JERUSALEM (AP) — The idea of Palestinians establishing a state in the territory they seek has "reached a dead end," a senior Israeli official said Monday, in the latest remarks by hard-liners that appear to contradict the country's official support for a "two-state solution" to its conflict with the Palestinians.
The statements by Naftali Bennett, economics minister and leader of the Jewish Home party, chime with similar sentiments expressed by other officials in Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's coalition government and come as the United States is trying to restart peace talks between Israel and the Palestinians.
"The idea that a Palestinian state will arise inside the land of Israel has reached a dead end," Bennett said Monday at a meeting of the Yesha settlement group. "Never in the history of Israel have so many people dealt with so much energy with something so pointless," he said.
Talks collapsed about five years ago over the core issue of Jewish housing in East Jerusalem and the West Bank, territory Israel captured from Jordan in 1967 and which Palestinians envision for a future state. The Palestinians refuse to return to talks unless construction there stops.
Israel says settlements and all other issues like security can only be resolved through dialogue and has frequently called for peace talks to resume without preconditions. Some Israelis cite security, religious and historic reasons for their opposition to a Palestinian state.
Many Israelis are concerned that violent groups will fill the vacuum if Israel withdraws from areas it controls. The Islamic militant group Hamas eventually took over the Gaza Strip after Israel left it in 2005. Hamas is defined as a terrorist organization by the U.S., EU and others due to its suicide bombings, shooting and rocket attacks aimed at civilians that have killed hundreds.
Bennett said that the policy of Israeli land concessions and withdrawals has failed. "Terrorists entered everywhere that Israel withdrew from."
"The most important thing in the land of Israel is to build and build and build," he added. "Israel's biggest problem regarding Judea and Samaria was and remains the lack of willingness by Israeli leaders to say in a simple way that the land of Israel belongs to the people of Israel," Bennett said, referring to the West Bank territory by its biblical names.
Last week, Netanyahu's deputy defense minister and member of his own Likud party, Danny Danon, said "there is certainly no majority" in the Likud for establishing a Palestinian state based on Israel's borders before the 1967 Mideast war.
"A Palestinian state on the 1967 lines is something dangerous for Israel, and therefore I oppose that idea," Danon told Channel 2 TV. He said it was possible that the broader coalition government, which includes other hard-line parties, also opposes a return to the 1967 lines.
Last month, U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry shuttled between Israel and the Palestinians to try to resume talks. His return to the region has been postponed.
The Palestinians' chief negotiator, Saeb Erekat, condemned Benett's remarks. "These are not isolated events but a reaffirmation of political platforms and radical beliefs. Israel has officially declared the death of the two-state solution," he said.