Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s office on Sunday night denied that he had backed away from his support in principle for a two-state solution and that he had ruled out ceding any territory to the Palestinians — contradicting statements issued earlier by his own Likud party.
The confusion underlined Netanyahu’s efforts to maintain backing on the right without alienating other potential supporters and the international community ahead of the March 17 elections.
Netanyahu had been quoted earlier saying that the creation of a Palestinian state, a move that he supported in a famous speech at Bar-Ilan University in 2009, was no longer relevant in the current reality in the Middle East, and that there would be no territorial withdrawals.
“Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said that any evacuated territory would fall into the hands of Islamic extremism and terror organizations supported by Iran. Therefore, there will be no concessions and no withdrawals. It is simply irrelevant,” read a statement released by his Likud party.
However, the Prime Minister’s Office insisted later Sunday that he had “never said any such thing.”
The confusing back and forth statements came after the “Olam Kattan” newsletter, distributed in synagogues on Friday nights, published a Q&A with the Likud and other parties in which one Likud response claimed the policies expressed by Netanyahu in his Bar-Ilan speech “have been annulled.”
“Netanyahu’s entire political biography is the struggle against the establishment of the Palestinian state,” the response said. Haaretz reported that Likud MK Tzipi Hotovely, a proponent of annexing the West Bank, had drafted this answer.
The Likud campaign clarified on Sunday that “Netanyahu did not make any statement to the effect that the Bar Ilan speech was annulled.” With that, both the Likud and the Prime Minister’s Office noted that Netanyahu had long maintained that “under current conditions in the Middle East any land that is handed over would be grabbed by Islamist extremists.”
Meretz party leader Zahava Gal-on decried the original statement in “Olam Kattan,” posting on Facebook: “So here, for those who doubted, this is the truth about our prime minister. This is what he really thinks about the two-state solution, this is what the draft proposal revealed this week is worth… this is what can be achieved by a Likud coalition: lies, procrastination, biding time, and more lies.”
Gal-on slammed the “two-faced prime minister who is bringing upon us a binational state with his bare hands.”
The internal Likud claim and counter claim over Palestinian statehood and territorial compromise came two days after Yedioth Ahronoth published a document purportedly drafted by Israeli officials outlining the PM’s alleged concessions to the Palestinians alluded to in Gal-on’s statement.
According to the document, Netanyahu agreed to negotiate a peace deal on the basis of the 1967 borders, with land swaps; to acknowledge Palestinian aspirations in East Jerusalem; to evacuate settlers from the West Bank; and to allow those who so choose to remain under Palestinian rule.
The publication rattled the Likud party and drew harsh criticism from politicians to the right of Netanyahu, including Yisrael Beytenu head Avigdor Liberman and Jewish Home leader Naftali Bennett.
Two Likud members, Benny Begin and Knesset Speaker Yuli Edelstein, said Sunday that the document was fabricated and the publication of it was meant to harm te Likud. Transportation Minister Yisrael Katz, also of Likud, suggested it was leaked by the Obama administration to harm Netanyahu’s election prospects.
Speaking at a Sunday news conference, Begin accused the journalist who broke the story, Nahum Barnea, of lying, faking the document and trying to pin it on the prime minister. Edelstein said the publication “had one purpose only — to harm the Likud, to take away seats from the Likud.”
Netanyahu’s former national security adviser Yaakov Amidror suggested Sunday that if the document was leaked by Washington — as had been suggested — it would undermine the possibility of future US-brokered talks.
“There is no doubt that this leak radically impairs the possibility of serious negotiations in the future,” Amidror told the Walla news website.
“It doesn’t matter who will be the next prime minister — Benjamin Netanyahu or Isaac Herzog — he will not be able to rely 100 percent on the confidentiality of the negotiations after a leak like this. The same is true for the Palestinians, who will ask themselves, ‘We will agree to all these ideas, and then read about it in the papers?’ For us, the damage is only political, but on the Palestinian side, it could cost lives,” continued Amidror.
“Whoever leaked this caused severe damage to the process, because neither side will be able to rely on the American administration any longer,” he added.
Amidror insisted that the document did not accurately represent Netanyahu’s position, but was rather an American draft proposal that “was meant to be bad enough for both sides so they could say they had reservations, without telling the Americans to “go to hell.”
“There is no Israeli-Palestinian agreement here, only an American attempt to create a draft that will allow both sides to go to the negotiating room and talk,” he said.