Israel’s top far right wing politician said John Kerry got things 100% right when he said many Israeli leaders are dead-set against the two-state solution — but Naftali Bennett insisted that’s what makes Kerry so wrong to push for a Palestinian state.
“It’s true. If it’s up to me, we will not establish another terror state in the heart of the land [of Israel],” said Bennett, who serves as education minister in Benjamin Netanyahu’s cabinet.
The pro-settler leader proudly noted that America’s top diplomat quoted him three times — albeit without using his name — in his December 28 landmark speech laying out principles for Mideast peace.
Instead of taking that as a mark of shame, Bennett called it a badge of honor to be seen as a key force in undermining the long-held push for a Palestinian state alongside Israel.
Bennett took a dramatically different approach than both Netanyahu and Israel’s center-left opposition leaders, who staked out familiar positions about the peace process in responding to Kerry’s speech.
Netanyahu lambasted Kerry in a speech of his own, asking a flippant “Is that all he’s got?” before enumerating his problems with the “big disappointment” that was Kerry’s speech.
Though Kerry also condemned Palestinian incitement and terrorism as impediments to peace, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu brushed off the comments as “lip service.”
“Israelis do not need to be lectured about the importance of peace by foreign leaders,” he said.
Isaac Herzog, Zionist Union chief and head of the opposition in the Israeli parliament took the opposite tack by praising Kerry as a “great friend of Israel” on Twitter. “His speech expresses true concerns” about Israel, he said.
Tzipi Livni, also of Zionist Union, said that Kerry had pointed out the urgency of the two-state solution. Israelis have a choice to live in a “a secure, Jewish and democratic Israel or a bi-national, discordant state.”
“That is the true, and only, internal debate we must have right now: separation from the Palestinians or one state,” she said.
Palestinian leaders predictably hailed Kerry’s speech, although they urged the U.S. to go much further to push Israel to make meaningful concessions for peace.
Ahmad Tibi, the Israeli-Arab lawmaker from the Joint List, said the United States should recognize a Palestinian state before Donald Trump is sworn in.
“Kerry and Obama’s speeches will leave no mark on history if the administration does not recognize the State of Palestine before Obama’s term ends,” he said, warning that the two-state solution is in danger of collapse.
Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas said that the Palestinians would enter negotiations with Israel — should Israel be willing to stop its settlement construction.
“The minute the Israeli government agrees to cease all settlement activities, including in and around Occupied East Jerusalem, and agree to implement the signed agreements on the basis of mutual reciprocity, the Palestinian leadership stands ready to resume permanent status negotiations on the basis of international law and relevant international legality resolutions, including UNSC 2334, under a specified timeframe.”
Hanan Ashrawi, a spokeswoman for the Palestine Liberation Organization, told the BBC that Palestinians had met their commitment to the two-state solution, but Israel had not.
“Unfortunately it’s Israel that has violated all its commitments, all the agreements and that is constantly now stepping up, as John Kerry said… its settlement activities and in an insane manner that is… specifically planned to destroy the two-state solution.”
A Hamas official also weighed in, quoted in China’s Xinhua newspaper.
“Hamas wants to see a real change in the U.S. foreign policies in a way that backs ending the (Israeli) occupation and be fair with our Palestinian people,” said Abdulatif al-Qanoo’, a Hamas spokesman in Gaza, adding that “all former accords brought us nothing but only destruction.”
This story "Israel Right-Winger Naftali Bennett Says John Kerry Is Right — and All Wrong at the Same Time" was written by Naomi Zeveloff.
Naomi Zeveloff is the former Middle East correspondent of the Forward, primarily covering Israel and the Palestinian Territories.