A politician from Israel’s Likud party shared his plans for expanded Palestinian “autonomy” in a talk at Beth El Synagogue in East Windsor on May 21.
Ofir Akunis said he supports neither a two-state solution nor a one-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, but rather an expansion of the interim self-government the Palestinian Authority was given with the 1993 Oslo Accords.
“People say they have no civil rights in the Palestinian Authority,” said Akunis, deputy minister in the Office of the Prime Minister and member of the Knesset representing Likud. “Ninety-nine percent of Palestinians are living under a Palestinian regime, from the days of Oslo, and they can vote for the Parliament of Palestine.”
Speaking to an audience of about 70, Akunis said he was expressing “the truth” of the conflict between the Israelis and the Palestinians.
“There is only one truth, and it is on our side,” he said. “We are facing not a territorial debate with the Palestinians; we are facing a conflict about the very existence of Israel.”
Kunis, often associated with the right wing of Israel’s governing coalition, said he rejected a two-state solution because it could lead to Palestinians gaining their own army and air force, which would endanger Israel.
“The Jewish people come from Judea and Samaria, and this is our land,” he said. “I am against two states, because it will be impossible to defend Israeli citizens.”
He also opposes a one-state solution — a single binational state of Jews and Arabs — “because the majority in Israeli society, including me, is against it. Giving Palestinians Israeli citizenship — it won’t happen because it will be the end of the Jewish state.”
Instead he suggested giving “very wide autonomy” to the Palestinians. For the Israelis, he said, that would mean that Israeli soldiers would no longer have to walk into the “casbahs of Nablus” and other cities.
Looking to the future, he said about the settlements in the West Bank: “I can’t see a scenario like Gaza, that the IDF will destroy Jewish settlements — beautiful settlements, even cities, in what the outside world calls ‘occupied territory.’”
After expressing his pride in the West Bank city of Ariel and the university established there, he said, “I can’t see any scenario that will destroy settlements, even isolated settlements like Itamar and Elon Moreh outside of the blocks” that Israeli leaders say will become part of Israel under any peace deal.
Akunis was critical of the current round of peace talks, saying that a limit of only nine months was set to solve a 100-year-old problem.
“All the pressure was only on Israel,” he said. “The joke is the pressure is on the side that wants peace, not the side that doesn’t.”
His talk was sponsored by Beth El’s Israel Affairs committee and cosponsored by State of Israel Bonds.
In the question-and-answer period, he was asked to respond to charges, often heard on college campuses, that Israel is an “apartheid” state, building walls around Arab communities in the territories and making it difficult for Arabs to get out of those communities.
“People who say Israel has apartheid doesn’t know apartheid,” Akunis said.
He emphasized that apartheid in South Africa meant racist practices in which blacks could not sit on buses or beaches next to white people and could not vote. Rather than comment on whether movement is limited for Arabs in the territories, he noted that at Tel Aviv University, near his home, “there are hundreds of Arab students. I’m very for it. I’m happy to see it.”