Likud slams ‘hypocritical’ Bennett over Palestinian statehood kerfuffle
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Likud slams ‘hypocritical’ Bennett over Palestinian statehood kerfuffle

Jewish Home leader has accused PM Netanyahu of opposing a Palestinian state in Hebrew while supporting it in English

Education Minister and Jewish Home leader Naftali Bennett speaks during Jerusalem Day celebrations at the Mercaz HaRav Yeshiva in Jerusalem, on June 5, 2016. (Hadas Parush/Flash90)
Education Minister and Jewish Home leader Naftali Bennett speaks during Jerusalem Day celebrations at the Mercaz HaRav Yeshiva in Jerusalem, on June 5, 2016. (Hadas Parush/Flash90)

A senior Likud official slammed Jewish Home leader Naftali Bennett late Sunday as a “hypocrite” over his criticism of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

Bennett castigated Netanyahu on Sunday, accusing him of talking out of both sides of his mouth about the establishment of a Palestinian state.

Speaking on Jerusalem Day, which marks Israel’s capture of the eastern part of the city in the 1967 Six Day War, the religious-nationalist leader asserted that Israel would never accept the Arab Peace Initiative, and said Netanyahu was telling the public one thing in Hebrew and another in English.

“The time has come to say in a clear voice: the Land of Israel belongs to the people of Israel,” he said. “It’s impossible to be in favor of the Land of Israel in Hebrew and of establishing a Palestinian state in English.”

The senior Likud official retorted in kind.

“Bennett’s hypocritical campaign knows no boundaries,” he told the Walla news site late Sunday.

“Someone who sat with [center-left Hatnua party leader] Tzipi Livni in a government that carried out direct negotiations with the Palestinians has suddenly seen the light, by an amazing coincidence just as [Yisrael Beytenu chief Avigdor] Liberman is appointed defense minister,” the official said. Bennett, who leads a larger faction than Liberman, had sought the post of defense minister unsuccessfully.

“This is an absurd situation,” the Likud official continued. “The biggest threat to a broad right-wing government headed by Likud is the chairman of Jewish Home. If Bennett insists on taking Jewish Home out of the government for personal motives, he’ll be solely responsible for the results.”

Netanyahu has insinuated in recent weeks that he’d be open to negotiating peace with the Palestinians on the basis of an updated version of the 2002 Saudi proposal, which stipulated a return to the pre-1967 ceasefire lines with Jerusalem as a Palestinian capital. He said last week that the Arab Peace Initiative “includes positive elements that can help revive constructive negotiations with the Palestinians.”

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu (right) and incoming Defense Minister Avigdor Liberman (left) hold a press conference in the Knesset on Monday, May 30, 2016. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu (right) and incoming Defense Minister Avigdor Liberman (left) hold a press conference in the Knesset on Monday, May 30, 2016. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

Bennett’s stinging criticism of Netanyahu mirrored charges often leveled by Israeli politicians about Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas — that he advocates peace with Israel to the international community, while inciting violence in his native tongue.

Bennett crossed swords with the prime minister recently over coalition demands, and Zionist Union leader Isaac Herzog on Saturday said his own party could not join the coalition while Bennett’s Jewish Home, which is emphatically opposed to Palestinians statehood, remains part of the government.

During his Sunday remarks at a Jerusalem seminary, Bennett doubled down on his ardent rejection of an independent Palestinian state in the West Bank, saying it would not happen while he was in the government.

“There are those, in Israel and around the world, joining forces for various Arab initiatives, according to which we’ll divide the Land [of Israel], heaven forbid divide Jerusalem, and return to the ’67 lines,” Bennett said. “Because the world presses, there’s a [perceived] need to appease it. To them I say tonight: never.”

Bennett said Saturday that while he vehemently opposes the establishment of a Palestinian state, he does back the formation of “a Palestinian autonomy on steroids.”

The education minister told Channel 2’s “Meet the Press” that such an agreement would include imposing full Israeli rule over Area C, which constitutes over 60 percent of the West Bank.

Responding to recent promises made by Netanyahu and Defense Minister Avigdor Liberman to pursue a peace agreement with the Palestinians, Bennett vowed that “as long as we are here [in the coalition], a Palestinian state will not be established… and Jerusalem will not be divided.”

He noted that Palestinian statehood was not part of the government’s policy guidelines as set down in last year’s coalition talks when Netanyahu sought to form his government after the elections.

“We’re in a government that I insisted not have [the establishment of] a Palestinian state in its guidelines,” he said. “If we are talking about a return to the 1967 lines and the division of Jerusalem, I won’t just resign from the government, I’ll topple it.

“We shouldn’t give up an inch of land, we shouldn’t give any land to the Palestinians,” he said emphatically.

Bennett’s withdrawal of his eight-seat party from the coalition, which has a scant majority of 66-54, would effectively topple it.

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