Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu left Knesset members in shock this past Monday by suggesting that Israel would have to "separate" from the Palestinians, according to a report which appears in Friday editions of the nationalist-religious newspaper Makor Rishon.
According to the report, which was written by the newspaper's political commentator, Ze'ev Kam, Netanyahu told lawmakers serving on the prestigious Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee that for Israel to maintain its Jewish character, it would have to reach "a separation from the Palestinians."
Kam quotes unnamed members of Knesset who were present at the meeting as saying that Netanyahu left some of them "stunned," since they could not recall the premier ever using the word "separation."
Recently, Netanyahu has indicated a willingness to consider unilateral steps in the wake of aborted peace negotiations with the Palestinian Authority, which led some lawmakers to speculate that the prime minister may be considering a unilateral withdrawal.
Knesset members from both the Right and the Left sought clarifications from Netanyahu regarding what he meant by "separation," though none was forthcoming, Makor Rishon reported.
Indeed, during his session before the committee, Netanyahu ruled out discussions with a Palestinian government backed by Hamas.
"We will not talk to a government in which Hamas is taking part," the premier told the panel.
It was after Netanyahu was asked about the government's intentions in the wake of the breakdown of negotiations that he dropped a bombshell, according to Makor Rishon.
"I don't want one state from the Jordan [River] to the [Mediterranean] Sea," the premier is quoted as saying. "Even if the demographic balance doesn't change to our detriment and there is a Jewish majority, it is still obvious that we need to have a Jewish majority that is overwhelming and for that state to be democratic."
"And that is why we need to come to a separation," Netanyahu said.
The prime minister then began to spell out the diplomatic dividends that Israel would reap in such a scenario. "That way, we would be ensured of a Jewish majority and we would also have some wiggle room with some of the Arab countries for a certain period of time."
At the conclusion of the session, some lawmakers came away quite confused.
"Netanyahu spoke of the need for separation just after he made clear that there will be no negotiations with the Palestinians in light of the latest circumstances," said one MK who was present at the session. "It is impossible not to wonder whether this was Netanyahu's opening salvo [of a campaign for] unilateral separation from the Palestinians, especially when he made these comments after MKs asked him explicitly about unilateral measures."
"Notice something else," the MK told Makor Rishon. "That is the exact same terminology used by Ariel Sharon when he began to move toward the disengagement plan in Gaza."