“Simply irrelevant” is how Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu described his former support for a demilitarized Palestinian state on Sunday.
“In the situation created in the Middle East, any territory that will be evacuated will be taken over by radical Islam and terrorist organizations supported by Iran,” Netanyahu said. “Therefore, there will not be any withdrawals or concessions. The matter is simply irrelevant.”
The prime minister’s statements came in response to questions about an article that appeared in the popular religious-Zionist pamphlet Olam Katan (“Small World”).
The article claimed that the Likud’s answer to a question as to its leader’s position on Palestinian statehood was: “The prime minister told the public that the Bar-Ilan speech [in which he advocated a demilitarized Palestinian state] is canceled. Netanyahu’s entire political biography is a fight against the establishment of a Palestinian state.”
A Likud spokeswoman said earlier Sunday that MK Tzipi Hotovely gave that answer and it is her personal stance, not the Likud’s, but Netanyahu’s words indicated otherwise.
Also Sunday, Likud candidate Bennie Begin and Knesset Speaker Yuli Edelstein held a press conference in Tel Aviv to deny Friday’s report by Yediot Aharonot columnist Nachum Barnea, accompanied by a front-page headline declaring he uncovered Netanyahu’s “document of concessions,” which included basing talks with the Palestinians on the pre-1967 lines with land swaps.
“Twenty years ago, a friend of mine presented [to Barnea] facts on diplomatic matters and he refused to publish them. Barnea told my friend: ‘There is no truth. Every article has the answer to the question, whom does it serve,’” Begin recounted, adding: “There is a truth, but every Barnea article must be examined to see whom it serves.”
Begin said that in this case, Barnea’s column served those who “want to blacken the name of, and cause damage to, the prime minister and the Likud” – Yediot and the Left, led by Zionist Union leaders Isaac Herzog and Tzipi Livni.
Edelstein said he cannot stand silent while falsehoods are spread.
“I have lived in settlements from the day I made aliya to Israel,” he said. “I went through intifadas and other difficult times and saw many of my friends and neighbors hurt.”
Visibly emotional, Edelstein implored: “Supporters of settlements in Judea and Samaria and of Jerusalem, look me in the eyes. Do you suspect that I would appear at this press conference if I was not 100 percent sure that the document is a lie? It is a lie.”
Barnea claimed to have a document from August 2013, drawn up by Netanyahu aide Yitzhak Molcho and Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas’s confidant Hussein Agha, stating that Netanyahu was open to negotiating based on pre-1967 lines with land swaps and leaving some settlements under PA control. Walla’s Amir Tibon published a similar report the night before. The Prime Minister’s Office denied the reports.
The two Likud candidates pointed to an interview with Dennis Ross, a former adviser to US presidents Barack Obama, George H.W. Bush and Bill Clinton on Israeli- Palestinian matters, in Sunday’s Israel Hayom, in which the diplomat said Netanyahu never agreed to pre-1967 lines, dividing Jerusalem, or giving the right of return to Palestinian refugees and their descendants.
According to Ross, there is no August 2013 draft, and the meetings with Molcho and Agha were a brainstorming session meant to create an American document the sides could oppose.
Edelstein called Ross “the father of all negotiations here,” who would not be suspected of being a Netanyahu supporter and Likud voter. As such, the Knesset speaker said, it is safe to assume he is telling the truth.
“This is a clear message by Dennis Ross disproving Barnea and Yediot’s lie and even the date Barnea gave, but what does Yediot care what Dennis Ross said?” Begin asked.
When asked at the press conference about the Likud’s diplomatic platform, Begin said one can read the Ross interview and clearly understand where the party stands on the issue.
“Some people bring up two states for two nations as a solution. For those who don’t know, the PLO has a two-state solution without two nations. They continually refuse, including in recent times, to recognize Israel as the nation-state of the Jewish people. There is no Jewish nation for them, just a Jewish religion, with no right to self-determination and a sovereign state,” Begin stated.
Edelstein said he speaks with many foreign officials who visit Israel and want to hear from someone who opposes a Palestinian state, and that he can be in a party with people who do support one because “it’s a totally theoretical argument.”
“We work together to do the maximum to develop Judea and Samaria and Jerusalem, and there we have no problem of differences of opinion,” he stated.
The Knesset speaker also targeted Bayit Yehudi, whose campaign ads state that they’re the only party opposing the establishment of a Palestinian state, for pointing to Barnea’s report as proof of that.
Bayit Yehudi chairman Naftali Bennett wrote a letter on Facebook Friday, in which he said that, because of the document on which Barnea reported, the public must vote for his party so that Netanyahu will form a right-wing government and not make concessions.
Addressing the Likud’s “natural, potential partners,” but clearly referring to Bennett, Edelstein said: “We should use our brains and ask whom this serves. It serves one and only one purpose, to hurt the Likud and get rid of our seats. It’s not important to the leakers and publishers if the seats go to the Right or Left, because they, unlike others, understand that if there isn’t a large Likud and no Netanyahu [as prime minister], the whole Right will sit in the opposition.
“My brothers who care about Judea and Samaria and not just portfolios and seats: Do not cooperate with the lies,” he declared. “If we don’t believe the lies, they won’t grow legs, and then we can all be in a government led by Netanyahu that defends settlements.”
The truth, Edelstein said, is that in recent years under Netanyahu, thousands of new homes were built in the West Bank and Jerusalem.
Earlier Sunday, Hotovely, who like Edelstein and Bennett is religious-Zionist, said the Bayit Yehudi chairman “must understand that any support for the false document in Yediot makes him a partner in wanting to bring down the right-wing government through spin and lies.
“Netanyahu never agreed to concessions in six years of his term [as prime minister]. Actions in the field speak more than any documents disseminated by the Americans,” she said.