Smotrich seeks formal cabinet veto on Palestinian statehood

Israel bristles at report US, Arab allies will propose Palestinian state plan in weeks

Blueprint, including ‘firm timeline,’ tied to pause in Gaza fighting, says Washington Post; Israel says ‘now is not the time to be speaking about gifts to the Palestinian people’

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken, right, attends a meeting with Jordan's Foreign Minister Ayman Safadi, Saudi Arabia's Foreign Minister Prince Faisal bin Farhan al-Saud, Qatar's Prime Minister and Foreign Minister Mohammed bin Abdulrahman al-Thani, United Arab Emirates Foreign Minister Abdullah bin Zayed al-Nahyan, Egyptian Foreign Minister Sameh Shoukry and Secretary General of the Executive Committee of the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) Hussein al-Sheikh, during a day of meetings about the ongoing conflict between Israel and Hamas, in the Jordanian capital Amman on November 4, 2023. (JONATHAN ERNST / POOL / AFP)
US Secretary of State Antony Blinken, right, attends a meeting with Jordan's Foreign Minister Ayman Safadi, Saudi Arabia's Foreign Minister Prince Faisal bin Farhan al-Saud, Qatar's Prime Minister and Foreign Minister Mohammed bin Abdulrahman al-Thani, United Arab Emirates Foreign Minister Abdullah bin Zayed al-Nahyan, Egyptian Foreign Minister Sameh Shoukry and Secretary General of the Executive Committee of the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) Hussein al-Sheikh, during a day of meetings about the ongoing conflict between Israel and Hamas, in the Jordanian capital Amman on November 4, 2023. (JONATHAN ERNST / POOL / AFP)

The US and several Arab partners are preparing a detailed plan for a comprehensive peace deal between Israel and the Palestinians that includes a “firm timeline” for a Palestinian state, according to a report Thursday, sparking immediate denunciations from senior members of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s cabinet and a spokesman for the government.

According to the Washington Post report, citing US and Arab officials, an announcement on the blueprint could come in the next few weeks, though the timing is largely dependent on Israel and Hamas being able to reach a deal pausing the fighting in Gaza.

The proposed plan includes steps that Israel has previously refused, including the evacuation of many West Bank settlements, a Palestinian capital in East Jerusalem and a combined security apparatus and government for the West Bank and Gaza.

The US and its Arab partners are hoping security guarantees and normalization with Arab states like Saudi Arabia can persuade Israel to go along with the plan, the Post reported.

Officials told the Post they hoped to make the plan public once Israel and Hamas agree to a temporary truce aimed at allowing humanitarian aid into Gaza and freeing the 134 hostages still held by terror groups in the Strip.

According to the report, during the pause, steps would be taken toward implementation of the proposal, including forming an interim Palestinian government that could also rule over Gaza.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu (2nd left) heads the weekly cabinet meeting alongside Cabinet Secretary Yossi Fuchs (3rd left) and Finance Minister Bezalel Smotrich (1st left) at the Defense Ministry in Tel Aviv on January 7, 2024. (RONEN ZVULUN / POOL / AFP)

In response to the report, a spokesman for the Israeli government said that now is not the time to be discussing plans for the “day after” Hamas.

“Here in Israel, we are still in the aftermath of the October 7 massacre,” said Prime Minister’s Office spokesman Avi Hyman in a briefing. “Now is not the time to be speaking about gifts to the Palestinian people, at a time when the Palestinian Authority themselves have yet to even condemn the October 7 massacre.”

“Now is the time for victory, total victory over Hamas,” Hyman added. “All discussions of the day after Hamas will be had the day after Hamas.”

A veteran Democratic member of US Congress later hit back at Hyman.

“A two-state solution is not a ‘gift.’ It is the only viable solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict,” Representative Jerry Nadler of New York wrote on X, formerly Twitter.

“Israel must be able to defend itself, particularly after the horrors of October 7, but long-run security will only come through an appropriately negotiated solution that involves rebuilding Gaza and establishing a Palestinian state in Gaza and the West Bank with adequate security and governance plans,” he added.

Last week, Saudi Arabia hosted a regional meeting six top Arab ministers aimed at advancing a joint political vision for rehabilitating the Gaza Strip and establishing a Palestinian state after the Israel-Hamas war.

Participants at the meeting agreed to move forward with the effort and several drafts of the plan have already begun circulating between the countries, though it is unclear when it will be unveiled, two senior diplomats told The Times of Israel.

The US has publicly refused to back calls for a permanent ceasefire to end the fighting in Gaza, citing Israel’s need to defend itself by destroying Hamas, but officials in recent weeks have increasingly spoken of the truce leading to an end to hostilities.

US National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan speaks during a White House press conference on February 14, 2024. (Screen capture/YouTube)

“We’re looking for a temporary pause as part of the hostage deal, and then to build on that into something more enduring,” US National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan said Wednesday.

News of the plan was met with vehement opposition by hardline ministers in Israel’s government opposed to the creation of a Palestinian state, with Finance Minister Bezalel Smotrich saying he would demand the high-level security cabinet adopt a statement rejecting the establishment of a Palestinian state when it meets later Thursday.

“We will never agree, under any circumstances, to this plan that basically says the Palestinians deserve a prize for the terrible massacre they carried out against us: a Palestinian state with a capital in Jerusalem,” Smotrich posted on X.

Diaspora Affairs Minister Amichai Chikli, a member of Netanyahu’s Likud party, said the government should respond by threatening to cancel the Oslo Accords, the 1990s agreement that led to the creation of the Palestinian Authority.

Netanyahu has in the past spoken out against the creation of a Palestinian state and others have also pushed back against comments from Washington and elsewhere suggesting that talks on ending fighting in Gaza sparked by Hamas’s brutal rampage through southern Israel on October 7 be used to jumpstart long-moribund efforts to reach a two-state solution.

The attack, in which some 1,200 people were killed in a paroxysm of murder, rape and other atrocities led by the Hamas terror group which rules Gaza, and 253 others were kidnapped and held hostage, distilled for many Israelis the security challenges long cited as a reason to oppose Palestinian statehood.

Photographs of Israeli hostages being held in the Gaza Strip are placed on a house in Kibbutz Be’eri, Israel, December 20, 2023. (AP/Ohad Zwigenberg)

Many in the international community have argued that the attacks showed the dangers of continuing to let the Israeli-Palestinian conflict fester.

“After October 7 it is clearer than ever that it is forbidden to give them a state. While we are in the government, no Palestinian state will be established,” National Security Minister Itamar Ben Gvir said in reaction to the Post report, according to the Ynet news site. The far-right firebrand called the proposal “delusional,” accusing Washington and others involved of trying to “establish a terror state alongside the State of Israel.”

News of the plan came as the US and others have ramped up warnings against Israel expanding its ground offensive in Gaza to Rafah, where around half of the Strip’s population of over 2 million have taken refuge.

According to the Post, those behind the plan, including Egypt, Jordan, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates and Palestinian representatives, as well as the United States, fear that an IDF ground offensive in Gaza’s Rafah will derail the potential for a peace process.

Palestinians inspect the damage in the rubble of a building where two hostages were held before being rescued during an operation by Israeli security forces in Rafah, in the southern Gaza Strip on February 12, 2024. (SAID KHATIB / AFP)

Despite the potential danger to the civilian population, Netanyahu announced Friday that he had ordered the Israeli military to present the government’s war cabinet with a plan to both evacuate the city’s civilian population and destroy Hamas’s remaining battalions in the area.

Israel believes it cannot effectively weaken Hamas without taking Rafah, which sits on Gaza’s border with Egypt. At least some of the 134 hostages remaining in Gaza are thought to be in the city; on Monday, special forces rescued two Israeli hostages from captivity in an apartment in Rafah, amid a bombardment that killed dozens, according to Hamas health authorities in Gaza.

On Wednesday, Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas called on Hamas to quickly reach an agreement with Israel pausing the fighting, warning that failure to do so could create another “nakba” or catastrophe, in Rafah.

Jacob Magid and Lazar Berman contributed to this report.

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