Yair Lapid, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, and Benny Gantz.
(photo credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM/THE JERUSALEM POST+EMIL SALMAN/POLL+ANDREAS GEBERT/REUTERS)
Between Benny Gantz and Yair Lapid agreeing to form the Blue and White Party, and other negotiations continuing until just hours before Thursday night’s deadline to submit lists for the upcoming election, a major statement by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu flew below the radar of most media.
Netanyahu gave a rebuttal to Gantz’s and Lapid’s launch of their new party, in which he assailed the centrist bloc that is likely to put up a serious fight against Likud between now and April 9. In it, he sought to frame them as dyed-in-the-wool leftists, a description that is certainly accurate about some of the list – Histadrut Labor Union leader Avi Nissenkorn and long time Meretz member MK Yael German come to mind – but not all of them.
In that address, Netanyahu said that a Gantz-Lapid led government “will establish – I want to say sooner or later, but with them it will be much sooner – a Palestinian state… [that] will be here. It will be on the outskirts of Tel Aviv. It will be next to Afula and Beersheba... A Palestinian state will endanger our existence.”
As Tovah Lazaroff pointed out in Sunday’s Jerusalem Post, this may be Netanyahu’s sharpest departure from his Bar-Ilan speech of nearly a decade ago in which he said, “If we get a guarantee of demilitarization, and if the Palestinians recognize Israel as the Jewish state, we are ready to agree to a real peace agreement: a demilitarized Palestinian state side-by-side with the Jewish state.”
Netanyahu has made statements indicating he is skeptical about Palestinian statehood. For example, he agreed with a journalist’s statement in 2015 that a Palestinian state wouldn’t be established in his next term. And he has repeatedly vowed not to uproot any settlements. But he hasn’t turned around and renounced his own policy – until now.
Even in 2015, Netanyahu reaffirmed his support for a demilitarized Palestinian state, after the election, but clarified that he meant it would be diplomatically impossible in the coming years.
As Lazaroff astutely pointed out, Netanyahu is currently trying to court as many right-wing voters as possible. This included offering a generous sweetener to Bayit Yehudi in exchange for its inclusion of the extremist Otzma Yehudit in its slate for the election, and involves distancing himself from his past willingness to make concessions toward the Palestinians.
But voters haven’t forgotten his handshakes with former PLO leader Yasser Arafat, the Hebron and Wye Agreements ceding control of land in the West Bank, and his votes in favor of the Gaza disengagement before pivoting and voting against it. They won’t forget the Bar-Ilan speech, either.
Former defense minister Moshe Dayan famously said, “Only a donkey doesn’t change his mind.” If that’s not what’s happening here, and Netanyahu is going back to opposing a Palestinian state, so be it – but he should make that clear.
Ideally, Likud would release a platform telling voters exactly where it stands on all major issues. Since it hasn’t done that since 2009, they’ll likely go into another election without a platform. But it would behoove the party to, at the very least, make it amply clear where it stands on the issues about which their leader, Netanyahu, has been making public statements.
This also applies to the Blue and White Party. Among the list’s top three, Gantz has only made vague statements; Lapid has been in favor of a Palestinian state while preserving major settlement blocs; and former defense minister Moshe Ya’alon has vehemently opposed a Palestinian state and has advocated for building more settlements.
Constant flip-flopping without a clear stance is unfair in a democracy. Voters are left with mixed messages on where our prime ministerial candidates stand on matters of life-or-death for many Israelis and Palestinians – and one that is imminently pressing in light of US President Donald Trump’s own peace plan, set to be presented in the coming months.
When Israelis vote on April 9, we should have the full knowledge of what kind of future the candidates envision for us when it comes to diplomacy and security. This is especially needed from the candidates who are most likely to be prime minister. We need clarity from Netanyahu and Gantz on their positions regarding a two-state solution.
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