Netanyahu: Israeli cabinet won’t vote on Palestinian statehood

The prime minister says annexation won’t destroy peace treaty with Jordan.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu presents Israel's new government to Knesset, May 17, 2020 (photo credit: KOBI GIDEON/GPO)
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu presents Israel's new government to Knesset, May 17, 2020
(photo credit: KOBI GIDEON/GPO)
The government won’t vote on the issue of Palestinian statehood or on the entirety of US Donald Trump’s peace plan, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu told the Hebrew daily Makor Rishon in an interview published over the weekend.
He clarified for the paper that he planned to bring only the topic of sovereignty to the cabinet and the Knesset for a vote, as dictated under the terms of his coalition agreement with the Blue and White party leader and Alternate Prime Minister Benny Gantz.
The paper asked Netanyahu, who is expected to bring the issue of sovereignty to a vote as early as July, “would the government decision on sovereignty include the topic of Palestinian statehood?”
Netanyahu answered: “That subject is separate. A government decision on the matter is not expected.”
The paper continued to press Netanyahu about the portion of the Trump plan that called for a demilitarized Palestinian state on 70% of the West Bank.
“There won’t be a government decision that would recognize Palestinian statehood?,” the paper asked.
Netanyahu responded. “There won’t be a government decision with regard to the details of the plan or to the adoption of the plan. Like I said in Washington, I am willing to engage in negotiations [with the Palestinians] on the basis of the Trump plan.”
The removal of the issue of Palestinian statehood from any sovereignty vote would help ensure support for the measure, given the opposition on the political right to any Palestinian statehood initiative.
Netanyahu has also been under pressure from right-wing politicians and a number of prominent settler leaders to approve an annexation plan that is separate from the Trump map published in his peace plan, that allows Israel to annex 30% of Area C, including all Israeli settlements.
The settler leaders who oppose the Trump plan have argued that his map is problematic, contending that it allows for de-facto settlement freezes and opens the door to the destruction of at least 15 settlements.
A number of settler leaders have told The Jerusalem Post that they have received worrisome messages from the Prime Minister’s Office and officials connected to the joint Israeli-US mapping process. The settler leaders told the Post that the mapping process was closed and no changes could be made. They blamed the US for taking a hardline position on the matter.
Knesset speaker Yariv Levin, who is on the joint Israeli-Palestinian mapping committee, said that the US has not offered any position on the matter.
Netanyahu clarified to Makor Rishon that the mapping process was not complete and that changes could be made to the document.
When asked by the paper if the map was closed, Netanyahu responded, “Not yet, we are sill working on it.” He insisted that the territory upon which sovereignty would be applied was 30% of the West Bank, which is the equivalent of 50% of Area C.
Netanyahu said that for four years, neither Israelis nor Palestinians would be allowed to build in the 50% of Area C that was outside of Israeli sovereignty. He referenced in this the four-year period in which, under the Trump plan, there is a process for the creation of a Palestinian state.
There are no Israeli settlements in the area Netanyahu spoke of where Jewish building would be frozen.
Netanyahu clarified that he planned to act precisely according to the dictates of the coalition agreement with the Blue and White party, which would allow him bring the issue of West Bank sovereignty to the cabinet and Knesset. That provision speaks of US support for sovereignty.
The paper also quizzed Netanyahu on Jordan’s opposition to Israel’s pending annexation plans, including warnings that it could harm the 1994 Israeli-Jordanian peace treaty, seen as a cornerstone of Middle East stability.
Netanyahu said he believed that annexation would not destroy Israel’s peace treaty with Jordan, which he said was of “vital interest” to both countries.
Jordan, along with the Palestinian Authority, is in the midst of an international campaign to prevent any Israeli plans.
On Thursday, Jordanian Foreign Minister Ayman Safadi spoke with US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict during a telephone conversation regarding the COVID-19 pandemic. Safadi tweeted that he told Pompeo, Jordan “remains committed to just peace on basis of [a two]-state solution.”
Netanyahu also gave an interview to the Hebrew daily Israel Hayom on Thursday in which he clarified that Israel has no plan to annex Jericho in the Jordan Valley and defended his support of the Trump peace plan and its provision for demilitarized Palestinian statehood.
Yamina party head Naftali Bennett has charged that 250,000 Palestinians would receive Israeli citizenship under Trump’s peace plan. Bennett was referring to those Palestinians living in portions of Area C that would be annexed to Israel under the Trump plan. It’s presumed that some 100,000 to 300,000 Palestinians live in Area C, which is under Israeli military and civilian rule.
According to the Palestinian Bureau of Statistics there are some 2.5 million Palestinians living in the West Bank, the bulk of which live in Areas A and B under the auspices of the PA.
Israel Hayom asked Netanyahu about the citizenship issue for Palestinians this way: “Several thousand Palestinians live in the Jordan Valley. Does that mean they will receive Israeli citizenship?”
Netanyahu responded by referencing the Palestinian city of Jericho, located in the Jordan Valley in Area A, which has a population of over 22,000. Under Trump’s plan, Jericho would be part of a future Palestinian state.
”No,” Netanyahu said, with regard to the issue of offering Palestinians citizenships in the Jordan Valley.  Then he continued, “They will remain in a Palestinian enclave. You’re not annexing Jericho. There’s a cluster or two. You don’t need to apply sovereignty over them, they will remain Palestinian subjects if you will. But security control also applies to these places.”
Netanyahu also defended himself against charges from the Right, including Bennett, about his support for a demilitarized Palestinian state as outlined in the Trump peace plan.
“If they [Palestinians] see fit to meet and accept about 10 stringent conditions – including Israeli sovereignty west of the Jordan River, preserving a united Jerusalem, refusing to accept refugees, not uprooting Jewish communities, and Israeli sovereignty in large swathes of Judea and Samaria, etc. – the [diplomatic] process will move ahead,” said Netanyahu.
He was careful, however, not to use the phrase Palestinian state in talking about the demilitarized state offered to the PA under Trump’s plan, that was unveiled in January.
The Palestinians “need to acknowledge that we control security in all areas [of the West Bank]. If they consent to all this, then they will have an entity of their own that President Trump defines as a state,” Netanyahu said.
For the past three decades Israel has “only dreamed” that such conditions would be imposed upon the Palestinians in exchange for Palestinian statehood recognition, Netanyahu said.
But he stopped short of stating that he or Israel would recognize that statehood, answering the question this way.
“Only if the Palestinians agree to Israeli military control over the entire area, they will get an entity Trump considers a state,” Netanyahu reiterated.
The prime minister defended himself to the paper against charges by his rivals on the right that he had abandoned their values. He noted that he was the first Israeli prime minster to secure US recognition for sovereignty over the Golan Heights and Jerusalem.
Netanyahu pledged to continue with that track record by applying sovereignty to portions of the West Bank, “through an agreement that will facilitate American recognition in the areas of our homeland inside Judea and Samaria.”
“These are Trump’s decisions, and the person who broached these matters with him was me. No one else,” Netanyahu said.
He attacked the International Criminal Court of Justice, which is now debating whether or not it has the jurisdiction to hear war crimes suits involving incidents that occurred in the West Bank, east Jerusalem and the Gaza Strip. He accused the ICC of predetermining Israel’s guilt before any government decision had been made.
“The ICC in The Hague has already decided we are guilty of war crimes. We are defending our homeland and the soldiers and leaders and bureaucrats are all guilty of war crimes, because we dare to build homes in Gilo or Beit El.”
He continued, saying “it is absurd” and that “we will have to fight this while dealing with the coronavirus, and amid our fight against the Iranian nuclear program.”
Leon Sverdlov contributed to this report.