Bennett: Trump brings opportunity for 'different approach' to Arab-Israeli conflict

Minister defends Amona bill; 2016 hi tech investment to top $6 billion.

Education Minister Naftali Bennett announces small classroom reform (photo credit: SASSON TIRAM)
Education Minister Naftali Bennett announces small classroom reform
(photo credit: SASSON TIRAM)
Though constrained by orders from Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to refrain from discussing the impact of the US elections or contentious political issues closer to home with the media, Bayit Yehudi leader Naftali Bennett could not help but beam on Monday morning when he addressed members of the Foreign Press Association at the King David Hotel in Jerusalem.
There was a larger than average turnout at the gathering, with journalists representing outlets in North America, Europe and Asia coming with expectations of hearing Bennett's views on Israeli-US relations under the incoming Donald Trump administration, and his personal take on the settlement of Amona, which is scheduled for destruction on December 25, the first day of Hannuka. Without a modern miracle the court order for the demolition of the outpost will be executed as planned.
FPA chairman Josef Federman said that in view of the prime minister's instructions, Bennett had offered to reschedule the meeting to a later date, but it was decided that he would speak both on and off the record. The most pertinent remarks were of course off record, and even then Bennett was hesitant about voicing them, but relented when several journalists protested saying that Amona had been the subject of radio talk shows all morning and that other ministers had spoken on the subject.
Citing his proposed “bill of normalization,” Bennett pointed out that “It’s been fifty years that we’re in Judea and Samaria.”  Some half a million Israelis who live there, he said, serve in the army, pay taxes and live a normative existence. “The bill is to tell them you are no longer second class citizens.”
Bennett said that he was very happy that Likud and Bayit Yehudi, with the exception of the prime minister and Minister Tzachi Hanegbi, had combined efforts for this bill, “which applies only to towns set up by the Israeli government and not to outposts.”
He insisted that Amona was not an outpost, adding that “If thirty years ago, the government of Israel set up a town, it has to back its own people. Amona was built and supported by an Israel government.”
Bennett referred briefly to political upheavals in the United States and Europe, saying that changes in those parts of the world as well as in the Middle East provide Israel with unique opportunities “to reset everything, so that we don’t follow old paths which have proven time and again to be unsuccessful.”
It was time to explore new alternative paths for Israel, the Palestinians and the whole of the Middle East, he said.
Bennett remained true to his belief that setting up a Palestinian state in the heart of Israel would be a big mistake, and stressed the need to find a different approach.
He was also in favor of easing some of the restrictions imposed on Palestinians without compromising security precautions.
As for opportunities, Bennett quoted a lesson he had learned in the days when he was a high tech entrepreneur. “Opportunities and threats come and go.  Seizing the opportunity is the secret."
There is a changing situation in which the Arab and Moslem world are in upheaval, and Europe and the US are changing, he said, noting that under these circumstances, there are opportunities for “restructuring the Middle East.”
Israel is now in a unique position where it can give a lot to the world, he said, listing innovation driven growth, intelligence on matters related to the region, water, food and energy recycling and conservation, and how to sustain a democratic free state in the midst of ongoing terrorist attacks.
Bennett pointed out to his audience that they all live in Israel and can testify that the ordinary person on the street leads a normal life, despite the fact that Israel is “the most threatened nation in the world.”
Notwithstanding  the threats from within and without, Bennett, a former minister of the economy, said that investment in Israeli start-ups is equivalent to the investment in all European start-ups combined, and that investment in 2016 will be in the range of $6 billion.
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Bennett also touched on integrating more haredim and Arabs into the work force, and said that there is much more prejudice against haredim than there is against Arabs.