The idea of establishing a Palestinian state in the Land of Israel has reached a "dead end," Economy Minister Naftali Bennett said on Monday, as the double-talk from the government regarding the conflict with the Palestinians continued.
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Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu distanced himself from the comments, but the Palestinian chief negotiator said they were "part of Israel's plan to destroy any possibility for a Palestinian state."
"The idea that a Palestinian state will be formed in the land of Israel has come to a dead end," Bennett, leader of the Habayit Hayehudi party, said at a conference held in Jerusalem by the settler Yesha Council.
Bennett made his remarks while the U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry's efforts to renew the peace process were underway.
Bennett emphasized that the establishment of a Palestinian state is a pointless issue and stated that the Palestinians have no right to self-determination or a state of their own between the Jordan River and the Mediterranean Sea. "Never in the annals of Israel have so many people expended so much energy on something so futile."
"We need to move on from trying to persuade that a Palestinian state isn't appropriate to behaving like this idea is behind us," said Bennett. "Everyone who wanders around Judea and Samaria knows that what they say in the corridors of Annapolis and Oslo is detached from reality. Today there are 400,000 Israeli residents of Judea and Samaria and another 250,000 in eastern Jerusalem."
During his speech, Bennett used an especially colorful example to try to explain why he believed the conflict with the Palestinians could never reach a resolution and why the creation of a Palestinian state was dangerous. "I have a friend with shrapnel lodged in his backside. They told him they could operate, but he would remain handicapped," Bennett said. "So he decided to keep on living with it. There are situations when striving for perfection just causes more harm than good."
Bennett also said that Israel should intensify construction in the settlements. "The most important thing in Land of Israel is to build, build, build," he said. "It's important for there to be an Israeli presence everywhere. Our principle problem is still the unwillingness of Israeli leaders put it simply that the Land of Israel belongs to the People of Israel."
"It must be said that this land has been ours for 3,000 years," he added, "there was never a Palestinian state here and we were never occupiers. The house is ours and we are residents here, not the occupiers."
When asked by Reuters about the comments, Netanyahu said: "Foreign policy is shaped by the prime minister and my view is clear. I will seek a negotiated settlement where you'd have a demilitarized Palestinian state that recognizes the Jewish state."
Palestinians have resisted Netanyahu's call for such recognition, fearing it would be tantamount to waiving any right of return for Palestinian refugees.
Palestinian chief negotiator Saeb Erekat said Bennett's remarks were, along with policies such as settlement expansion and demolishing Palestinian homes, part of a strategy to destroy any possibility for a future state.
He urged Western leaders to "hold Israel accountable for destroying the prospects of justice and peace."
Divisions in the Israeli cabinet over Palestinian statehood could cause the coalition to unravel should U.S. peace efforts gain speed.
The leader of the main opposition Labor Party has already pledged to support Netanyahu to offset any defections by hardliners if he clinches a deal with the Palestinians.
Division in the Israeli cabinet
A short time after economy minister's speech, Science and Technology Minister Jacob Perry from the Yesh Atid party stridently attacked Bennett.
"His declarations are undermining peace efforts and are harming … attempts to build trust between Israel and the Palestinians," said Perry. "The establishment of a Palestinian state is [in] Israel's existential interest. The concept of the two states is the single solution that will prevent the establishment of a bi-national state and the end of Zionism."
The sharp disagreement within the government regarding the Palestinian conflict was clear from the day the coalition was formed. The government's basic guidelines are missing a commitment toward implementing the two-state solution because of the objection of Habayit Hayehudi and most Likud MKs.
Netanyahu has announced several times that he adheres to the principle of two states for two people, but was insistent on making clear that Danon's remarks reflected his own personal position and not that of the government. In the past five years Netanyahu regularly avoided bringing the topic to a vote or even to a discussion at a cabinet meeting.
Several incidents occurred in recent weeks and emphasized to what extent the government is divided on this issue, and just how those who oppose to the peace process and a Palestinian state have the upper hand.
For example, speaking in front of the Knesset Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee, Justice Minister Tzipi Livni, who is also responsible for negotiations with the Palestinians, was attacked by Habayit Hayehudi MKs who stated that her position on the matter does not represent the government position.
Several days later, Deputy Defense Minister Danny Danon said in an interview to The Times of Israel that most government ministers opposed the establishment of a Palestinian state and will prevent the move if it appears on the agenda. Following Netanyahu's weak condemnation of Danon's comments, the deputy defense minister repeated them during a Channel 1 interview, and stated that the solution for a Palestinians was to be found in Jordan.
In contrast, Livni called upon Netanyahu to make the government's position on the Palestinian issue clear, and even hinted that she would consider leaving the government if there is no progress on the diplomatic front. Several days later MK Ofer Shelah (Yesh Atid) that if there isn’t progress in talks with the Palestinians that Israel is likely to become like apartheid-era South Africa.
Despite Livni's comments, chief Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erekat responded to Bennett's remarks on Monday by accusing the Israeli government of officially declaring the death of the two-state solution.
"Within the past few days, several high-ranking Israeli officials from the ministries of foreign affairs, defense and religious affairs have made clear statements regarding their position to actively work against the internationally endorsed two-state solution," Erekatsaid.
"These are not isolated events but a reaffirmation of political platforms and radical beliefs," he said. "Israel has officially declared the death of the two-state solution."