Bayit Yehudi Chairman and Economy Minister Naftali Bennett said on Sunday that Israel should annex the 60 percent of the West Bank that is under full Israeli control, and that includes all of the Jewish settlments built since acquiring the areas in the 1967 war.
“We should apply Israeli law on the Israeli-controlled parts of Judea and Samaria - the West Bank - and offer full citizenship to those Palestinians who live in these areas,” Bennett told the Foreign Press Association in Jerusalem.
“The idea is to make the conditions as livable as possible for the foreseeable future. It’s not as sexy as the perfect, two-state solution, but this is realistic.”
The controversial right wing minister, who at times appears to be at much at odds with Prime Minister Netanyahu as he is with his left-of-center opponents, said Israel should annex Area C, the 1993 Oslo Accords designation for the portion of the West Bank which is under Israeli administrative and security control.
The 100,000 Palestinians who live there would be given the option to become full Israeli citizens. The rest of the West Bank, where Palestinians exercise full (Area A), or partial control (Area B), would be given “autonomy on steroids,” according to Bennett.
His proposal to annex the majority of the West Bank is unlikely to be accepted by the Palestinians or most of the international community, which believes there should be an independent Palestinian state within the borders that existed prior to 1967, with some slight modifications.
Bennett, a former head of the Council of Jewish Settlements in Judea and Samaria, spoke as the nine-month period that the parties allotted to US Secretary of State John Kerry to develop a framework agreement runs out, and three days after the Islamist Hamas movement which controls the Gaza Strip signed a unity agreement with the rival Fatah movement which is in charge in the West Bank.
“The era of Oslo is at its end,” Bennett said, referring to the 1993 agreement that called for an independent Palestinian state. “We are not going to reach a peace agreement in the foreseeable future. We need to be realistic about what we can achieve and massively invest in infrastructure in the economy, in the quality of life and in self-governance of the Palestinians.”
Palestinian officials insist that the agreement signed with Hamas for a unity government to pave the way for elections, should not influence the continuation of the US-backed negotiations with Israel.
“There is a catch-22 here,” Nabil Shaath, a member of the PLO Central Committee and a long-time negotiator told The Media Line. “In all of our previous negotiations, he (Netanyahu) used to say ‘I cannot negotiate with you because you are separated, you don’t control Gaza.’ And now that we are united, he says the problem is that we are united. You don’t know if the problem is our being separated or being united.”
Shaath also specifically referred to Bennett, saying that if Hamas is an obstacle to peace, so is Naftali Bennett.
“He (Netanyahu) talks about Hamas as if they are against this peace process,” Shaath told The Media Line. “What is he doing with Mr. Bennett in his cabinet? Mr. Bennett is a man who is against the peace process, who is much farther to the right from him (Netanyahu). We don’t interfere. He can keep Mr. Bennett. He can keep Mr. (Foreign Minister Avigdor) Lieberman. But he has nothing to do with our partners, nothing to do with our people. This is our job. We decide to unite with whom. Our commitments to international law and to the peace process have not changed.”
Bennett, however, said it is impossible for Israel to negotiate with any Palestinian government that includes Hamas, saying it is like the US negotiating with an agreement that includes al-Qaeda.
“Hamas is a radical and lethal terror organization,” Bennett said, reporting on Israel’s cabinet decision to suspend the peace talks. “Their constitution explicitly defines ‘Palestine’ as from the sea to the river and says that Israel will (only) exist until Islam obliterates it.”
At the same time Bennett took what he called an “unpopular” position in Israel and called to gradually dismantle the security fence which Israel has built in and around the West Bank. Many Israelis believe that the construction of the barrier, which Palestinians see as a land grab, has led to a marked increase in their security.
“The reason that cars or suicide bombers are not blowing up in cafes is not the fence but our good intelligence control in Judea and Samaria and our effective ability to thwart attacks before they begin,” he said.
Article by Felice Friedson and Linda Gradstein. Abdullah H. Erakat contributed reporting from Ramallah
Reprinted with permission from The Media Line