Question of Jews in Future Palestinian State Sparks Debate

YERUSHALAYIM (AP/Hamodia) -

The Palestinians’ “extreme and reckless” rejection of an Israeli suggestion that some Jewish residents remain in a future Palestinian state proves that they don’t want peace, Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu’s office said Monday.

The strongly worded statement follows a flurry of back-and-forth condemnations sparked by an Associated Press report that Netanyahu believes all Jewish residents in Yehudah and Shomron should have the right to remain in their homes in a future Palestine.

In years of negotiations, it has been assumed that any Jewish residents not inside Israeli territory under a future peace deal would have to leave or be forcibly removed. But a government official told the AP on Sunday that Netanyahu believes there is no reason a future Palestinian state should be “ethnically cleansed.”

The idea was immediately rejected by the Palestinians and by residents of Yehudah and Shomron themselves. It also set off a series of angry rebukes from Netanyahu’s coalition partners, and even within his own ruling Likud Party.

In the harshest criticism, Cabinet Minister Naftali Bennett, head of the Jewish Home Party, called on Netanyahu to disavow the concept, which he called “ethical insanity.”

“Whoever imagines that Jews in the land of Israel can live under Palestinian rule undermines our living in Tel Aviv,” he said.

The prime minister’s office lambasted the critics, saying they were undermining an effort to expose the Palestinians’ true intentions.

“Nothing shows the Palestinian Authority’s unwillingness to reach an accord with Israel more than their extreme and reckless reaction to an unofficial report,” the office said in a statement. “An accord will only be reached when the Palestinians recognize Israel as a Jewish state and when the essential interests to the security of Israeli citizens are guaranteed.”

“Anyone who says he wants to keep settlers in the Palestinian state is actually saying that he doesn’t want a Palestinian state,” Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erekat said. “No settler will be allowed to stay in the Palestinian state, not even a single one, because settlements are illegal and the presence of the settlers on the occupied lands is illegal.”

Netanyahu already has said he wants to retain major Jewish population “blocs” as part of any deal. The Palestinians have signaled they would give up their claims to the lands where the blocs are located under a land swap giving them additional territory from what is now inside Israel.

Three deputy ministers from Likud criticized the comments Sunday by the official in Netanyahu’s office.

Cabinet Minister Uri Ariel told Israel’s Army Radio on Monday that he can’t believe Netanyahu would leave Jews under Arab rule.

“No prime minister will abandon any Israeli citizen to these terrorists,” he said. “I don’t believe the prime minister will abandon Israeli citizens behind enemy lines.”

Meanwhile, Justice Minister Tzipi Livni clashed with other ministers on the issue during a cabinet meeting on Sunday, protesting about some 35 communities beyond the security fence that may be eligible for preferential treatment.

Livni urged that the debate on the list of the country’s priority communities that is drawn up anew each year be put off and reconsidered in the light of the peace talks and world opinion, The Jerusalem Post reported.

The criteria would encourage people to move to those places, Livni argued.

Finance Minster Yair Lapid countered that criteria for peripheral communities were applied equitably, granting preferential treatment according to location, size, and distance from the country’s center.

A report on anti-Semitism brought by Economy Minister Naftali Bennett ahead of International Holocaust Remembrance Day also sparked a heated exchange.

Bennett charged that anti-Semitism is now manifested in the “boycotts against Israel.”

Livni rejected that, saying that linking anti-Semitism to criticism of the government because of its building policy “harms the struggle against anti-Semitism and pushes away from us important allies, who are being accused of anti-Semitism because they are critical of the Israeli presence in Yehudah and Shomron.”

Bennett alleged that Livni’s repeated warnings about boycotts against Israel are in fact encouraging them.

“Those who run around everywhere screaming about boycotts are increasing the pressure on Israel,” he said. “If I am negotiating with someone, and someone from our side begs, ‘don’t boycott us,’ that weakens us.”