Prime Minister Naftali Bennett was lambasted by settler leaders and right-wing MKs on Sunday after using the term “West Bank” during a meeting with US Secretary of State Antony Blinken, rather than the area’s biblical name, “Judea and Samaria.”
At a press conference with Blinken ahead of the Negev Summit, Bennett said his government was “working very hard to improve the lives of the Palestinians in the West Bank and in Gaza.”
Notably, Bennett’s predecessor Benjamin Netanyahu used the term himself when speaking in English on multiple occasions.
“Another moral lapse by the government,” said Yigal Dilmoni, the CEO of the Yesha Council settlement umbrella group, which Bennett himself chaired from 2010 to 2012 before running for office.
“Such an expression is another sign of this government’s moral decline. This is in addition to freezing settlement construction and turning its back on the settlements. A government like this should go home,” he said.
Beit El Mayor Shai Alon called Bennett a “danger to Israel.”
MK Ofir Sofer of the far-right Religious Zionism party said “it isn’t surprising for such an expression to come from a person who aligns himself with terror supporters and anti-Zionists.” He was apparently referring to the Islamist Ra’am party, which is part of Bennett’s government.
Criticism also came from MK Amichai Chikli, a renegade member of Bennett’s own Yamina party, who said “it is not surprising that such terminology will be used by a man who formed a left-wing government with Meretz and the Islamist movement,” also referring to Ra’am.
Interior Minister Ayelet Shaked, also of Yamina, defended Bennett’s comments, which she called a “mistake.”
“The prime minister has always made sure to say ‘Judea and Samaria.’ I think that when you say it English (West Bank), it doesn’t have the same intention,” she told 103FM Radio.
In 2018, Bennett himself criticized his now-partner in government Foreign Minister Yair Lapid when the latter used the term “West Bank.”
“It is a phrase not invented by Zionist people,” Bennett said then. “Is the Jordan Valley an offshoot of [the Jordanian capital of] Amman? This is Judea and Samaria, this is the Land of Israel. We will continue to tell the truth, we will never disguise ourselves.”
Bennett’s office played down his use of the term, saying in a statement that “usually the prime minister uses the term ‘Judea and Samaria’ both in Hebrew and English. This was an accidental remark and no special significance should be attached to it.”
The right also criticized Blinken for comments he made at the press conference, during which he cited the need to “prevent actions on all sides that could raise tensions, including “settlement expansion” and “settler violence.”