Jewish Home minister threatens to bolt coalition over Trump peace plan

With PM reported to endorse US proposal, Uri Ariel says his National Union faction ‘will not remain in a government that recognizes a Palestinian state’

Raoul Wootliff is the The Times of Israel's political correspondent.

Agriculture Minister Uri Ariel at a conference of the National Union Political party in Jerusalem on September 12, 2017. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)
Agriculture Minister Uri Ariel at a conference of the National Union Political party in Jerusalem on September 12, 2017. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

A government minister from the Jewish Home party threatened Saturday to leave the coalition over reports — denied in Israel and the US — that the Trump administration is ready to recognize a Palestinian state as a central element of an Israeli-Palestinian peace deal likely to be accepted by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

“The National Union will not remain in a government that recognizes a Palestinian state,” Agriculture Minister Uri Ariel said in statement following a Hadashot news (formerly Channel 2) report on the plan, referring to the faction he heads within the nationalist Jewish Home Party.

The ruling coalition has a narrow majority of 66 out of 120 MKs, leaving the government vulnerable to threats from junior partners. If the National Union, which is made up of just Ariel and MK Bezalel Smotrich, were to leave the coalition, it would not, however, eliminate the government’s majority and trigger new elections.

But Ariel said he and Smotrich are not alone in their position and would be joined by other lawmakers in bringing the government down if the reports are true.

“There are also Knesset members in Likud and Jewish Home who have made clear that they will not agree to transfer swaths of land to the Palestinian Authority,” he said.

As co-chairs of the Knesset lobby for the Land of Israel, Smotrich and Likud MK Yoav Kisch echoed Ariel’s words, saying in a statement that “under no circumstances will we agree to the establishment of a Palestinian state on this side of the Jordan river.”

They added: “A diplomatic plan in the spirit of new Oslo accords will be received with strong opposition.”

Jewish Home MK Bezalel Smotrich (R) speaks with Likud’s Yoav Kisch during a plenary session in the Knesset, November 13, 2017.)

The TV report Saturday night said that in addition to the recognition of a Palestinian state, the US would not insist on the evacuation of any settlements or settlers under a permanent accord, and that Washington would back most of Israel’s security demands regarding the West Bank.

Netanyahu had been made aware of the plan and had told ministers Israel could not say no to it, the TV report claimed.

Quoting what it said were senior Israelis intimately involved in the ongoing discussions with US President Donald Trump’s peace team, the report said the plan would see Trump prepared to offer recognition of Palestinian statehood, with the parameters of that state to include land swaps. The borders, however, would “not necessarily” be based on the pre-1967 lines.

Sunni Arab states and others would provide hundreds of millions of dollars in economic assistance for the Palestinians under the plan, to help encourage Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas to accept the deal, the report said.

The US would recognize most of Israel’s stated security needs, including for the ongoing presence of Israeli forces along the Jordan border, the TV report added. It said Netanyahu, for his part, was pushing for the retention of overall Israeli security control in all Palestinian territory.

No settlers or settlements would be evacuated under the US proposal, the TV report said, also noting that no Arabs would be required to relocate.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu (L) and US President Donald Trump are seen prior to their meeting at the Palace Hotel in New York City ahead of the United Nations General Assembly on September 18, 2017.(AFP Photo/Brendan Smialowski)

A White House official, however, rejected the report as “not an accurate representation” of the peace plan being worked on.

“There is constant speculation and guessing about what we are working on and this report is more of the same,” the official said. “It is not an accurate representation, rather it is a mix of possibilities and ideas that have existed for decades.”

“What we can say is we are engaged in a productive dialogue with all relevant parties and are taking a different approach than the past to create an enduring peace deal,” the official told The Times of Israel. “We are not going to put an artificial deadline on anything and we have no imminent plans beyond continuing our conversations. As we have always said, our job is to facilitate a deal that works for both Israelis and Palestinians, not to impose anything on them.”

Netanyahu’s office similarly stated that “the report is not accurate.” It said Netanyahu’s response to the US proposal would depend on its content and specifically on whether it met “the security needs and national needs of the State of Israel.”

The proposal is to be presented within months, but not in the next month, the TV report claimed. It will not deal with the issue of moving the US embassy to Jerusalem, or with US recognition of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital.

Times of Israel staff contributed to this report.

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