Jews cannot live under Palestinian sovereignty for the simple reason that if they do they will be killed, Economy Minister Naftali Bennett said in a feisty and fiery speech on Tuesday.
Not only did Bennett not back down from criticism he sounded Monday against Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu’s suggestion that settlements may remain under Palestinian sovereignty in a future agreement, but he ratcheted up his criticism.
The one difference Tuesday, during his speech in Tel Aviv at the annual international conference of the Institute for National Security Studies, is that he did not attribute the idea directly to Netanyahu, but to unnamed international actors who see Israel as a laboratory for various far-fetched ideas.
Netanyahu, who addressed the same conference about an hour later, steered completely clear of the idea and of Bennett.
The Bayit Yehudi leader’s vocal criticism triggered an angry response by sources close to the prime minister earlier in the week.
“It will not happen, and cannot happen,” Bennett said of the idea of having the settlement remain in a future Palestinian state. “You know why Jews cannot live under Palestinian sovereignty? Why? Because they will kill them. How do I know? Because it happened.”
The economy minister said this happened in 1929 in Hebron, when the ancient Jewish community there was butchered by their Arab neighbors.
He also recounted an episode in 2000, when two reservists made a wrong turn and ended up in Ramallah where they were lynched and their bodies thrown out the window, after being taken to the Palestinian Authority police station.
Everyone knows, he said, that if an Arab wanders into Herzliya he will leave safely, but that if a Jew gets lost and ends up in Jenin he will be killed. Not only can Jews not survive under Palestinian sovereignty, he said, but neither can Jewish property, mentioning the synagogues that were destroyed by the Palestinians in Gush Katif soon after the Israeli withdrawal there.
“We all came here to the land of Israel in the name of Zionism,” he declared. “The essence of Zionism is sovereignty. If there is no sovereignty there is no Zionism.”
He said that placing Jews under foreign rule would be a Zionistic U-turn.
“We tried it in Europe, and it did not really work,” he said, just an hour after getting back from his first-ever trip to Poland and Auschwitz as part of a Knesset delegation. “We were always proud that only a Jewish army will defend the Jews. What has happened to us? What is the significance of even raising this idea? What does it say about us?” Bennett said that for security and practical reasons, and first and foremost because of the values of Zionism, “I suggest and demand that this idea be removed from the agenda.”
Bennett called on the international community not to use Israel as an experimental lab.
“People live here with dreams, families, and very difficult experiences,” he said. “What is the price we pay when you play with our fate? The Israeli public won’t let that happen any more.”
Regarding his alternative, Bennett suggested his pre-election plan to restrict the points of friction and declare Israeli sovereignty over the “Israeli parts of Judea and Samaria, where 400,000 Israelis and only 70,000 Palestinians live.” He said those Palestinians will be offered full Israeli citizenship.
In the rest of the territory, he said, Palestinians would enjoy full autonomy, hold their own elections, pay and collect their own taxes, build for themselves, and create transportation contiguity so there will be free movement in Judea and Samaria.
“Is this perfect?” he asked. “No it is not perfect, But is it much better than the fantasy of putting in the heart of our land an enemy state? Yes.”
Bennett called on everyone to “grow up” and discard the illusion that every problem has a perfect solution.
In a sign of the political difficulties Netanyahu faces if he moves forward on the current path of negotiations with the Palestinians, Bennett – mentioning recent archeological findings in Jerusalem showing an ancient Jewish link to the city – said the eastern part of Jerusalem, as well as Judea, Samaria and the Jordan Valley, “were ours 4,000 years ago, and will continue to be ours for the next 4,000 years – forever.”
“Our forefathers and the descendants of our descendants will not forgive an Israeli leader who gives up our land and divides our capital,” he declared.
Bennett said that for dozens of years there were people insisting on dividing the country, only using different excuses each time.
“Once they said it will bring peace, if we only give up enough, or make enough concessions, we will be able to eat humous in Damascus, and if not in Damascus, then in Ramallah.”
No one believes anymore that if you give up land you will have peace with the Palestinians, he argued.
Now, he said, the new motto is “give territory to the Palestinians and make peace with the world. Go now.”
He then dismissed the argument that it was necessary to give up territory for security reasons – saying the horror of the second intifada dispelled that notion, inasmuch as it followed fast on the heels of Camp David and Ehud Barak’s willingness to divide Jerusalem and give up 97% of the territory.
He also casually dismissed the demographic argument for relinquishing the territories, saying that the Jewish birthrate is not outpacing the Palestinian fertility rate. “Get it into your head,” he said, imitating a well known radio advertisement.
“The demographic time works in Israel’s favor.”
More than that, he said, a Palestinian state would flood Israel with refugees.
Bennett said once a Palestinians state is established, the Arab world, which he said has practiced “apartheid” against Palestinians by not giving descendants of refugees citizen rights or the rights to own property, will “kick them out” and they will flood into the West Bank.
Once there, he said, the Palestinians in Ramallah and Jenin will not share their land with them, but will say to them, “don’t even park here, go straight to the fence, to Road #6, because the grandfather of your father was raised in Haifa.”
Bennett said they will then stand on the Green Line with signs saying “we want home.”
“What do you think will happen,” he said, “ that the world will clap their hands and say ‘Israel you are okay,’ and the organizations – like B’Tselem – and the BDS will close shop and go back to Europe, because they decided Israel is okay. Do you really think so?” Rather, he said, they will stand on the fence and begin the next phase in the delegitmization campaign against Israel. Bennett said this was already happening in the Negev and Galilee.
The Bayit Yehudi leader also said Israel should not panic over threats of boycotts and divestment.
“They are scaring us that we are standing in front of [economic] collapse,” he said, before ticking off a list of positive economic developments.
Bennett said Israel has faced down boycotts in the past and can do so again.
“We built our land, we built our homes. We developed because we were not afraid, because we had strength because we knew this land belonged to us.”
The problem today, he said, in an apparent allusion to Justice Minister Tzipi Livni, comes from inside.
“From within, people are screaming ‘boycott, boycott,’ which in the end will indeed bring a boycott,” he said.
“This is not the way to conduct negotiations, when you run around the world afraid.”
Meretz leader Zehava Gal-On responded to Bennett’s speech by saying he was not worthy of being a minister, and that Netanyahu should fire him.
“Can it be that Netanyahu decided to escape and hide in Davos?” she wrote on Facebook. “He definitely left his spine there, otherwise it is not clear how he lets Naftali Bennett, in the role of class delinquent, rave hysterically, curse, trash the government and spit out violent and repulsive statements that are more suited to a Hezbollah spokesman than an Israeli minister.
Meanwhile, former Labor leader Shelly Yacimovich said PA President Mahmoud Abbas told her in May 2013 that he would not object to Jewish residents of Judea and Samaria remaining in a Palestinian state as citizens.
Gil Hoffman contributed to this report.
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