Top minister denies Netanyahu would have signed letter on territorial compromise
Likud’s Yariv Levin says talks on coalition with center-left Zionist Union broke down over PM’s adherence to coalition guidelines, not over illegal outpost
Sue Surkes is The Times of Israel's environment reporter.
A senior Likud minister on Monday dismissed a report that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu co-signed a document with opposition leader Isaac Herzog (Zionist Union) to kick-start a new regional peace initiative that would involve swapping land for peace, as part of an ultimately unsuccessful bid to bring the left-of-center into a national unity government last fall.
The rival party leaders were reportedly due in September to release an eight-point English-language text to Arab states affirming that Israel “seeks an end of conflict and finality of all claims, mutual recognition between two nation-states, enduring security arrangements and an agreed territorial solution which, among other things, will recognize the existing population centers.”
According to the Haaretz daily, which published the text, the proposed initiative never panned out because Netanyahu instead chose to focus, along with his right-wing coalition partners, on the impending, High Court-ordered demolition of the illegal West Bank outpost Amona.
Lawmakers within the coalition’s right-wing advocate West Bank settlement construction, which the Palestinians and other supporters of a two-state solution see as one of the key barriers to a peace agreement.
Zionist Union lawmaker Tzipi Livni confirmed in an interview with Army Radio on Monday that Netanyahu had balked at bringing the left-of-center into the coalition “because he saw [Naftali] Bennett” and decided to throw in his lot with the head of the pro-West Bank settlement Jewish Home party.
Later in the same radio program, Tourism Minister Yariv Levin — who also opposes territorial compromise — was asked whether Netanyahu had signed the reported eight-point document.
“No, of course not,” said Levin. “If he had signed, a joint government would have been established and that didn’t happen.”
What scuppered the negotiations was Zionist Union’s refusal to enter the coalition based on the guidelines established when the government was formed in 2015, he said.
“But the eight-point document talked about territorial concessions,” said interviewer Razi Barkai.
“Right,” answered Levin, “and that’s why it [Labor’s entrance into the coalition] didn’t happen.”
Levin said he was not aware of any eight-point document. “I never saw anything like that and I would be amazed if there was such a thing.”
“From what I know, things were exactly the opposite [with Netanyahu expressing in a] clear statement that ‘we’d be happy to expand the government, but only on the basis of our guidelines and the existing government,'” he added.
If Labor had joined, it would have been “impossible to maintain coalition stability,” he added.
Speaking on the same program, Agriculture Minister Uri Ariel (Jewish Home) criticized Netanyahu for his reported backing of the land-for-peace proposal.
“You sit with someone in government and at the same time you do other things in an ugly fashion… It’s clearly something that’s not going to be carried out [the new peace initiative]. I think the prime minister knows our position, it’s very clear on this issue.”
According to Haaretz, the text’s content, as well as the plans for the summit, were known to officials in Egypt and Jordan, as well as to then-US secretary of state John Kerry and Mideast Quartet envoy Tony Blair.