Education Minister Naftali Bennett spent Wednesday morning on the phone with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.
As the bulldozers drove up to the two disputed buildings in Bet El, Bennett concentrated all his effort on the grand prize: the 300 apartments Netanyahu promised to build after destroying the Ulpana neighborhood, but never delivered.
Bennett asked Netanyahu to issue a public statement as soon as possible that the plan was going ahead. To quiet things down. The Prime Minister’s Office acquiesced and the announcement was issued at 12:10.
Now, let’s hop over to Bayit Yehudi’s sister party, the one that includes Minister Uri Ariel. Before the elections they had almost split up. If you ask me, Bennett would have been happy had that happened, but Ariel and his far-right friends chickened out at the last minute. The raised voting threshold had them worried. Ariel is now a splinter in Bennett’s behind. Ariel was aware of the imminent approval of 300 new apartments in Bet El. He knew (from Bennett) that Netanyahu was about to issue a statement. So what did Ariel do? At 11:39 a.m. he sent a communiqué to the political correspondents according to which he “demanded Netanyahu’s immediate approval for 300 new apartments in Bet El [...] I was very firm,” he said. I wonder if Ariel is ever not “firm.”
The punch line came at the end of the communiqué: “I informed the prime minister that I expect a positive response within the hour.”
I wonder what Ariel would have done if there had been no positive response. He left it to Netanyahu’s imagination. Under such circumstances, with threats and ultimatums in the air, Netanyahu’s imagination is very fertile. Ariel roared; who wouldn’t be afraid? Incidentally, for a change, Netanyahu kept to schedule: the announcement was released 46 minutes after Ariel’s countdown began. Netanyahu has never been so nimble, which allowed Ariel to issue another announcement at 12:31 (52 after the ultimatum), thus: “Minister Ariel has just been informed by the prime minister that approval is granted for 300 apartments in Bet El.”
What a relief. Netanyahu is safe.
The settlement enterprise has won.
Zionism has won. All because of one courageous minster who had the presence of mind to make a “firm demand” and even set a timetable.
No doubt about it: Uri Ariel is the new Theodor Herzl. If you will it, it is no dream. We should thank the good lord that Ariel did not exploit the remaining 14 minutes of his ultimatum to demand two or three more illegal settlements.
Seems a waste, no? All in all, Bennett should be pitied for having Ariel and Moti Yogev growing wild in his patch. The difference between Bennett and Ariel and Yogev lies in the rampant crudeness of the latter, their inability to recognize limits and good taste. Bennett reprimanded Yogev for his call to bulldoze the Supreme Court. Ariel was not reprimanded.
Bennett knows Ariel: he is happy to be the one who humiliated the prime minister in public for daring to carry out a valid Supreme Court ruling. Ariel has no qualms about creating an imaginary reality in which he presents an ultimatum to a sitting prime minister – who supposedly capitulated – in order to take sole credit for the results. All because of two uninhabited concrete buildings.
The settlers continue to hold on to a retrospective arrangement for the lands on which the thuggish contractor Meir Dreinoff and his half-witted son, Yonatan, built the demolished buildings in order to justify leaving the buildings intact.
They disregard the fact that the land is meant solely for military use. The minute you exploit land under military occupation by using it for residential purposes, you are sawing off the branch on which the entire settlement enterprise is perched. You are explaining to the world that it’s all one big Isra-bluff.
You are destroying the remains of any legitimacy you have left. In Europe, plans are currently underway to stop working with Israeli banks that are active in the territories (including the Golan Heights and Jerusalem!). If this materializes, we can start the countdown to a total global boycott. So this is just the time to spit in the world’s face, to ignore the Supreme Court, humiliate the prime minister and his defense minister and continue thumbing your nose at everything.
The epitome of this phenomenon is that delightful, romantic couple Avia and Rafael Morris, of the “Muhammad is a pig” incident on the Temple Mount last week. In an interview they granted me and Arie Eldad on Non-stop Radio, they declared shamelessly that the mosques on the Temple Mount should be destroyed. The third temple should be erected instead, now, immediately. And if Arabs want to visit the Temple Mount, by all means. On condition that they pray to the God of Israel. Fortunately, Morris, all of 19 years old, didn’t add that she was expecting a response “within an hour.” She may well have received it.
Naftali Bennett’s week was not too bad in the end. Yesterday morning he stopped by a group of women demonstrating in front of the prime minister’s residence.
“Women Want Peace,” they call themselves, and Bennett, although peace is not exactly his cup of tea, asked his driver to stop, because after all it was very hot and they were demonstrating over an ideal they believe in. To his great surprise, one of the women was Tsiki Waldan, Shimon Peres’ daughter. “I visited your dad yesterday,” Bennett told her, “he’s an amazing man.”
Bennett and Waldan’s father are poles apart and yet there is in Nafatali the kind of finesse that prevents him from behaving like Uri Ariel.
Maybe he’s grown into his political positions and maybe in another couple of days or weeks the little Moti Yogev that’s hiding within him will pop up. Let’s hope not.
We mustn’t forget, too, that a few months ago Bennett was robbed electorally by Netanyahu in the fear-of-God campaign that is destined to be studied by students of political science.
Bennett now needs to separate himself from Netanyahu and there is nothing like tearing down settlements to achieve this. Behind closed doors, he admits that the houses in Bet El were the straw that broke the settlers’ back and it was not necessarily a successful straw.
As far as Bennett is concerned, in the final analysis the settlers have lost the Ulpana neighborhood (six buildings) and the two Dreinoff buildings, but gained 300 apartments (if Netanyahu keeps his word, for a change). Moreover, the Knesset passed the “Norwegian Law.” Bennett would have died for this law, which he sees as an expression of political loyalty and fraternity.
Shuli Mualem, a Bennett supporter, will enter the Knesset at the expense of Justice Minister Ayelet Shaked. Another cabinet minister (or deputy minister) in every party can resign on behalf of the next in line on the party’s list. True, it loads several additional shekels onto the public’s financial burden, but – I believe – it makes sense. In a civilized country, ministers shouldn’t have to serve in parliament. It is an expression of double contempt, both vis-à-vis the government and the legislature, which deserve to have legislators in full-time positions.
On Tuesday evening, Ayelet Shaked went to Ben El to show solidarity with her voters. A conflict of interests: on the one hand, responsibility for the legal system, on the other, commitment to her voting public. On her way, she spoke to Defense Minister Moshe Ya’alon, wanting to be sure that no ambush was being planned for the settlers.
“We aren’t demolishing before we hear from the Supreme Court of Justice,” Ya’alon told her. It’s also what she told the settlers in Bet El.
“There’s going to be no demolition; waiting for the Supreme Court decision.”
It was nearly midnight when, on her way back, she was informed by the head of the regional council of large-scale military deployment, a sense of something imminent.
Once again Shaked texted Ya’alon.
“There will be no demolition before the Supreme Court ruling!!!” Ya’alon texted back, with three exclamation marks.
Shaked texted her people in Bet El again. Relax, she wrote, no houses will be demolished without a Supreme Court ruling. They texted back: “Yes, but they might come in to take the buildings beforehand.”
So Shaked, ever diligent and hard-working, texted Ya’alon yet again: they are not to go in to take buildings, is that clear? Ya’alon did not reply. Late that night the army took over the buildings.
The following morning, the Supreme Court made its final ruling and the demolition was on its way. Shaked was upset, but didn’t give up. I am not a baby, she said in closed conversations, I don’t take things to heart or even personally.
She informed Ya’alon that next time he should either tell her the truth, or simply not answer her. She didn’t want to be placed in an awkward position vis-à-vis the settlers.
The Supreme Court ruling caught Shaked right in the middle of a meeting with Supreme Court president Miriam Naor. It is not common knowledge, but Shaked has a very fruitful professional relationship with Naor. The content of the conversation remains unknown, but Shaked did not lose her temper.
She’s a straightforward, logical woman, even if she has differences of opinion with the Supreme Court. She wouldn’t bulldoze the Supreme Court. She would rather legislate laws that serve her community (e.g. the establishment in the West Bank of a special court for real estate issues, an idea she has been promoting since the last Knesset).
Shaked argues with the legal establishment and the Supreme Court, but doesn’t invalidate them, doesn’t humiliate or trample them.
She knows the rules and tries to play according to them.
Apropos the Supreme Court, behind closed doors, Shaked recalls how Katzal pushed for the appointment of Judge Asher Grunis as president of the court. And what did Grunis rule? The last three demolitions in the territories: the Ulpana neighborhood, the Greinoff buildings and, next year, nine houses in Ofra. By the way, when the times comes to demolish the Ofra houses, we’ll be yearning for Grunis.
Moshe Ya’alon took the decision to send riot police into the Greinoff buildings late at night between Tuesday and Wednesday. He didn’t lie to Shaked. He really hadn’t intended to demolish the buildings before receiving the Supreme Court ruling. When she asked later if there were plans to capture the place, he didn’t respond. According to him, he decided to capture the buildings after the exchange of text messages with Shaked. The GOC, Roni Numa, called the chief of staff, Lieutenant General Gadi Eisenkott, with new intelligence on the settlers’ intention to capture and entrench themselves in the Dreinoff buildings.
Ya’alon didn’t bat an eyelid opposite Bennett this week.
Behind closed doors, he explained his position. Even though he is considered the chief patron of the settlers, the more fanatical among them have no trouble biting the hand that feeds them at every opportunity, however outlandish.
Do we need to fight a war over the Dreinoff buildings? Over buildings that were erected on land that was taken under military occupation? As far as he is concerned this would be a shot in the leg of the entire settlement enterprise.
Ya’alon wouldn’t be surprised by an in-depth examination of all the security concepts of lands in the territories.
And we haven’t touched on the international community and attacks on the Supreme Court that strip him of his cool. Aharon Barak was a hardliner, says Ya’alon in closed conversations, Miriam Naor is a hard-liner. Over this we are starting a war? How unwise, how irresponsible. My view of everything concerning the settlements have long been well known. I have not changed them one jot. I am not swept away by the rabble, although, unfortunately, there are plenty of people who are, he said this week.
Translated by Ora Cummings.