The recent failure of negotiations between Israel and the Palestinians let us see first-hand how the various politicians react to this failure.
Justice Minister Tzipi Livni blamed the Right (and was then echoed by US Secretary of State John Kerry in this finger pointing, with the State Department even quoting her). Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu was cautious and conservative, keeping the door open to renewed negotiations. Israel’s far Right simply celebrated the failure.
However, Bennett’s reaction was the most fascinating: the leader of Bayit Yehudi saw this failure as a window of opportunity to push forward his alternative solution to the conflict. Instead of just commenting on what just happened, he decided to lead.
“There is no vacuum,” he said.
It is specifically when the two-state solution is stalled that the Right needs to push its agenda forward.
This reaction showed great initiative and leadership. It gave hope that the Right in Israel might have finally found someone who will actually lead in implementing its agenda.
The Right needs a leader
The Right has been in a real conundrum.
It keeps winning in elections, and keeps seeing leftist policies being applied by its own leaders. This means that while the population in Israel is right-wing, it keeps seeing left-wing policies in practice. This is a problem not just to right-wing people, but to everyone who believes in democracy.
First, then prime minister Menachem Begin, who was seen as a hawk, signed a peace treaty with Egypt and even became the first to recognize the right to autonomy of the Palestinians (while opposing the establishment of a Palestinian state).
Then, his successor, Yitzhak Shamir, who was seen as even more hawkish than Begin, went to the Madrid conference where the foundations of Oslo were established.
Then, Netanyahu was elected to a first term, as an alternative to the Oslo process led by then-prime minister Yitzhak Rabin and then-foreign minister Shimon Peres.
Instead of changing directions, he signed the Wye River Memorandum, furthering the implementation of Oslo.
In his race to become prime minister, Ariel Sharon ran on a clear platform opposing Labor leader Amram Mitzna’s idea of withdrawal from the Gaza Strip. Yet, he did just that: he withdrew from the Gaza Strip, while kicking out almost 10,000 Jews from their homes in the process, and destroying the beautiful Gush Katif settlements.
Netanyahu was then reelected as prime minister, once again as an alternative to the left-wing policies favored by former Likud members such as Sharon, former prime minister Ehud Olmert, and Livni. However, one of his first actions was to embrace the two-state solution in his famous Bar-Ilan speech. He then moved on to freeze settlement building in Judea and Samaria and release terrorists from Israeli prisons.
Every time a leader is elected to represent the Right, he ends up implementing the Left’s agenda. He might move toward that path at a slower pace, stalling for time.
However, he moves down the same path.
The obvious question is why? What causes leaders who come from strong nationalistic and right-wing views to implement left-wing policies? While some people think that the problem is one of resolve, this argument is unconvincing.
How can one claim that Menachem Begin, the commander of the Irgun Zva’i Leumi, or Yitzhak Shamir, the leader of the Stern Group, have a problem of resolve? They risked their lives on numerous occasions for the State of Israel. Even Netanyahu does not have a problem of resolve.
His family’s tradition of ardent Zionism and his own personal history of military heroism make it hard to believe this is the source of the problem.
The problem is not a lack of resolve, but a lack of alternatives. As long as these leaders fail to promote any alternative, they will be forced to move down the path of the twostate solution. There is no such thing as freezing the status quo in international relations.
International relations are dynamic and they will always move in a certain direction. A leader cannot just ask to stop the movement. He has to define which direction he wants this movement to go in.
Bennett’s alternative plan
Before the previous elections, Bennett came up with a plan to manage the conflict with the Palestinians.
The plan is pretty straightforward: Annex Area C to Israel while giving autonomy to Palestinians in Areas A and B. Area C has a large majority of Jews with only 50,000 Arabs who can be offered Israeli citizenship while Areas A and B are solely Arab with no Jews living there.
This plan is far from perfect. Actually, Bennett is the first to agree that it is an imperfect plan. It is unlikely to bring to peace.
It might lead to international condemnation.
However, it also protects the security of Israelis living in the Jewish state and lets Israel keep control over its historical homeland in Judea and Samaria.
Whether one likes the plan or not, there is something incredibly refreshing with Bennett’s ability to innovate and to try to come up with an alternative solution. For years, anyone who brought up alternative solutions was seen as an extremist – either from the Right or from the Left. Bennett, a mainstream politician ruling a relatively large party, was not afraid to come out and propose something new. The innovation that led him to great success in hi-tech before entering politics is allowing him to think outside the box in international relations.
While previous leaders on the Right kept arguing why the Left’s plans were dangerous, Bennett argues why his plan is better.
Not perfect – but better. Therefore, while previous right-wing leaders were forced to apply left-wing policies when elected, Bennett will be able to apply his own policies, since he does have an alternative.
Bennett leads, Peace Now follows
The effects of Bennett’s great leadership can already be seen.
For decades, the way things worked in Israeli politics was quite straightforward: The Left would define the agenda and the Right would respond to it. Organizations such as Peace Now would decide what the agenda is and then right-wing organizations, such as the Council of Jewish Communities in Judea and Samaria, would respond.
The latest failure in the negotiations between Israelis and Palestinians led us to something completely different: Bennett was the one defining the agenda and Peace Now was the one responding.
On April 4, after the negotiations went “poof,” Bennett wrote a post on his Facebook page calling for his alternative plan to receive serious consideration. He then also wrote a letter to Netanyahu with the same message.
On April 10, Peace Now responded on its own Facebook page, sharing a video it prepared in response to Bennett’s plan.
Bennett was the one to set the agenda.
Peace Now was only left with the option to respond.
A democratic prerogative
The nationalist camp has the right to have leaders who will not only talk “rightwing” in election campaigns, but who will also apply right-wing policies after the elections are over. This is the prerogative of all citizens in democratic countries.
Bennett’s refreshing dose of innovation, initiative and fearless leadership make him the perfect candidate to be that leader. He has the personality and the ability to lead the way and to finally help Israel change direction from its numerous failed attempts at implementing the two-state solution.
Every failure of right-wing leaders to do so has cost Israelis in the blood of soldiers and of terrorist victims as these “peace plans” brought more war and terrorism than peace.
Naftali Bennett might just be the person we need to break this cycle.
The writer is an attorney who graduated from McGill University Law School and Hebrew University’s honors graduate program in public policy.