Times of Israel report sparks diplomatic firestorm

Sources in PMO slam PA for saying no settlers can stay in ‘Palestine’

Erekat: ‘Not one’ will be allowed to remain, ‘their presence is illegal’; Source in Netanyahu’s office: That’s a ‘radical, reckless reaction’

Sources in the Prime Minister’s Office slammed the Palestinian Authority Sunday night for its immediate dismissal of Benjamin Netanyahu’s demand, first reported by The Times of Israel, that Jewish settlers who find themselves on the Palestinian side of the border under a two-state deal should be given the choice to remain in place and live under Palestinian rule. The Palestinians’ top negotiator said not a single settler would be permitted to stay in the future state of Palestine.

Earlier on Sunday, an official in the PMO had told The Times of Israel that Netanyahu does not intend to uproot Jewish settlements anywhere in the West Bank, and will not force any settlers to leave, even under a permanent peace deal with the Palestinians. Rather, the prime minister will insist that settlers be given the free choice of remaining in place and living under Palestinian rule, or relocating to areas under Israeli sovereign rule. “Just as Israel has an Arab minority, the prime minister doesn’t see why Palestine can’t have a Jewish minority,” the official added. “The Jews living on their side should have a choice whether they want to stay or not.” The official was elaborating on Netanyahu’s statement in Davos on Friday, that “I do not intend to remove a single settlement, [and] I do not intend to displace a single Israeli.”

“Nothing reveals more the Palestinian Authority’s unwillingness to reach an agreement with the State of Israel than its radical and reckless reaction to an official report,” the PMO sources said late Sunday. “An agreement will only be reached when the Palestinians recognize the Jewish state and only when Israel’s vital security needs are guaranteed,” they added.

Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas has previously rejected the idea of settlers remaining in a future Palestinian state, insisting there can be no Israeli civilian or military presence, but on Sunday night the top Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erekat firmly reiterated that position and castigated the settlement enterprise as illegal.

“Anyone who says he wants to keep the settlers in a Palestinian state is really saying he does not want a Palestinian state,” Erekat declared. “No settler will be permitted to stay in a Palestinian state, not one, because the settlements are illegal and the presence of settlers on occupied lands is illegal.”

The prime minister’s idea of leaving settlers under Palestinian sovereignty also drew fire from senior members of his own coalition. Economy and Trade Minister Naftali Bennett, Deputy Defense Minister Danny Danon, and Deputy Foreign Minister Ze’ev Elkin all slammed Netanyahu for the proposal.

Bennett, the leader of the right-wing Jewish Home party, issued a call on Sunday night to Netanyahu to abandon the idea, and said the prime minister’s position “reflects an irrationality of values.”

“Never,” Bennett posted on his Facebook page. “We did not return to the land of Israel after two thousand years of longing to live under the government of Mahmoud Abbas. Whoever advocates for the idea of Jewish life in Israel under Palestinian rule is undermining our ability to sit in Tel Aviv.”

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