NEW YORK – Israeli Diaspora Affairs Minister Naftali Bennett told a small gathering of U.S. Jewish students on Tuesday that the two-state solution is a terrible idea and “we’re done with that.”
Attending a campus event at Columbia University to discuss the future of Israeli-Diaspora relations, Bennett was asked how he reconciled the fact that “80 percent of American Jews support the two-state solution” with his own personal views, which support annexation of parts of the occupied territories.
“We founded the first Palestinian state – Gaza,” replied Bennett, who is also Israel’s education minister. “We handed the keys over to the Palestinian Authority, to [President] Mahmoud Abbas. He got ownership of Gaza and they got their chance. What happened? Within days they started shooting rockets at us from the very locations we vacated.
“We were hoping it was going to turn into Singapore,” he continued. “In fact, they opted to turn it into Afghanistan.
“I’m not about to carve out the heart of Israel – Judea and Samaria, aka the West Bank, aka the territories – hand it over to the Palestinians and pray that, somehow, this time they will not turn it into a terror base,” he said. “No, we are done with that. They have a Palestinian state in Gaza: Make it work, let’s talk afterward.”
Bennett is leader of the pro-settler Habayit Hayehudi and is a key member of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s governing coalition. He has been in the government since becoming a Knesset member in 2013 and previously served as religious services minister.
His appearance was co-sponsored by Aryeh: Columbia Students Association for Israel, as part of its “Israel Across the Political Spectrum” speaker series. AEPi, the international Jewish Fraternity was the main sponsor of the event.
Bennett’s appearance came a day after a speech by former Israeli Supreme Court Justice Salim Joubran and before Wednesday’s appearance by former U.S. Ambassador to Israel Daniel B. Shapiro.
Aryeh was forced to defend its decision to invite Bennett, with president Albert Mishaan writing in Columbia U. campus paper on Tuesday: “Aryeh’s membership is politically diverse, but is united in its desire to discuss the issues that Israelis deal with everyday. Hearing from leaders and stakeholders in that debate is essential to our mission – especially those with whom we disagree.”
A handful of students protested before Bennett’s appearance, chanting “Jews for Israel, anti-annexation” and “Not my minister.” Some of them, wearing “Not My Zionism” T-shirts, then attended the talk and quizzed Bennett on his views.
Bennett told the students – some of whom raised their hands when he asked if any of them knew Hebrew or had visited Israel – that as Diaspora affairs minister, he also represents them. “I’m basically minister of the Jews: I’m your minister, so careful,” he joked. He added that while not every Jew in the Diaspora will immigrate to Israel, “Know that the Jewish state is always there for you.”
Bennett’s New York speech came a day after he spoke at an event on the sidelines of the AIPAC Policy Conference in Washington, organized in support of West Bank settlements.
He reportedly used the Golan Heights as an example of how annexation can eventually be accepted by the international community. “It’s never pleasant two weeks after, but after two months it fades away, and 20 years later and 40 years later it’s still ours,” Bennett was quoted as saying by the Jewish Currents website.
Bennett also used that speech Monday to express support for Netanyahu in light of mounting corruption investigations against the prime minister. Bennett said he believes and hopes Netanyahu did not commit any crimes, and that he will not be indicted.
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