Deep fissures appear at the top over Israel’s settlement policy

By Anshel Pfeffer, January 3, 2013
Construction in the settlement of Har Homa, part of the territory captured by Israel during the 1967 war (Photo: AP)

Construction in the settlement of Har Homa, part of the territory captured by Israel during the 1967 war (Photo: AP)

Ron Prosor, Israel’s Ambassador to the UN, provoked fury at a gathering of the country’s envoys on Monday when he questioned the timing of the government’s announcement last month that it would push for construction to begin in the controversial E1 corridor east of Jerusalem.

Mr Prosor’s query, which was applauded by many of those present, prompted National Security Adviser Yaakov Amidror to chastise the gathering. Mr Amidror reminded the ambassadors that they were “representatives of the government”, and said: “If that doesn’t fit you, you can go to politics or resign”.

Ambassadors at the event explained that they were not driven by a political agenda, but were only asking the government “to provide some guidance before issuing such controversial policy statements that we have to defend abroad”, as one of them said.

The altercation came after a day after an address from President Shimon Peres in which he reiterated his belief that Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas “is a man we can reach an agreement with”. He also repeated his steadfast support for a two-state solution. The president’s words were roundly criticised by a Likud spokesman who said that it was “regretful that the president chooses to express a personal political view that is disconnected from the Israeli public’s view”.

While the president of Israel is not supposed to intervene in politics and Mr Amidror was simply reflecting the Prime Minister’s Office’s frustration at what it sees as a lack of loyalty by diplomats, Likud ministers in recent days have been emphasising an increasingly hardline political message.

Against a two-state solution: Gideon Saar (Photo: Flash 90)

Against a two-state solution: Gideon Saar (Photo: Flash 90)

In June 2009, Mr Netanyahu gave a landmark speech at Bar-Ilan University in which he accepted the foundation of a Palestinian state. While he has not backtracked from the two-state solution, Mr Netanyahu has rarely mentioned that policy in recent months and it is unclear whether it will be part of the still-unpublished Likud elections manifesto.

In an interview last week, Education Minister Gideon Saar, who came first in the Likud primaries in November, said that the two-state solution was not part of Likud’s platform and that “there is no place for setting up a [Palestinian] state so they can carry on their conflict with us from improved positions”. Mr Saar also said this week in response to British Foreign Office Minister Alistair Burt’s criticisms of the decision to give full university status to the academic institution in Ariel, which lies beyond the Green Line: “Our connection to Ariel is at least as strong as the UK’s connection to the Falkland Islands.”

On Tuesday, at a conference in Jerusalem promoting the extension of Israeli sovereignty to the West Bank, Public Affairs and Diaspora Minister Yuli Edelstein said: “There is a status quo of acceptance of Palestinian violence and the increasing international pressure [on Israel] for a retreat to the 1967 lines. This can only be stopped by sovereignty.”

Meanwhile, one of the larger potential partners in the next coalition is also pushing for a version of a one-state solution. Naftali Bennett, leader of Habayit Hayehudi — “Jewish Home” — recently published his plan for Israel’s future borders. It includes the annexation of around 60 per cent of the West Bank, where all the Jewish settlements are situated. Mr Bennett claims that less than 50,000 Palestinians live in these areas and that they would all be given full Israeli citizenship. The Palestinians living in the remaining 40 per cent of the territory would be allowed limited self-rule and roads would be built between the Palestinian enclaves to enable them to move freely within their territory.

Whether it is due to these policies or the fact that many right-wing voters are not attracted to the joint Likud-Yisrael Beiteinu list, Habayit Hayehudi under Mr Bennett is proving very popular with voters, at least according to the polls. A Haaretz mid-week poll had the party on 14 seats in the next Knesset while a Maariv survey last weekend gave them 15.

Most polling so far indicates that while the right-wing-religious bloc has so far barely lost any voters to the centre-left, Likud-Yisrael Beiteinu’s cache of Knesset seats is continuously being whittled away by Habayit Hayehudi, hence the increasingly hardline rhetoric from Likud spokespeople.

But recent surveys put a question mark on the polling consensus. Two surveys carried out in December by two veteran Israeli polling companies indicate that a large majority of Israelis, over two-thirds, support a two-state solution on the basis of the 1967 borders and dividing Jerusalem. These surveys seem to fly in the face of the election poll result.

Last updated: 3:45pm, January 3 2013