Netanyahu: If Reelected, I Won’t Evacuate Any West Bank Settlements

PM says he is open to two state solution, but 'Palestinians have emptied it of any relevance.'

David Bachar

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said Wednesday that if he is reelected on March 17, he will not evacuate any settlements during his term.

“I don’t see such a move as being practical at this point. Since I’m in charge it won’t happen,” he said in an interview with Channel 2.

Insisting that he was open to Palestinian statehood, as he first claimed in his 2009 Bar-Ilan speech, Netanyahu said, “The Palestinians have emptied it of any relevance. Instead of negotiating they are going to the International [Criminal] Court in The Hague, charging IDF soldiers with war crimes.”

Meanwhile, the Central Election Committee is to hear a petition today by MK Stav Shaffir (Labor) to stop the transfer of 85 million shekels (about $21.8 million), to the settlements because the transfer was approved during the election campaign.

For similar reasons, attorney General Yehuda Weinstein last week stopped the transfer of $13 million for the construction of a visitors center at Barkan in the West Bank.

“Because this is an election period, greater weight should be given to the fact that this is a grant given at the discretion of the prime minister,” Shaffir said in her petition in calling for the transfer to be stopped.

In the interview, Netanyahu went on to deny that he had promised Habayit Hayehudi leader Naftali Bennett the defense portfolio in the next government. “I’m not going to rank the candidates. We now have an excellent defense minister,” he said, referring to Moshe Ya’alon. Netanyahu also denied that he and Bennett had agreed to refrain from attacking each other during the election campaign, despite Bennett’s public claim to the contrary.

The prime minister said he doesn’t rule out the possibility of inviting Yair Lapid’s Yesh Atid and Isaac Herzog and Tzipi Livni’s Zionist Camp into a coalition he heads, despite the troubled relationship he has with them. On the alliance between Livni and Herzog, he asked: “Is this a rotation or a mutation?” adding that he seeks a broad coalition, but not a rotation in the Prime Minister’s Office.

Netanyahu spent much of the interview defending his handling of the economy, placing the blame for the high cost of living, especially housing, on Finance Minister Yair Lapid and even former Prime Minister Ehud Olmert, whose term ended six years ago.

“Olmert’s government made a scandalous decision in stopping any planning and construction in central Israel. Prices [of housing] soared in response. We started addressing this problem. However, two years ago the Likud ceased to be a large party. Why was that? Because we were joined by a party that was driven by the public mood,” he said in a reference to Yesh Atid. “Voters decided that. The ruling party lost control of housing policies.

Netanyahu said, “Of course we all have some responsibility for what happened. But my responsibility is that I couldn’t convince enough people to vote for us, so that we had to appoint someone unsuitable to manage housing.” Regarding his decision to put the inexperienced Lapid at the helm of the treasury, Netanyahu said, “I think it was imposed on me.”

Netanyahu rejected Lapid’s claims that he has ruined the relationship with the Obama administration. “The American public’s support of Israel is the broadest it’s ever been,” he said. “The Congress is solidly behind us. Relations with the administration on security and intelligence matters are strong and solid. That doesn’t mean we don’t have disagreements.”

In other political news, MK David Rotem of Yisrael Beiteinu has announced he is leaving politics and will not contend in the upcoming election. Rotem, an MK since January 2007, headed the Knesset’s Constitution, Law and Justice Committee for the past six years and had served on the Judicial Appointments Committee.

Moshe Kahlon continues to unveil his Kulanu party’s list of candidates. In the next few days he is expected to present his “military” candidate, Maj. Gen. (res.) Yoav Galant, who will feature high on the list. Ahead of joining Kulanu, Galant opened his own Facebook page. On Monday he posted a photo of himself at sea, with the caption: “It’s time to lift our heads above the water.”

On Monday Kahlon announced the addition of Jerusalem Deputy Mayor Rachel Azaria to his party. “We need people like Rachel with their sense of mission,” he said. Azaria said that if elected, her objective would be to lower the price of preschool care for children under three years old, as well as adjusting parents’ vacation days to those of their children. Azaria is a religious woman, associated with the liberal Orthodox stream. She previously headed an organization helping women who were stranded without a divorce due to spousal refusal. She was also active in the social protest movement and protested against attempts to exclude women from the public arena.

In addition to Azaria, Kahlon has presented three other candidates: Michael Oren, former Israeli ambassador to the United States; Eli Elalouf, who headed an anti-poverty committee; and Yifat Shasha-Biton, an educator and former deputy mayor of Kiryat Shmona. Kahlon has not yet presented the name of a national female figure for his ticket. In the coming days he is expected to present the rest of his list, which he is obliged to complete by January 29.

Barak Ravid contributed to this report.