Dropping West Bank annexation bid, Bennett turns to the Golan

Dropping West Bank annexation bid, Bennett turns to the Golan

Education minister calls on international community to choose between Israel and ISIS and finally recognize 1981 annexation

Raphael Ahren is the diplomatic correspondent at The Times of Israel.

Minister of Education Naftali Bennett speaks at the Herzliya Conference, June 7, 2015. (Flash90)
Minister of Education Naftali Bennett speaks at the Herzliya Conference, June 7, 2015. (Flash90)

Education Minister Naftali Bennett on Sunday launched a campaign to gain international legitimization for Israel’s annexation of the Golan Heights, arguing that while the deep-seated disagreements about the West Bank will not be resolved easily, there is no question that the Golan will remain in Israel’s hands.

“I call on the international community: Recognize Israel’s sovereignty over the Golan Heights,” he said at a conference in Herzliya. “You can choose: It’s either Israel or the Islamic State. It’s either a democracy that elects its heads, or a barbaric organization that cuts off heads. Because in the Golan there’s no such thing as occupation. In the Golan, no one claims human rights abuses, at least not on our side.”

Bennett said he’d like to “challenge the international community to exhibit morality, values and justice. It can be done regarding the Golan Heights. To this day, no state in the world has recognized the Golan as part of Israel, including our friend, the United States of America. It is time the world stand by the right side — Israel’s side.”

Keeping the Golan, which Israel captured in 1967 and officially annexed in 1981, is an Israeli consensus, Bennett said, calling on opposition leader Isaac Herzog and MK Yair Lapid to rally the country around his Golan-themed campaign.

Bennett, the head of the Orthodox-nationalist Jewish Home party, lamented that only 23,000 Jews live in the northern territory. He announced a plan to bring an additional 75,000 Jews to the Golan within the next half-year, mostly through financial incentives.

A fervent opponent of the creation of a Palestinian state in the West Bank, Bennett said that the international community’s position on that matter makes an Israeli-Palestinian peace agreement unlikely in the near future.

“I understand that we have a disagreement on Judea and Samaria, what they call in the world the West Bank. On this matter, I understand, we agree to disagree,” he said.

Bennett said he proposed plans on how to deal with the Palestinians in the West Bank — he calls for steps to increase their standard of living but wants Israel to annex the so-called Area C, where most Jews live — and that he realizes that the international community still insists on the creation of a Palestinian state. “But let’s put that aside,” he said.

While the world has a clear idea of what it wants to happen in the West Bank, it is unclear why it refuses to recognize Israeli sovereignty on the Golan Heights, he said. “What’s the logic? Where’s the morality in that? What do they want? Who do they want us to hand the Golan to? To the al-Nusra Front, al-Qaeda; to [Hezbollah chief Nassan] Nasrallah; to [Syrian President Bashar] Assad, who butchered 200,000 of his citizens?”

Last month, Bennett for the first time said that his plan of an Israeli annexation of Area C “won’t happen tomorrow.” In an interview with The Washington Post, he posited that the “annexing part is not going to happen, just as the Palestinian state part won’t happen.” Rather, he said, Israel’s immediate goal should be to improve the lives of Jews and Muslims living in the West Bank.

Speaking at the annual Herzliya Conference Sunday, Bennett also addressed the ongoing threats of boycotts against Israel, declaring that the Jewish state will no longer stand idly by as its detractors seek to “delegitimize” it.

“Let it be clear to any company or organization that’s considering boycotting us: We will hit back. We will attack our attackers. We will boycott our boycotters,” he said.

“The boycott weapon is a double-edged sword. If you’re thinking of boycotting Israel, keep in mind that there are tens of millions of Israel supporters around the world — Jews and non-Jews — with considerable buying power and boycott power. Whoever boycotts Israel will be boycotted. Whoever hits Israel, will be hit back. We will no longer remain silent.”

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