Economy Minister and Habayit Hayehudi chairman Naftali Bennett clarified in an interview with the Washington Post that he has no intention of dismantling Israel's government over renewed peace talks with the Palestinians. Bennett also emphasized that he got the impression that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is sincerely interested in advancing toward the establishment of a Palestinian state.
In the interview, Bennett discussed his tense relationship with Netanyahu. "We didn’t have a fight, contrary to what people think, but it’s no secret that in the last few years, we’ve not been in touch," Bennett told the Washington Post. "I lead a party that competes with the Likud, so we are political rivals. I highly respect him, but I also have profound disagreements with him."
The economy minister explained that that his differences of opinion with Netanyahu primarily concern the issue of a Palestinian state. "Netanyahu supports - and he truly does support - building a Palestinian state within Israel," he told Lally Weymouth, a senior associate editor of The Washington Post, which has recently published similar interviews with Netanyahu himself, President Shimon Peres and Finance Minister Yair Lapid that have all dealt mainly with the issue of the Israeli-Palestinian peace process.
"I can tell you that Netanyahu is serious about it. He means it," said Bennett. "I also understand that this government is proceeding down this approach, and I’m not going to stop it. I’m not going to veto it. I’m not going to do anything to stop the negotiations because this government wants to progress in that direction."
Bennett added that he is skeptical negotiations, which U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry is working to renew, will bear fruit. "At the end of the day, at the critical moment, every Palestinian leader balks. I’m very skeptical that Abu Mazen [Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas] will be willing to accept Israel as a Jewish state," he told Weymouth. He added, though, that he would not "put any barriers to this. They can talk. I'm not going to dismantle the government."
What Bennett declined to answer was how his party would vote if a peace plan was reached. "When I get to the bridge, I’ll cross it," he said.
The Habayit Hayehudi chairman emphasized that he opposes establishing a Palestinian state and clarified that he is not party to the demographic concerns that threaten to turn Jews into a minority between Jordan and the Mediterranean Sea. In contradiction to Central Bureau of Statistics data that indicates a population of 2.5 million Arabs in the West Bank, Bennett insisted that there are only 1.5 million. In addition, he said there are 400,000 Israelis there. "No one’s going anywhere. What’s happening de facto is there’s growing coexistence. There are roughly 22,000 Palestinians working side by side with what you call settlers in factories and malls in the West Bank," said Bennett, adding "If you work together, you start understanding each other."
Bennett presented his plan for Israel to annex Area C, which comprises 60 percent of the West Bank, and to grant Israeli citizenship to the Palestinians who live there, which he estimates is 50,000 people. According to UN data, more than 150,000 Palestinians live in Area C. "Right now, the demography is good in Israel, and it’s in fact getting better," said Bennett, "Generally speaking, the Arab fertility rates have been going down, and the Jewish fertility rates are going up."
In the long run, Bennett said, Jordan will need to get involved. "I’m vehemently against population transfer whether it be a Jew or an Arab. I’m not going to tell the Palestinians how to arrange themselves. If they want to have their own entity and their own parliament as they do today, that’s fine. If they want to connect to Jordan, which has a very big Palestinian population, and vote in the Jordanian government, that’s fine … It’s the only realistic scenario," he told the Washington Post.
Answering the question of whether the international community should accept that offer, Bennett said, "My problem right now is that the international community is forcing upon us national suicide, because injecting, yet again, a terror state into the heart of our country is national suicide."
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