With the collapse of the latest round of US-brokered Israeli-Palestinian peace talks, Israeli ministers seem to be of one accord that the Jewish state needs to take the initiative and formulate its own outline for the future, though they disagree sharply on how to seize this opportunity.
The first to enter the fray was Economy Minister Naftali Bennett, leader of the nationalist Jewish Home faction.
Bennett proposed that Israel fully annex the portion of the so-called “West Bank” labeled as “Area C,” which is already today under full Israeli security control, and is where the bulk of the Israeli settlers live.
Under Bennett’s plan, the 70,000 Arabs who live in Area C would be granted Israeli citizenship. Areas A and B would be granted enhanced autonomy and the Palestinians living there would have their own state in all but name.
“We must recognize the truth - the Oslo era is over. After 21 years of trying one way which included unilateral withdrawals, concessions, releasing terrorists, disengagement and a unilateral separation - it’s time to admit that it does not work,” Bennett told an annual security confab in Herzliya.
“It’s time to think creatively how to build a better reality here for the citizens of Israel and for the Arabs residing in Judea and Samaria,” he added. “This plan gives the Palestinians an independent government and economic prosperity while giving us, the State of Israel, sovereignty, stability, security and a maintaining of our homeland.”
Bennett’s proposal was immediately attacked by Finance Minister Yair Lapid, who insisted that if Israel annexed one inch of the West Bank, his centrist Yesh Atid faction would not hesitate to topple the government.
While Bennett and Lapid have allied on many issues, the finance minister was adamant that the way forward is not laying further claim to Judea and Samaria, but rather further abandoning those biblical territories.
Speaking at the same conference in Herzliya, Lapid advocated a return to negotiations despite the recent entry into the Palestinian government of the Hamas terrorist organization, which still calls for Israel’s destruction.
In preparation for those talks, Lapid said Israel should draw the final borders that it would like to see between the Jewish state and a future Palestinian state. Israel would then unilaterally withdraw from those areas where no Jews are today living. As a confidence-building step, Israel would later evacuate isolated Jewish settlements, and in the plan’s final stage, Israel would conduct a land swap with the Palestinian state for areas where large Jewish settlement blocs are located.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s office called Lapid’s proposal a non-starter that had already been proved a failure in Israel’s unilateral withdrawal from the Gaza Strip in 2005.
“We saw in Gaza the results of unilateral withdrawal,” said officials in the Prime Minister’s Office. “Anyone with political experience knows that you don’t make concessions without [getting] anything in return, especially with a government partnered with a terror organization that wants to destroy Israel.”
Netanyahu’s aides also pointed out that were Israel to draw an official map of future proposed borders, that map would then forever be the starting point for future negotiations, even if Israel later determined the boundaries were unfavorable.