Top minister defies Netanyahu on Palestinian statehood

Bennett: Window closing on two states; world will abide settlement annexation because Israel is its ‘forward position’ against jihad

Stuart Winer is a breaking news editor at The Times of Israel.

Education Minister Naftali Bennett, head of the Jewish Home party. (Miriam Alster/Flash90)
Education Minister Naftali Bennett, head of the Jewish Home party. (Miriam Alster/Flash90)

Education Minister Naftali Bennett on Tuesday brushed off Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s declaration in Washington of support for a two-state solution, and argued that the notion of an independent Palestinian state was fading.

“The era of a Palestinian state is coming to a close,” Bennett, who heads the pro-settlement Jewish Home party, told Israel Radio.

“I believe that it is absurd to just form another Arab state that’s bound to become an Islamic outpost,” he added, conceding that it was a subject on which he was deeply at odds with the prime minister. “I think the Palestinian issue is diminishing, and it is about time to prepare for the day after and to lay out for ourselves what the Israeli national interest is.”

Bennett called for the application of Israeli law to the Etzion bloc and other large settlement regions in the West Bank’s Area C, which is under full Israeli military administration, and said that Israel should not fear a harsh international response to such a move, because having the Jewish state as an ally was greatly beneficial to the West.

“The American interest in Israel is much deeper than the Palestinian issue,” he maintained, explaining that “Israel is the forward position of the free world in the campaign against jihad.”

In return for supporting Israel, the US and the West maintained a valuable ally in the battle against radical Islamism, he argued. “Every day we are fighting the fight of the free world to protect ourselves and the free world from jihad.”

Netanyahu had voiced support for Palestinian statehood during a press appearance with US President Barack Obama in the Oval Office ahead of a meeting Monday, the first between the two men in a year.

During the closed-door meeting, which Netanyahu’s aides described as “good,” the two leaders reportedly agreed on an increase to American defense aid to Israel, both immediately and in the coming decade. The particulars of the deal, however, still need to be hammered out.

Bennett also came out against a planned package of goodwill gestures toward the Palestinians, which Netanyahu is expected to present to US Secretary of State John Kerry in a meeting Tuesday. The initiatives are part of Israel’s effort to curb a recent surge of violence that has seen almost-daily Palestinian attacks in Israel and the West Bank.

President Barack Obama meets with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in the Oval Office of the White House in Washington, Monday, Nov. 9, 2015. (AP/Andrew Harnik)
President Barack Obama meets with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in the Oval Office of the White House in Washington, Monday, Nov. 9, 2015. (AP/Andrew Harnik)

“The last thing you need to do in the face of a terror wave is to give them gestures,” he said. “Why does the American approach always have to be accompanied with gifts to the side that is murdering us?”

Netanyahu had described his meeting with Obama Monday to Israeli reporters as “one of the best” he’d ever had with the president, saying there was no tension between them, despite their rocky history — only a focus on the way forward.

However, opposition leader MK Isaac Herzog of the Zionist Union cautioned against heralding a new era in US-Israel relations, and said it was too early to say whether the meeting was truly a success.

“The proof of the pudding is in the eating,” he told Israel Radio. “None of us really knows what is the result of the meeting.”

File: Opposition leader Isaac Herzog on June 1, 2015. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)
Opposition leader Isaac Herzog. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

Herzog, who is also in Washington, met Monday with Kerry. He said the impression he got was that “the Americans are insisting that aside from calming things down in the area and on the Temple Mount, there is need for a complete change of direction in everything related to the situation with the Palestinians.”

Recent unrest has been fueled by persistent Palestinian claims that Israel has been seeking to change the arrangements in Jerusalem’s volatile Temple Mount compound, which is holy to both Jews and Muslims. Israel denies the claims.

Herzog welcomed news that the US plans to boost its security aid to Jerusalem. “If Israel gets the quality [resources] it needs to protect its priorities against the strategic threats in the area, that is the most important thing of all,” he said.

Like Bennett, Herzog was unenthusiastic regarding goodwill gestures to the Palestinians, which he described as little more than “heavy makeup” to mask the more serious issues.

“We are in a period where there is a need to make fateful and historic decisions as to whether or not we want to separate from the Palestinians,” he said. “I think everyone is fed up with the games. The onus is on the leaders, the prime minister and [PA President Mahmoud Abbas] to push forward with a historic process. If they aren’t able to, history will judge them.”

Times of Israel staff contributed to this report.

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