Would-be heir to Nentanyahu says 2-state idea is over

TEL AVIV, Israel -- A leading politician in Israel's ruling Likud Party, viewed by some to be a leading candidate to succeed Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, said world powers should stop trying to create a Palestinian state.

Twenty-five years of failed diplomacy show that a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict isn't realistic and a fresh approach is needed, Likud Party politician Gideon Sa'ar said Tuesday in an interview near Tel Aviv.

The former education and interior minister has said he'll run for prime minister after Netanyahu, who is facing a police investigation into alleged corruption, leaves office.

"The fact that people still say 'two-state solution' doesn't make it a solution -- it's a two-state slogan," said Sa'ar, 51. "It's no longer rational to support a two-state solution. We must think about reality."

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No one could guarantee that a Palestinian state wouldn't become an Islamist haven threatening Israel's main population centers, Sa'ar said. Instead, he said, he supports a regional approach that would involve Egypt and Jordan and leave the Palestinians with less than full sovereignty.

With President Donald Trump threatening to cut off U.S. aid unless Palestinians come to the negotiating table, Israel's rightist parties are promoting policies that could make talks harder. The Knesset this week passed a law raising the bar for partitioning Jerusalem in any future peace deal, and Likud's central committee is pushing de facto annexation of Jewish settlements in the West Bank.

Sa'ar, a star speaker at the party's central committee meeting, told the group that it's just a matter of time until the settlements become part of Israel. He also praised Trump's aid threat, made in response to the Palestinian Authority's rejection of the U.S. as a peace broker after the president's recognition of Jerusalem as Israel's capital last month.

"I believe President Trump sees that the Palestinian leadership is not only incapable of being a partner for peace, it is not able to cope with basic progress toward peace," Sa'ar said.

Palestine Liberation Organization Executive Committee Member Hanan Ashrawi condemned Trump's threats, saying Palestinian rights are "not for sale." The U.S. provides hundreds of millions of dollars of assistance to the Palestinians every year.

Trump "has not only violated international law, but he has also single-handedly destroyed the very foundations of peace and condoned Israel's illegal annexation of the city," Ashrawi said. "We will not be blackmailed."

Sa'ar acknowledged that his positions are at odds with international opinion, but said world opinion is evolving.

"Understanding, as the U.S. president has said lately, that this conflict is not the heart of the regional conflict, is crucial," he said. "It's a very, very small and marginal conflict in comparison to the multifront regional war between Shiites and Sunnis."


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A Section on 01/04/2018