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Senior Likud MK says Netanyahu vowed he’ll never recognize a Palestinian state

Touting Trump plan as ‘historic opportunity’ to annex parts of West Bank, coalition whip Miki Zohar promises recognition of Palestine is not on the table

Raoul Wootliff is the The Times of Israel's political correspondent.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu (left) with MK Miki Zohar during a Likud faction meeting at the Knesset, on December 7, 2015. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu (left) with MK Miki Zohar during a Likud faction meeting at the Knesset, on December 7, 2015. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

Coalition whip Miki Zohar said Tuesday that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu promised his Likud faction a day earlier that no government he leads will ever recognize a Palestinian state, even in principle.

“The prime minister announced yesterday at the faction meeting that in no constellation will the government or the Knesset recognize the principle of establishing a Palestinian state,” Zohar tweeted.

“We will never recognize a Palestinian state!” added Zohar, an MK from Netanyahu’s Likud party.

The comments came amid criticism from settler leaders who claim that Netanyahu’s push for annexation of parts of the West Bank will pave the way for a Palestinian state, as envisioned by US President Donald Trump’s peace plan.

Under a coalition deal between Netanyahu and Blue and White leader Benny Gantz signed last month, the government can pursue annexation of all the settlements and the Jordan Valley — the 30% of the West Bank allocated to Israel under the Trump administration peace plan — from July 1. The Trump administration has indicated it will not oppose Netanyahu’s declared plans to do so, providing Israel accepts its “Peace to Prosperity” plan, which conditionally provides for a Palestinian state on the remaining 70% of the territory.

The Palestinians have rejected the US plan, and earlier this month said they had submitted a counter-proposal for a demilitarized Palestinian state to the Middle East peacemaking Quartet — the US, EU, UN and Russia.

Zohar said that the Trump plan, “which will allow the start of extending sovereignty over all settlements without removing one Jew from his home and a series of more sovereignties by keeping the roads, is a historic plan and an opportunity that cannot be missed!”

There was no confirmation from Netanyahu that he had made the comments attributed to him by Zohar.

The Yesha settlement council, which is opposed to the Trump plan, said it welcomed the ostensible “shift in Netanyahu’s stance.”

Netanyahu initially embraced the two-state solution at the start of his 2009 term as prime minister, but has since shied from publicly endorsing anything more than a vague “state-minus” for the Palestinians.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu delivers a speech at Bar-Ilan University in Ramat Gan, on June 14, 2009, backing a demilitarized Palestinian state. (AP Photo/Baz Ratner,Pool)

While reaching out to the settler leadership, Netanyahu said Monday that the Trump administration wants Israeli annexation of West Bank land to be done with the support of Defense Minister Gantz, multiple Hebrew media outlets reported, while Blue and White officials said that they could not present a position on the plan, as the premier had thus far failed to outline it clearly.

Gantz, who has previously said the Trump plan should be implemented on coordination with other affected players such as Jordan and the Palestinians, referred to the Trump plan on Monday, during the American Jewish Committee’s annual conference, which was held virtually due to the coronavirus pandemic.

“It gives us a realistic approach of how a stable future should look…. I intend to promote it as much as I can in a most responsible way,” Gantz said in an English-language interview. “We have to work on the basis of it and we have to move forward with regional partners, with local partners, of course, with consensus within the Israeli society and with full coordination and acceptance of the backup we need from the United States.”

Netanyahu’s vows to push ahead with unilateral annexation have been condemned internationally, with European and Arab states, as well as senior members of the US Democratic Party, warning the Israeli government against doing so.

According to a Palestinian report on Monday, Jordan’s King Abdullah II has refused to accept phone calls from Netanyahu, amid seething anger in the Hashemite kingdom over the prime minister’s annexation plans.

The Ma’an news agency report, which cited a Jordanian official, said Jordan is also refusing to set a date for a meeting with Gantz to discuss the annexation plans and the Trump administration’s peace plan.

Jordan’s King Abdullah II arrives for the opening parliamentary session in the capital Amman on November 10, 2019. (Khalil Mazraawi/AFP)

The issue has also threatened to upend years of diplomatic work forging quiet ties between Israel and Gulf states. On Friday, the United Arab Emirates’ influential ambassador to the US, Yousef al-Otaiba, warned in a Hebrew op-ed published in an Israeli paper that Abu Dhabi would freeze normalization if annexation moves ahead.

Other Gulf states have remained mostly quiet about annexation, though an Israeli diplomatic official told Army Radio Monday that ties with these countries would be set back by annexation moves.

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