.
On Tuesday morning, chief Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erekat said Ramallah was ready to enter talks and had never placed any preconditions on doing so.
Netanyahu has vowed in the past to not agree to any preconditions before returning to the table, while expressing readiness to discuss all issues when talks resume.
On Thursday, Kerry is slated to land in the region for a three-day visit.
According to the State Department, Kerry will visit Amman and Jerusalem to meet Israeli, Jordanian, and Palestinian officials to discuss restarting the peace process. Kerry has made several trips to the region since taking the post in February, engaging in intense shuttle diplomacy in a bid to jump start talks.
Last week, Netanyahu told The Washington Post that he was willing to sit in a tent with Abbas until the two hashed out an agreement. But Bennett, from the nationalist Jewish Home Party, said he did not share the prime minister’s zeal for negotiations toward a two-state solution.
“It’s no secret that I have a different outlook than the prime minister regarding a Palestinian state,” Bennett admitted.
Bennett also reiterated his opposition to ceding any more land to the Palestinians. “I know the world will always clap its hands for us if we give up another piece of our land… I don’t want applause, I want a strong Jewish state that’s here in this land forever.”
Instead, Bennett called for a new approach to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, one based on joint economic development. Real peace, he said, will come from Jewish and Arab business cooperation in the West Bank.
The recent elections, Bennett claimed, show that the Israeli public wants the government to deal with the economic challenges facing them, not waste time on peace talks with Palestinians. He repeatedly tried to steer the conversation toward economic issues.
Ron Friedman contributed to this report.