Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu could prevent the creation of a Palestinian state by ruling it out in his first meeting with US president-elect Donald Trump when he takes office, Bayit Yehudi leader Naftali Bennett said Wednesday at The Jerusalem Post Conference at the capital’s Waldorf Astoria Hotel.
Bennett came to the conference directly from New York, where he met with Trump advisers, which angered Netanyahu. The prime minister issued a warning to his ministers to leave Trump to him, but the warning came after the meetings took place.
On the sidelines of the conference, Bennett declined to reveal which Trump advisers he met with and whether Trump’s son-in-law Jared Kushner was one of them.
“The next few weeks present a unique window of opportunity for Israel,” Bennett told the audience. “Since 1967 there have always been external reasons for Israel to not do what is right for itself. When Prime Minister Netanyahu meets President Trump, what will he say? Will he continue the long standing approach of forming a Palestinian state in the heart of Israel or take a new, fresh approach?” Bennett said he was eagerly awaiting the answer from Netanyahu when it comes.
“I want to hear what we want for ourselves,” he said. “Israel was put in a unique position to say what it wants.
Do we want a second Palestinian state in addition to Gaza that would inevitably be hostile and will fail?” Addressing an audience of dozens of diplomats, Bennett said previously believed axioms about the Middle East had been disproved in recent years, including that settlements are an obstacle to peace and that it is necessary to stay away from Israel to build ties with Arab countries.
“Today everyone knows that what is happening in Mosul has nothing to do with another house being built in Ofra,” he said. “The thought that countries could find favor with the Arab world by distancing itself from Israel has been disproved.”
Bennett said he hoped Trump keeps his promise and that his administration would be the first that acknowledges Jerusalem as Israel’s united capital.
He criticized Defense Minister Avigdor Liberman for calling for building only in settlement blocs, saying that “loose chatter and concessions without being asked” harms Israel.
“No American administration will be more hawkish to Israel than Israel,” he said. “We have one chance – to go by a failed path or try something new.”
Regarding what to do with the Palestinians instead of forming a state, he said Israel should take steps to improve the Palestinians’ quality of life, such as giving them full freedom of movement, tourism projects, and helping them reach jobs in Israel easier. For the first time in a public speech, Bennett called for the creation of a “land-port” to help Palestinians enter Israel.
“We should seek to manage the conflict in a reasonable way,” he said. “We can’t create them a state, but let’s see what we can do. We can give them a Marshall plan to boost their economy and an autonomy on steroids.”
Speaking ahead of Bennett, Deputy Foreign Minister Tzipi Hotovely said Netanyahu was correct when he said evacuating Jews from West Bank settlements is ethnic cleaning. During her short speech she called on Israel to annex Area C of the West Bank.
Hotovely recalled how Netanyahu had made headlines when he spoke against the evacuation of Jews from settlements.
“The prime minister was right in referring to the uprooting of Jews as ethnic cleansing. It was very difficult for some people to hear that, but it’s the truth,” she said. “You can’t transfer people, this is an abolishment of human rights, but [somehow] it’s okay when it come to Jews,” Hotovely said.
“Every future solution [to resolve the Israeli-Palestinian conflict] should include Judea and Samaria under Israel’s sovereignty, because this is the Jewish homeland,” Hotovely said.
She said she had watched diplomats unsuccessfully try to resolve the Israeli- Palestinian conflict throughout her whole adult life.
“Three American presidents, six secretaries of state made dramatic efforts to find a solution,” but they “all came back with empty hands,” she added.
She recalled how one diplomat had said that future diplomatic peacemakers would succeed because they would work harder.
“Much as I believe in hard work, sometimes work is not enough,” she said.
What is more important is eliminating the “myth of occupation” and re-educating Palestinians for peace.
“The term ‘occupation’ is legally wrong and historically wrong,” she said. “We need to break this paradigm.”
Jews have lived in the land of Israel for thousands of years going back to the Bible, she said, but when Palestinian leaders speak of Israeli “occupation” they mean the one that dates back to 1948, when the State of Israel was founded, she said.
In short, she said, the Palestinians do not believe that Israel should exist.
She added there needs to be a new way of thinking and speaking about the fact that Jews should live in their homeland.
“No Jew can live in Tel Aviv if he doesn’t have a deep connection to Judea and Samaria and Jerusalem,” she said.