Jerusalem and Diaspora Affairs Minister Naftali Bennett told former US envoy and longtime peace process negotiator Martin Indyk that the two-state vision he has been peddling for two decades is “not working,” and it is time to try something different.
As such, Bennett – in a spirited discussion at the Brookings Institution Saban Forum in Washington on Saturday night – defended his plan to annex Area C, an area encompassing some 60 percent of the West Bank, but only about 80,000 Palestinians.
Drawing on his past business career, Bennett said that “from my experience in previous life, you have to face the music….
Just wishing a plan does not make it real. After so many years of bashing our head in the wall, it is time to think anew.”
Bennett said that the plan he outlined recently in The New York Times, and which Indyk asked him about, is not a “solution.”
In an apparent dig at Indyk’s efforts to “solve” the Israeli-Palestinian issue, he said that “not every problem in life has a solution. You can have an imperfect marriage. Not everything is clear cut.”
While you can’t totally solve the problem, he said, what you can do is improve the life for both the Arabs and Jews living in the West Bank.
In addition to annexing Area C, Bennett also proposes upgrading Palestinian autonomy, infrastructure and the West Bank economy.
Regarding Jerusalem, Bennett made clear that he would never divide Jerusalem, and quoted former prime minister Yitzhak Rabin as saying the same thing. He laid out a twoprong approach: providing full services to the Arab neighborhoods the city, and coupling that with strict enforcement of the law in east Jerusalem, with no tolerance for “lawlessness.”
Asked by Indyk why he wanted 300,000 Arabs in Jerusalem, he cited David Ben-Gurion’s decision during the War of Independence to divert forces from the Negev and Galilee to break the siege in Jerusalem, against the advice of his generals, because he understood that “Israel without Jerusalem is Israel without a soul.”
When Indyk asked how Israel would deal with international opposition to such an annexation – including from the US – as well as to the boycotts, Security Council resolutions, and isolation that would follow such a move, Bennett said he is not proposing annexing the areas tomorrow, but it is a process that would entail “changing the worldview of what is going on. I want to present a different approach to Israel’s future.”
He said that this would be an uphill battle “to deal with nonsense that the peace industry” churns out, as though Israel were “an occupier in its own land.”
Bennett said that the Israeli public is in a very different place now from where it was during the Oslo heyday, when that agreement passed by only a very narrow margin.
“People are disillusioned.
No one thinks handing over land will bring peace,” he said.
“What happened in [Gaza in] the summer was a profound sea change in the Israeli public.”
Then, in another dig at the “peace industry,” Bennett said that “people in conferences” are not “smarter than people in Ashkelon who got thousands of missiles from the very place we left and handed over” to Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas in 2005.
When Indyk challenged Bennett’s comments that a Palestinian state would be flooded with Palestinian refugees coming from neighboring lands, saying that this is “fear mongering,” he shot back that the ”fear mongering” is done by those saying that Israel faces international isolation and a demographic time bomb if it does not accept what the world wants it to.
He also chided Indyk for thinking he knows what is better for Israel than the Israeli public itself.
When Indyk said Bennett lives in “another reality,” Bennett replied that it is Indyk who is residing in another reality, and asked how many missiles it would take to fall on Ashkelon, and how many terror victims resulting from the Oslo Accords, before he would wake up from his illusions.
Indyk took Bennett to task for calling Abbas a terrorist, even though the PA security apparatus helped prevent terrorist attacks, and for saying earlier in the year that US Secretary of State John Kerry is encouraging global terrorism and is an amplifier of anti-Semitism.
Bennett responded by saying that the US is Israel’s best friend, and that he believes Kerry is a friend.
“I believe the context of those words was that if we don’t do the next step of the prisoners, the murderers’ release [in March], then the world will attack us.
There was an assumption of fault by Israel. I was against that, and thought it was wrong.”
Bennett said that he has the “deepest respect” for the relationship with the administration, though he has “profound disagreements” with it.
“That’s okay,” he said.
“Friends can disagree. It always has to be done with respect. If I did wrong here, I am the first to admit it. The demeanor and words have to be respectful.
However, I don’t think we have to bow to every requirement that we are asked, even from our greatest friend.”