Israel’s Economy Minister believes the time has come to annex parts of the West Bank and install full economic and military control over Israeli settlements in occupied Palestinian territory, which are deemed illegal under international law.
“I favor implementation of Israeli sovereignty over the zone where 400,000 [Israeli settlers] live and only 70,000 Arabs,” minister Naftali Bennett said on Sunday as quoted by the AFP.
Bennett has also called the ongoing Israeli-Palestinian peace negotiations a “joke”, since Hamas movement controlling the Gaza Strip is not included in the talks.
“Imagine you’re negotiating over a car with someone who only owns half the car, and the owner of the other half says he won’t recognize any agreement you reach. You give him all the money but only get half the car,” he told public radio.
“Maybe I missed the news and Hamas in Gaza recognized Israel and stopped firing rockets,” Bennett said, quoted by the Times of Israel.
Bennett however promised that his Jewish Home religious party was “not going to be the problem despite his opposition to the current framework negotiations,” adding that peace can only be achieved “when the entire Palestinian people” are involved in the talks.
The minister refused to comment on the US mediation role in the negotiations, reminding that the result of previous peace talks was “thousands of rockets” and “1,500 dead. Not American dead, Israeli dead.”
Meanwhile the Israeli Prime Minister on Sunday indicated that the blockade of Gaza and its goods turnover with the West Bank will continue.
“We want to make sure that goods that go from Gaza do not contain weapons or explosives that can reach the Palestinian Authority areas that would undermine not just us, but the PA,” Netanyahu said as quoted by Jerusalem Post. “I do not want to give an open channel to Hamas and Islamic Jihad [to send weapons] into the Palestinian Authority.”
Israel has not shown any intention to put on hold the developments in the West Bank including highly sensitive land around Jerusalem. Last month the housing ministry had issued tenders and drawn up long-term plans to construct some 24,000 extra settler homes, fueling fears of peace process disruption.
In regards to the tough negotiations Netanyahu at a separate event on Sunday said that acceptance of the existence of a Jewish state is the “minimal requirement for peace” in negotiations with the Palestinians.
Final agreement with the Palestinians must contain “iron-clad security arrangements,” Netanyahu said via satellite to the Brookings Institute’s Saban Forum in Washington, as quoted by the Hill.
“It’s not too much to ask. It’s the minimal requirement for peace, but it’s not the only requirement,” Netanyahu added.
The Israeli PM commended President Obama and US Secretary of State John Kerry for their “tireless efforts” to reach peace. “This man doesn’t sleep,” Netanyahu said of Kerry.
On Friday, Kerry, concluding his trip to Israel, said that the sides were “closer than they have been in years” to bringing peace to the region.
During two days of negotiations Kerry held three meetings with Netanyahu and one with the Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas.
“The fact that there is no information doesn't mean the talks are not productive,” he said adding that both leaders have the “same endpoint in their sights: two nations for two peoples, living side by side in peace and prosperity.”
Israel’s foreign minister Avigdor Lieberman who addressed the Saban Forum on Friday warned that a deal would not be achieved in the next year.
On Saturday Israeli Defense Minister Moshe Yaalon made a similar forecast.
“On the other side, there isn’t, and hasn’t been since the dawn of Zionism, a leadership that’s willing to recognize our right to exist as the nation-state of the Jewish people, and to see in an agreement an end to the conflict and an end to all demands,” Yaalon said according to the Times of Israel.
“We won’t talk about an inch, a millimeter of land so long as we don’t see that we have a partner that’s talking about recognition, about the end of the conflict and the end of the right of return,” Yaalon added.
In July, after nearly three years of deadlock, Israeli and Palestinian teams visited Washington to resume the Middle-East peace process brokered by the US.
Palestinians want a sovereign country of their own and insist on a two-state solution under the 1967 borders. They do agree that some Israeli settlements have the right to stay – on condition of certain land swaps.
Israel wants a final arrangement which will fix the current situation with occupied lands for its security needs. Tel-Aviv rejects the 1967 borders and refuses Palestinians “the right of return” to their former land. Israel considers all of Jerusalem as its capital – despite that status not being recognized internationally – and wants to keep its settlement blocs in the West Bank under any peace treaty.
Today, more than 100 Israeli settlements in East Jerusalem and the West Bank are home to some 560,000 Israelis living among 2.5 million Palestinians.