Israel minister: attempt to establish Palestinian state has ended

JERUSALEM — Israel’s minister of economy, Naftali Bennett, caused a firestorm in Israel today when he said the idea of a Palestinian state had run its course — and that Israel should “move on.”

"The attempt to establish a Palestinian state in our land has ended," said Bennett, a member of the security cabinet and leader if the right-wing religious nationalist party, Jewish Home (Bayit Yehudi).

Bennett was speaking in Jerusalem at a conference of the Yesha Council, an umbrella organization that promotes Jewish settlement in the West Bank.

The Israeli government’s official policy is to seek a two-state solution for Israelis and Palestinians living in Israel, the West Bank and Gaza Strip.

Bennett’s flouting of the official government platform is likely to cause tensions for Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu ahead of another visit by US Secretary of State John Kerry to the region this week.

The comments come less than two weeks after Israel’s deputy defense minister, Danny Danon, told the Times of Israel that the governing coalition is “staunchly opposed to a two-state solution.”

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Both instances are indications of a growing schism within the Israeli right, and threaten Netanyahu’s already shaky coalition.

The idea that the entire Biblical land of Israel, including what is now the West Bank and Gaza, belongs to the Jewish people is a foundation of right-wing Zionist philosophy from which Netanyahu and Bennett emerged on the political scene.

But following the Oslo peace process in the mid-'90s, many in the center-right now argue that exchanging land for peace in the form of Palestinian statehood is necessary to secure Israel’s future.

The divisions between those who believe negotiations are a necessity and an upstart of more hardline politicians who say the status quo — where Palestinians live without a state, and largely under Israeli administration — is livable and should endure.

In his remarks, Bennett compared the Israeli-Palestinian conflict to an injury one must tolerate in the long-term.

“I have a friend who’s got shrapnel in his rear end, and he’s been told that it can be removed surgically but it would leave him disabled,” he said. "So he decided to live with it. There are situations where insisting on perfection can lead to more trouble than it’s worth.”

Palestinian chief negotiator Saeb Erekat immediately fired back.

“The Israeli government has officially declared the death of the two-state solution,” he said.

Leaders from both Israel’s governing coalition and the opposition attacked Bennett’s statement.

Justice minister and Israel’s negotiator for talks with the Palestinians, Tzipi Livni, said: "The only way to preserve Israel is through the political process.”