MOSCOW – The Israeli right is not concerned over recent peace overtures by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu since they will eventually come to nothing, Agriculture Minister Uri Ariel told The Times of Israel on Tuesday. Nonetheless, Ariel, who opposes Palestinian statehood, complained that by invoking a desire for a two-state solution, Netanyahu is fueling the notion held by many Israelis that the creation of a Palestinian state is inevitable.
(Note: See correction at the bottom of this article.)
Rather than Palestinian statehood, Ariel urged the annexation of Area C – the 60% of the West Bank controlled by Israel — and said NIS 10 billion (some $2.6 billion) should be poured into the other Palestinian areas to drastically improve the local population’s quality of life.
“I am not worried so much, even though there are surprises in life,” Ariel told The Times of Israel, referring to Netanyahu repeatedly declared desire to arrive at a peace agreement with the Palestinians and his partial embrace of the Arab Peace Initiative, which calls for an Israeli withdrawal to the pre-1967 lines and a “just” and “agreed” solution to the refugee question.
“In the end the Arabs will not agree (to an agreement under which) there is no ‘right of return’; they want to return to wherever they want,” Ariel, a member of the right-wing Jewish Home party, said. “In Israel everyone agrees — even the [center-left] Zionist Union — that there will be no right of return. And there are other issues which for the (Palestinians) are non-negotiable.”
However, Ariel continued, “there is an ongoing attack on the Israeli consciousness regarding the righteousness of our way.” Netanyahu and others pledging allegiance to the idea of Palestinian statehood contributes to a public perception that giving away parts of the Jewish homeland is inevitable, he said.
“Terms like ‘two states for two peoples’ lead the people that dwell in Zion [the Jewish people] to doubt our cause,” he said. Even those who believe in Israel’s right to the entire territory of the Holy Land start arguing that there is no other choice because the world insists on the creation of a Palestinian state, the minister said.
Ariel is the head of the far-right Tekuma faction, which makes up a part of the Knesset’s Jewish Home party. He said he agrees with party leader Naftali Bennett, who has threatened to leave the coalition if the government were to make territorial concessions.
“There is no way that we remain in a government that takes territory from the Land of Israel and hands it to others – the word ‘return’ doesn’t fit, it’s our not theirs,” he said. “We have been there for 49 years [in the West Bank]. Fifty years — compared to 19 years in which the Jordanians [controlled the West Bank.] There can be no comparison. It’s absurd.”
Ariel noted, however, that he has not discussed the peace process or related topics during recent talks with Netanyahu. He flew with the prime minister on this trip to Moscow – where he signed a memorandum of understanding on cooperation in agriculture, the dairy industry and advanced dairy technology with his Russian counterpart, Alexander Tkachev.
“We didn’t talk about this, not even one word. We talked about other important issues. There are other important issues,” Uriel said.
Speaking to The Times of Israel on the sidelines of an Israel-themed exhibition near the Kremlin, Ariel said the government should launch a “very wide ranging economic peace” with the Palestinians living in the West Bank. “Bring gas to Nablus and water to Hebron and build roads and hospitals and whatever they need. This is possible and it is necessary.”
Specifically, the government should earmark NIS 10 billion over the next 10 years to “invest in economic projects that benefit the population,” he said. Major projects should be launched unilaterally, he added. “In order to lay a gas pipeline to Hebron you don’t need anyone’s agreement. Just do it,” he said. “This is not something the State of Israel can’t cope with. We could do it unilaterally, and tell the world what we’re doing, I think doors will open in a way that is not happening today.”
In addition to such economic measures for Areas A and B, Ariel called for the annexation of Area C, arguing that very few Arabs live there. “We have to aspire to the annexation of Area C. These are areas where there are no Arabs at all, except a few thousand who don’t constitute a significant numerical factor,” Ariel said.
It is a fallacy to argue that an Israeli annexation of large parts of the West Bank is impossible due to universal international opposition to such a move, he argued. “They said it wouldn’t happen and then it happened: They said there wouldn’t be a Jewish state, and it was created,” Ariel said. The annexation of East Jerusalem, the absorption of a million Russian Jews, the evacuation of thousands of Israeli Jews from Gaza and other events that people refused to believe could happen prove that “one can never say never,” he said. “In Israel, the most expected thing is that every 10 years an unexpected mega-event occurs.”
(Correction: This article was updated on June 9, to correct a mistranslation of a comment by Ariel. The minister spoke of there being only a small number of Arabs in Area C, who he said did not constitute a significant numerical factor. He did not call for them to be evacuated from Area C, as the earlier version erroneously reported.)