Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu reaffirmed Israel’s commitment to a negotiated two-state solution after Economy and Trade Minister Naftali Bennett (Bayit Yehudi) said on Monday that the idea of a Palestinian state within Israel had reached a dead end.
Although Bennett is a senior minister in Netanyahu’s government, he did not hesitate to present an opinion on the conflict that differed from that of the prime minister, including calling on the government to annex Area C of the West Bank.
“The idea that a Palestinian state would be established within the Land of Israel has come to a dead end,” Bennett said in Jerusalem at a public relations conference held by the Council of Jewish Communities of Judea, Samaria and the Gaza Strip.
The Palestinian Authority immediately demanded a clarification from Israel.
“These are very dangerous statements made by a minister in the Israeli government, which is continuing to expand settlements and avoid fulfilling its obligations [toward the peace process],” said Nabil Abu Rudaineh, spokesman for the PA presidency in Ramallah.
“Israel has officially declared the death of the two-state solution,” added chief Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erekat.
In an exclusive interview with Reuters, Netanyahu dismissed Bennett’s comments as irrelevant.
“Foreign policy is shaped by the prime minister and my view is clear. I will seek a negotiated settlement where you’d have a demilitarized Palestinian state that recognizes the Jewish state,” Netanyahu said.
An official in the Prime Minister’s Office stressed that Israel’s governments are coalition governments made up of different parties, and that Bennett’s position on this issue was already well known.
Still, Bennett’s statements held particular resonance because they were stated in the midst of a renewed push by US Secretary of State John Kerry to rekindle Israeli-Palestinian negotiations, which have been largely frozen since December 2008.
Erekat charged that Bennett’s comments were designed to undermine Kerry’s efforts.
Abu Rudaineh said that Bennett’s statements were a message to the US administration, which is making efforts to revive the peace process.
Bennett’s words were also a “clear challenge to and a rejection of efforts to salvage what can be salvaged,” Abu Rudaineh said.
The PA spokesman called on the international community and the US administration to “condemn these dangerous and destructive statements that are directed against anyone who believes in the two-state solution and a just peace, as well as the establishment of an independent Palestinian state on the 1967 borders with Jerusalem as its capital.”
Abu Rudaineh reiterated the PA’s commitment to a just and comprehensive peace based on a two-state solution, an end to settlement construction and the release of Palestinian prisoners from Israeli jails.
However, the PA has refused to negotiate with Israel until it halts settlement activity.
The official in the Prime Minister’s Office asserted that Netanyahu wants a peace deal and would talk without preconditions.
“In our system of government, it is the prime minister who leads on national security issues, and his positions are clear,” the official said. Netanyahu “believes in two states for two peoples, believes in a demilitarized Palestinian state that recognizes a Jewish state and wants to see an immediate resumption of the negotiations with the Palestinians without preconditions.”
Asked if the prime minister could get an accord with the Palestinians through his government, the official pointed out that Netanyahu has said that if a peace deal is signed, it would go either to the Knesset or the general public for ratification.
Netanyahu has in the past come out in favor of the idea of a national referendum on any peace accord with the Palestinians.
When asked whether different voices coming from inside the cabinet would confuse the world as to what the Israeli government’s position is on such a cardinal issue, the official said that anyone who follows this issue knows both that this is Bennett’s position, and that the prime minister is the person with the final say.
The official downplayed as “spin” Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erekat’s comment that the Israeli government has declared the “death of the two-state solution.”
“What is really holding up the peace process is that the Palestinians have not returned to the negotiating table,” the official said.
“He can spin it as he wants,” he said of Erekat’s comment, “but the reality is that the prime minister is willing to sit down and negotiate, and the Palestinians are not.”
But Erekat said that Bennett’s “dangerous” statements, as well as those of other ministers, reflect Israel’s true position, that the Jordan Valley is part of Tel Aviv.
Israel considers the Palestinian territories to be Jewish lands in order to justify expelling Palestinians and demolishing their homes, Erekat said.
The Israeli government, Erekat charged, “seeks to bury the twostate solution,” adding that it was time for the international community to hold Israeli ministers accountable for their statements.
“All that these ministers are doing is part of the Israeli government’s strategy,” Erekat claimed.
Even when Netanyahu distances himself from such statements, Erekat claimed, he does so only for “public relations.” •