CNN’s FAREED ZAKARIA GPS features an interview with Naftali Bennett, the economic minister in Prime Minister Netanyahu’s cabinet and the leader of the ultra-conservative Jewish Home party, to discuss the Israeli elections, Palestinian statehood, and European divestment of Israel.
On rejecting the establishment of a Palestinian state: “The notion of injecting a state, dividing Jerusalem, dividing up the country and splitting and slicing it, is not sustainable. When we did it in Gaza, we gave them Gaza, right? And it turned into a terrible Afghanistan in the middle of Israel. We can’t do it again. We can’t commit suicide. We have to be more rational about things.”
On European divestment of Israel: “The boycott and divestment against Israel, in my opinion, is simply anti-Semitism, because we’re the only country that takes care of its minorities, the only country where everyone can vote, Arabs and Jews. We’re not cutting off heads. We allow women to drive, not like in other Arab countries. So to pinpoint the Jewish state as a — as a target for a boycott and divestment is blatant anti-Semitism. And I have no sympathy for that.”
Full transcript after the jump.
FULL INTERVIEW TRANSCRIPT
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED
FAREED ZAKARIA, HOST: Late last month, Israel’s Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s cabinet approved a bill which would codify that nation’s status as the “nation-state of the Jewish” people, despite millions of citizens who are Arab, Christian, Hindu, Baha’i, etc.
It’s a very controversial bill that almost 40 percent of Jewish Israelis think would damage the interests of their nation, according to a recent poll. My next guest is a big supporter of the bill.
Naftali Bennett is the economic minister in Netanyahu’s cabinet and the leader of the powerful Jewish Home party. He’s also further to the right than Netanyahu, who has set new elections for mid-March.
Some in Israel say Bennett could play spoiler to Netanyahu’s ambitions to be re-elected to the top job.
FAREED ZAKARIA, HOST: Naftali Bennett, a pleasure to have you on.
NAFTALI BENNETT, ISRAELI ECONOMIC MINISTER: Great to be here, Fareed.
ZAKARIA: So Israel is going to the elections March 17, and the polls I’ve seen, or at least some of them, show that your party is going to be the single biggest gainer, correct?
BENNETT: That seems correct, according to the current polls. Things change.
There’s been a significant amount of Israelis who are joining my party because they think that Israel has to have a tough stance in this crazy environment called the Middle East.
So we’ve got the Hezbollah in the north and ISIS in northeast and Hamas and all around and there’s a greater feeling today that we should not go down the route of appeasement, but the route of strength. Being strong, being tough, it’s the only way to survive, and, in fact, thrive in this region.
ZAKARIA: But what is the problem with Prime Minister Netanyahu’s leadership?
BENNETT: I — you know, I think I’ve been — I’m in government with Prime Minister Netanyahu. I certainly am not going to attack him or criticize him publicly. We do have our differences. And that’s OK.
But it’s in policy. It’s not on character. I’m not going to attack Prime Minister…
ZAKARIA: Yes, so what would you do different – what is he doing wrong that you would do right?
BENNETT: Well, the first thing, I would say Israel will not divide its capital. Israel will not divide its land. We’re already too small. You know, Israel, from the ocean to — from our western front to our eastern frontier, it’s a 15 minute ride, 15 minutes on a car. You cut Israel.
Are we crazy? You can’t defend yourselves. That’s suicide…
ZAKARIA: So no Palestinian state ever?
BENNETT: I will not give up land to Arabs anymore. Every time we did it over the past 20 years, it caused a mass attacks on Israeli citizens. It’s just not smart policy.
I’m not going to do that. And I’m very clear about that. I think others are sort of vague about this. I’m very clear. You know what you get with me.
ZAKARIA: You don’t want a Palestinian state ever?
BENNETT: That’s correct. The notion of injecting a state, dividing Jerusalem, dividing up the country and splitting and slicing it, is not sustainable.
When we did it in Gaza, we gave them Gaza, right? And it turned into a terrible Afghanistan in the middle of Israel. We can’t do it again. We can’t commit suicide. We have to be more rational about things.
ZAKARIA: OK, I’ve got to ask you about this new proposed law in Israel, which would specify that Israel is a nation for Jews, that in a sense, would give being Jewish a kind of privileged status. There are a number of people within Israel, there are a number of American Jewish supporters of Israel who believe that this is a terrible mistake.
What do you believe?
BENNETT: It’s been distorted. It’s really simple. Israel is a democratic state and a Jewish state. It’s the state of the Jewish people, of the Jewish nation. Now, we don’t have a constitution, but about 20 years ago, the constitution was — has begun to get formed by piecemeal, by a law by law.
So we only have the democratic side legislated. So the idea is that to rebalance it so it’s both a democratic state and a Jewish state.
We will continue to provide full equal rights to all Arabs in Israel. In fact, I’m…
ZAKARIA: But what does it mean to an Arab in Israel — to an Israeli-Arab who is a — who is a citizen of Israel to have in the constitution it say that Israel is, you know, a state principally for Jews, that it is — that its character, its identity…
BENNETT: It is.
ZAKARIA: — is one that they can never partake in.
BENNETT: No, they can partake in it, but they have to understand that if they desire to have their own state within state, that’s unacceptable, because they have 23 countries. The Arabs have 23 states.
We only have one. In fact, in the whole world, the Jews only have one state and that’s all we need.
But it’s got to be the Jewish state.
ZAKARIA: Do you worry that the passage of this law might provoke further issues with regard to the divestment movement or European countries that are — that have been criticizing Israel?
BENNETT: No, I mean I think the boycott and divestment against Israel, in my opinion, is simply anti-Semitism, because we’re the only country that takes care of its minorities, the only country where everyone can vote, Arabs and Jews. We’re not cutting off heads. We allow women to drive, not like in other Arab countries.
So to pinpoint the Jewish state as a — as a target for a boycott and divestment is blatant anti-Semitism. And I have no sympathy for that.
So the short answer is no.
ZAKARIA: Naftali Bennett, a pleasure to have you on.
BENNETT: Fareed, this was great. Thank you.
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