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Israeli politician says two-state solution is at a 'dead end'

By BATSHEVA SOBELMAN AND MAHER ABUKHATER | Los Angeles Times | Published: June 18, 2013

JERUSALEM - The idea of a Palestinian state is a "dead end," the Mideast conflict is an intractable problem and Israel has "to live with it," Israel's economy minister said Monday in some of the bluntest comments yet by a member of the country's coalition government.

"Never have so many people spent so much energy on something so pointless," Naftali Bennett said in a speech to a sympathetic audience of settler leaders in Jerusalem. He added that what Israel must do in the West Bank is "build, build, build."

His comments are the latest in a series of remarks by members of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's government against the two-state solution, raising doubts about the prospects of peace talks that the United States is trying to renew.

Earlier this month, it was Deputy Defense Minister Danny Danon who dismissed the two-state solution, obliging Netanyahu's office to make clear that Danon's positions did not reflect those of the government, and the prime minister to stress that "the government must function as one unit."

Netanyahu similarly brushed aside Bennett's comments. "Foreign policy is shaped by the prime minister and my view is clear," he was quoted as telling the Reuters news service. "I will seek a negotiated settlement where you'd have a demilitarized Palestinian state that recognizes the Jewish state."

But Saeb Erekat, the chief Palestinian negotiator, accused the Israeli government of intentionally undermining U.S. Secretary of State John F. Kerry's efforts to restart peace talks between Israel and the Palestinian Authority.

"These are not isolated statements but a reaffirmation of political platforms and radical beliefs," Erekat said of the spate of downbeat remarks. "Israel has officially declared the death of the two-state solution."

Along with Bennett and Danon, Israeli Defense Minister Moshe Yaalon has also made skeptical comments recently, saying that Kerry's efforts have "failed so far" and that the conflict with the Palestinians needed to be "managed," not immediately solved.

Nabil abu Rudaineh, a spokesman for Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas, described the statements, particularly Bennett's, as "dangerous."

"These statements are not only a message to President Obama's administration, which is exerting nonstop efforts to revive the peace process, but are also clear rejection of efforts to save what could be saved," abu Rudaineh said.

Bennett heads Jewish Home, a political party with a strong pro-settlement contingent, which is an important partner in Netanyahu's coalition. After the elections, he struck a pact with Yesh Atid, the party led by Yair Lapid (now finance minister) to form a bloc, despite differences on the Palestinian issue.

Lapid, though less passionate on the issue than many of his party members, has maintained support for negotiating with the Palestinians and declared that he will not be part of a government that won't negotiate. His party issued a statement Monday night reaffirming its commitment to the two-state solution, adding that "a binational state will be the end of the Zionist dream."

Bennett's positions are not new. Before the elections, he released his own plan for managing the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, including annexing about 60 percent of the West Bank and improving economic conditions there.

But with U.S. efforts underway to bring both sides back to the negotiating table, his comments drew anger from pro-talks coalition members. "This is an attempt to sabotage the efforts of Kerry, Netanyahu and Livni," said Environmental Protection Minister Amir Peretz.

Peretz was referring to Justice Minister Tzipi Livni, whose chief condition for joining Netanyahu's coalition was advancing serious negotiations for a two-state solution.

Bennett's remarks reflected the degree to which Netanyahu, once seen as a stalwart of the right, is increasingly being pushed into the political center - or, rather, the political center is being pushed toward him. In order to resume meaningful talks, he may have to rein in parts of his coalition.

Bennett's comments highlighted "in the sharpest way possible" the seam between the two sides of Netanyahu's coalition and the right wing, political analyst Hanan Kristal said in a radio interview. "If this becomes a practical agenda, the government could split."

One reminder of how long the peace process has lasted came Monday night, at a dinner honoring President Shimon Peres' 90th birthday, which is actually in August. The keynote speaker was former U.S. President Bill Clinton, who said that while both sides have made mistakes, "I do not see any alternative to a Palestinian state."

Peres, for his part, addressed Clinton about the latter's role in fostering negotiations toward a two-state solution. "What you started is still with us," Peres said. "We saw the start-up, we had the vision, and now we have some disagreements between the beginning and the conclusion of the process. I believe we can overcome it."

 

Sobelman is a news assistant in the Times' Jerusalem bureau. Abukhater is a special correspondent.

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