Regional Cooperation Minister Tzachi Hanegbi said Monday that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is still committed to the two-state solution, as outlined in a 2009 Bar Ilan University speech, in which he publicly declared his support for that framework as the way to end the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
“It did not change since then. It’s still [the] valid policy of the prime minister of Israel and therefore the government of Israel,” Hanegbi told visiting Jewish American leaders from the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations in the Knesset, referring to Netanyahu’s address. “The principles of the Bar Ilan speech became more relevant today than at the time they were given. The Middle East is not the Middle East of 2009.”
Debate over Netanyahu’s position on the two-state solution was ignited after US President Donald Trump appeared to withdraw the US’s previous sole commitment for the plan in comments he made during a press conference, held with Netanyahu last week, in which Trump said the US would look at any solution the Israelis and Palestinians agreed on.
“I’m looking at two-state and one-state, and I like the one that both parties like,” Trump said at their joint White House press conference before the two men sat down for talks. Trump’s comments appeared to buck two decades of US policy on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict that was based on the two-state solution, although the president’s UN envoy Nikki Haley said the next day that US “absolutely” supports the two-state solution.
Hanegbi interpreted Trump’s comment saying he will back one state or two states, whatever the parties seek, as no indication that the president is withdrawing US support for the two-state formula. Rather, Trump was emphasizing that he is unlike his predecessor, former US president Barack Obama, and was saying “‘Hey guys, I’m not going to impose anything on you,'” Hanegbi argued. He pointed to Haley’s subsequent reaffirmation of US support for the two-state solution to underline the point.
The regional cooperation minister said the Palestinian peace deal must be similar to the peace accords with Jordan and Egypt — hammered out by the sides through direct talks.
The Egypt peace deal is now “becoming more and more relevant to both countries,” he noted. The Jordan peace accord is “working, functioning, and more relevant more and more by the day,” he later added.
Hanegbi said Israel wants to see the Palestinians “come down from the tree they climbed” and return to the negotiation table.
The minister said there are several principles that Israel will never compromise on: the recognition of Israel as a Jewish state, no “right of return” for Palestinian refugees, and an Israeli security presence in the Jordan Valley. Netanyahu, in the US last week, stressed the imperative for the Palestinians to recognize Israel as a Jewish state, and for Israel to maintain overall security control throughout the West Bank, as integral elements of any accord.
Hanegbi — who also received the communications portfolio on Monday, after Netanyahu temporarily relinquished the portfolio — said a bi-national, Israeli-Palestinian state is “out of the question.”
“One state will never happen. No Israeli leader will allow Israel to become a potentially Arab state in the future,” he said. No Israeli leader will “shatter the Jewish dream, the Zionist dream… This is out of the question,” he added.
Hanegbi asserted the status quo can continue for decades to come, but Israel does not seek such an outcome.
The status quo is “a tragedy, but it’s not our tragedy. It’s a Palestinian tragedy,” the minister said.
“We can accept another 50 years of stalemate,” he continued, but added that “we don’t want it.”
Hanegbi also praised Trump’s stance on the Iran nuclear deal, remarking that “we do see this agreement as jeopardizing Israel’s existence” if implemented without any changes.
When the deal expires, there will be an “empire with vicious ambitions that the world recognizes its nuclear capabilities and allows it to produce and enrich uranium without limitations,” Hanegbi said. Iran will then have “100 nuclear bombs really in no time.”
Israel is happy Trump “shares this view,” Hanegnbi told the visiting Jewish leaders, and vowed that “this is a fight that we are not going to give up.”
His comments came after earlier Monday Defense Minister Avigdor Liberman rejected Trump’s implication during his press conference with Netanyahu last week that a single state would be a viable solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, should the two sides agree to it.
Liberman said that Israel cannot annex the Palestinians living in the West Bank if it wants to remain a Jewish state.
He went on to invoke his long-held two-state plan under which some Israeli Arab towns would become part of a future Palestinian state.