As a candidate in last May’s election, Benjamin Netanyahu promised an ultra-Orthodox movement in writing that he would not give up more West Bank land or allow the Palestinians a state, Israeli TV reported Wednesday.
“A government headed by me will ensure that there will not be a Palestinian state and that it will not turn over territories in the Land of Israel to foreign sovereignty,” said the letter, dated May 17 and addressed to Rabbi Shmuel Heffer of the Habad movement.
The prime minister now appears poised to sign a deal with the Palestinian Authority withdrawing Israeli troops from most of the West Bank city of Hebron and setting dates for further withdrawals.
Netanyahu also appears to have moderated his opposition to a Palestinian state. Aides say the nature of a future Palestinian entity is more important than its label, and suggest a demilitarized state might be possible.
Many in Habad and in Israel’s right wing strongly oppose Netanyahu’s current peace efforts.
“Either he didn’t intend from the beginning to honor what he promised, or he is unable to, and this is no less severe,” Heffer told Channel 2 TV.
The Prime Minister’s office confirmed the existence of the letter but argued that it “cannot be seen as a legal agreement in any way.”
“The prime minister stands even today on his principles which he mentioned in letters, including his opposition to a Palestinian state,” the office said in a statement.
The late Habad leader - Brooklyn’s Menachem Schneerson, known as the Lubavicher Rebbe - opposed the idea of returning parts of the biblical Land of Israel to the Arabs in exchange for peace.
Several days after Heffer received the letter, Habad launched a nationwide street campaign that helped tilt the momentum of the election against incumbent peacemaker Shimon Peres. Netanyahu won by less than a percentage point.