Yawning gaps among Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu’s senior ministers were on full display Monday as the ministers revealed dramatically different diplomatic visions at a Herzliya counterterrorism conference.
Justice Minister Tzipi Livni (Hatnua) said Israel needed to link itself to the West and to moderate Arab states by taking daring initiatives to solve the Palestinian conflict. But Economy Minister Naftali Bennett (Bayit Yehudi) – using the Hebraicized term for “failed conception” that gained in popularity following the costly 1973 Yom Kippur War, which caught Israel unprepared – said those pushing for a Palestinian state in Judea and Samaria were locked into a conceptzia.
Livni, speaking at the annual conference held by the International Institute for Counter- Terrorism in Herzliya, said the “struggle against terror is, among other things, an attempt to reach peace, just as reaching peace comes through the struggle against terror.”
It is important to know with whom one fights and with whom one makes peace, she said.
“Sometimes people get confused,” she explained. “It is clear that you fight the extremists, those engaged in terrorism, and make peace with the moderates.
But sometimes this is not clear, neither around the world nor in Israel.”
In the world, Livni said, there is sometimes “confusion” regarding terrorists and a sense that terrorism might be justified.
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“There is no legitimate reason for terrorism – nothing to understand, no reason to speak to them, no reason to listen to what is bothering them,” she said unequivocally. “They are motivated by deep religious ideology; that is their roots and motivations. They are unable to accept infidels.”
On the other side, she said – directing her words to “part” of Israel’s leadership – there are those who see moderates in the Palestinian camp as terrorists and “are not willing to pay the price of a diplomatic arrangement.”
“Just as it is a mistake to try to appease the religious terrorism, it would be a mistake from Israel’s point of view to let the cruel terror in this region work against all rational thinking that obligates us to initiate and find a solution to the national conflict between us and the Palestinians,” she said.
The justice minister made a clear distinction between the religious ideology motivating Hamas and what she believed was the nationalist ideology propelling the Palestinian Authority.
She set up a construct whereby the world was divided into the bad – the religion-motivated leaders who use women and children as human shields and do not accept the “other” – and the good: people from different religions and nationalities who accept the “other.” Among the latter camp, she said, there could be conflict, although it was not religiously motivated, nor did it stem from an inability to accept anyone who thought differently.
In order to win, she said, there was a need for coalitions, and every country would have to choose sides, with no middle ground available.
“It is impossible to say ‘I am among the moderates’ but then to wink and finance terror,” she said. “Qatar is an example, but not the only one.”
According to the justice minister, Israel is obviously in the moderate camp, but the national conflict with the Palestinians is preventing it from becoming a full-fledged member. This, in turn, prevents it from joining coalitions with other members of the moderate camp against common threats.
“Those who use the threats in the region to explain why it is forbidden to conduct negotiations are standing in the way of our ability to deal with the world, and the Arab world, against those same threats,” she said.
Amid terrorism marked by medieval cruelty, Israel needed a daring diplomatic initiative to link it closer with West and the moderate Arab world in its joint fight against common threats, she concluded.
In his own speech to the conference, Finance Minister Yair Lapid (Yesh Atid) echoed Livni’s comments about the need for a daring diplomatic initiative, saying it was impossible to settle for a situation in which there was no “diplomatic vision.”
“It can’t be that Operation Protective Edge ends with a temporary cease-fire and we will sit and wait for the next time they fire on us,” he said. “Instead of that, we have first of all to restore our relations with the United States.”
Lapid, like Livni, slammed the recent decision to declare 400 hectares in Gush Etzion as state land “without even bothering to inform them [Washington].”
“In normal days I support strengthening the settlement blocs,” he said.
“But in my conversations with administration officials I hear the same thing over and over: Friends don’t act this way with each other.”
Lapid said that instead of fighting with the US, there was a need to go to an international conference where “we will say that Israel’s security will always be in our own hands, but that we are willing to separate from the Palestinians and be part of the coalition fighting Islamic terrorism.”
“The diplomatic process is stuck,” he continued, adding that an international conference was the only idea on the table.
“The prime minister needs to know that if he goes to such a conference he will have wide political backing from us that will enable him to deal with the handcuffs that the extreme Right will try to place on him,” he explained.
If anyone thought that along with security and diplomatic paralysis he would pass a budget that hurts the middle class, he added, “they do not understand why I entered politics.”
Among the conference’s speakers, Bennett and Communications Minister Gilad Erdan (Likud) represented the right-wing flank of the eight person security cabinet, which includes both Livni and Lapid.
“I must say that I do not believe what I hear,” Bennett said, referring to some of the remarks made by his colleagues.
“ I feel as if I am living in the ’90s,” he said. “It’s not me. The Left lives in the ’90s. ISIS [Islamic State] is moving to the east, Hezbollah is getting stronger to the north, Hamas is building terrorist tunnels to the south – and they [the Left] are continuing with the regular refrain that a Palestinian state will solve all the problems.”
Bennett noted a recent survey in the West Bank that showed that if elections were held there now, 66 percent of the people would vote for Hamas leader Ismail Haniyeh and only 25% would vote for Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas.
“Most of the [Arab] public in Judea and Samaria wants ‘Hamas now,’” he said, contrasting that with the Left’s desire for Peace Now.
“What Palestinian state are you talking about?” he asked. “How many times can you repeat the same refrain, the same conception. It’s like someone sitting on the beach where there is a tsunami but looking only at his isolated aquarium and not seeing what is happening around him.”
Bennett added that he was ridiculed for saying that a Palestinian state would destroy Israel’s economy – until Ben-Gurion Airport was partially closed for two days during Operation Protective Edge and people began to realize what he was talking about.
“Does anyone still think that it is right to give Palestinians the hills overlooking Ben-Gurion Airport?” he asked. “One mortar a month and we will not have an economy.”
Similar sentiments were articulated by Erdan, who said one of the fundamental lessons of the Gaza fighting was that despite efforts over the years to minimize the significance that territory has for security, territory does matter.
“From a diplomatic perspective I think that to continue to talk about Palestinian nationalism with the same determination and confidence as 10 or 15 years ago is not responsible,” he said.
“We have to change the hard disk and not lean all the time on the same old solutions,” he said. “I know that not all my colleagues in the government are willing to look at reality as it is.”
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