Israel’s governing coalition avoided a potentially devastating split when Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Economy Minister Naftali Bennett patched up their differences over the suggestion that some Jews living in Israeli settlements in the West Bank might become citizens of a future Palestinian state as part of a peace deal.
The idea was suggested recently by Netanyahu, who has promised not to remove settlements, and who criticized Palestinians for seeking to create a state that would not tolerate a Jewish minority, even though Israel has an Arab minority. Palestinian officials said that settlers would not be welcome but Jews could apply for citizenship.
Some Israelis dismissed Netanyahu’s suggestion as a rhetorical tactic, meant to highlight the intolerance of the Palestinian leadership. Yet Bennett seized on the idea in a recent speech, slamming Netanyahu for suggesting the possibility and arguing that the proposal was a direct threat to the idea of Israeli sovereignty in the region.
“You know why Jews cannot live under Palestinian sovereignty? Why? Because they will kill them. How do I know? Because it happened,” Bennett said in a speech to the Institute for National Security Studies in Tel Aviv. Bennett recounted the history of Palestinian Arab persecution of Jews, such as the Hebron massacre of 1929.
Netanyahu issued an ultimatum to Bennett, demanding that he apologize or resign from the government. In an hour, Bennett clarified his remarks to the media, saying he had not meant to launch a personal attack against Netanyahu. Though it was not an apology, Netanayahu’s staff indicated they were satisfied with the response.
Israeli foreign minister Avigdor Liberman clarified Thursday that Netanyahu had never meant the idea as a serious proposal. “I don’t understand why the prime minister’s words were spread as they were. There was never any intention to leave Israelis under Palestinian sovereignty,” he said, according to the Jerusalem Post.