One day after Economy and Trade Minister Naftali Bennett declared that the notion of a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict had reached a "dead end", Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu issued a response to the controversial statement on Monday, saying, "Foreign policy is shaped by the prime minister, and my view is clear."
"I will seek a negotiated settlement [with the Palestinians] where you would have a demilitarized Palestinian state that recognizes the Jewish state," Netanyahu told Reuters when asked about Bennett's remarks.
Palestinians have resisted Netanyahu's call for such recognition, fearing it would be tantamount to waiving any right of return for Palestinian refugees.
Netanyahu was not the only leader to react to Bennett's statement. The Palestinian Authority was up in arms on Monday, with associates of Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas warning that Bennett's remark was "dangerous."
"This is a cabinet minister in a government whose policy is to expand settlements and avoid the peace process," said one Abbas adviser.
Palestinian chief negotiator Saeb Erekat said Bennett's remarks were, along with policies such as settlement expansion and demolishing Palestinian homes, part of a strategy to destroy any possibility for a future state.
He urged Western leaders to "hold Israel accountable for destroying the prospects of justice and peace."
PLO Executive Committee member Hanan Ashrawi also lashed out against Bennett, saying, "He is a minister, and a minister voices government policy. Therefore, there is no point in pretending that Israel is committed to dividing the land when it is actually committed to the idea of a unified Israel."
In Israel, the controversy was no less fervent. Several coalition members also spoke out against Bennett's remarks. Yesh Atid, which has so far been a close ally of Bennett's Habayit Hayehudi party, issued a statement Monday saying: "We are committed to the idea of a two-state solution, and we call for an immediate resumption of peace talks. This is a clear and obvious priority for Israel and we will act ferociously to make it happen. A binational state will spell the end of the Zionist dream."
Justice Minister Tzipi Livni also distanced herself from Bennett's statement, saying, "We at Hatnuah are here solely to protect the Jewish homeland, not Habayit Hayehudi [literally, the Jewish home], but the state. In order to protect the state we much reach an agreement [with the Palestinians]."
"When we arise in the morning, we don't think about what the Palestinians will get, but rather what we will get. This Jewish home that we speak of is the home where people who came here thanks to the Law of Return can live in dignity," Livni said.
Livni also addressed Bennett's comparison between the Palestinians and a piece of shrapnel lodged in a person's behind -- something irritating that one just needs to learn to live with -- saying, "I have made it very clear that the only way to protect our home is through a diplomatic peace process. I don't dwell on people's behinds. The prime minister has said it himself, and I have publicly declared that we will not serve as a fig leaf in this government. We are working closely with the prime minister, despite all those who pray that it will never happen."
Last week, Deputy Defense Minister Danny Danon (Likud), considered a hawk on the Palestinian issue, said the government would never endorse a two-state solution.
"If you will bring it to a vote in the government -- nobody will bring it to a vote, it's not smart to do it -- but if you bring it to a vote, you will see the majority of Likud ministers, along with Habayit Hayehudi, will be against it," Danon told The Times of Israel.
Danon further said that Netanyahu's support for a two-state solution was tactical because such a prospect had zero chance of materializing. Danon's comments triggered a media firestorm and prompted Netanyahu to distance himself from Danon's statements. Livni even called Danon's view "Danonism."
Divisions in the Israeli cabinet over Palestinian statehood could cause the coalition to unravel should U.S. peace efforts gain speed.