Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu opposes the creation of a sovereign Palestinian state in the West Bank, he told reporters last week in remarks that largely have been overlooked.
“There cannot be a situation, under any agreement, in which we relinquish security control of the territory west of the River Jordan," he said July 11 at a press conference. But if Israel doesn't relinquish security control, Palestinians cannot establish a state. The alternative, then, would be a single state in which Palestinians are residents but not full citizens.
"That sentence, quite simply, spells the end to the notion of Netanyahu consenting to the establishment of a Palestinian state,” summed up Times of Israel editor David Horovitz, whom Ha'aretz described as a Netanyahu supporter.
“If we were to pull out of Judea and Samaria, like they tell us to, there’d be a possibility of thousands of tunnels," Netanyahu explained. "At present we have a problem with the territory called Gaza." Giving the West Bank back to Palestinians would "create another 20 Gazas," he said.
As Horovitz writes in the Times of Israel, "[Netanyahu] made explicitly clear that he could never, ever, countenance a fully sovereign Palestinian state in the West Bank."
None of this should be terribly surprising, as Netanyahu had long opposed a two-state solution before his recent engagement with the Obama administration on the issue. Of course, while he was supposedly negotiating a two-state solution in good faith, his administration doubled settlements in the West Bank and created a far-right-wing governing coalition largely opposed to a Palestinian state.
Netanyahu's statements come as this far-right coalition has begun to fracture in light of the current military operations in Gaza. The leaders of rival right-wing parties now critical of Netanyahu also have their own notions, none of them positive, for the future of a Palestinian state.
Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman, whose far-right Yisrael Beiteinu Party split up with Netanyahu's Likud Party over the Gaza operation, called for Israel to send ground troops to annex Gaza and place it back under occupation.
"Israel must go all the way," Lieberman said in a press conference on Tuesday. In a radio interview with Army Radio, he stated plainly, "We need to decide whether we are going with an alternative that entails fully conquering the Gaza Strip." The Israeli occupation of Gaza ended in 2005 when the government of Ariel Sharon unilaterally pulled out. Israel still controls Gaza's airspace and borders, and imposes import and travel restrictions.
Lieberman has been joined by Economic Minister Naftali Bennett, head of the settler-dominated Jewish Home Party, in criticizing the Netanyahu government for its "restraint" in punishing Gaza. Bennett said in a July 5 press release that "restraint in the face of rockets on women and children is not power." In later statements he called for the Iron Dome, Israel's defensive missile and rocket interception system that is funded by the United States, to be turned into "an Iron Fist — a weapon of offense."
Lieberman and Bennett were the only two members of Netanyahu's security council to vote against a recent ceasefire agreement that ultimately did not materialize.
The public statements outlining Netanyahu's opposition to a two-state solution come as these rivals present a clear challenge to his political position, and at a time when Israel is moving further to the right.
Both Lieberman and Bennett already held positions on a two-state solution that were further to the right of anything Netanyahu said this week.
Lieberman ostensibly supports the creation of a Palestinian state, but his plan would involve a territorial swap that would exchange Israeli areas occupied by Arabs for all the West Bank territories occupied by Israeli settlers, Lieberman among them. This would entail stripping Israeli Arab citizens of their citizenship as they are transferred into a Palestinian state, and is widely opposed by Palestinians and Israeli Arabs.
Bennett, on the other hand, believes in a single state with the annexation of all Israeli settler territories into Israel and "separate rules" for Palestinians living in the West Bank. He recently said the two-state process had reached a "dead end" and that the "Palestinian problem" should be thought of like a "piece of shrapnel" lodged in one's rear end.
These political challenges to Netanyahu's policy in Gaza have not only come from his coalition partners, but also from inside his own Likud Party. On Tuesday, Netanyahu fired Deputy Defense Minister Danny Danon for publicly blasting the administration over its "restraint." Danon, the recently elected head of the Likud Central Committee, has previously stated his opposition to a two-state solution, claiming, "There is place only for one state on the land of Israel."
These critics are part of a rising right-wing political bloc whose radicalism has essentially made Netanyahu, despite his opposition to a two-state solution, a political centrist in Israel.
The permanent security occupation of the West Bank that Netanyahu's remarks suggest essentially would be just a more formal continuation of the current occupation policy. And this is exactly the situation feared by officials like Secretary of State John Kerry, in which Israel is a unitary "apartheid state with second-class citizens." Or as former Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert stated, the collapse of the two-state solution would precipitate "a South African-style struggle for equal voting rights, and as soon as that happens, the state of Israel is finished."
Whether you think Netanyahu's position is "bleak and depressing" or "savvy and pragmatic," Horovitz argues, "Nobody will ever be able to claim in the future that he didn’t tell us what he really thinks."