(photo credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM)
Bayit Yehudi leader Naftali Bennett said on Monday that the preliminary passage of the controversial settlement bill is equivalent to what is known in Israel as the “Mahapah”, the upheaval on the day Menahem Begin and the Likud revolutionized Israel and won the 1977 elections.
“This is an historic day in the Knesset, which went from establishing a Palestinian state to establishing Israeli sovereignty in Judea and Samaria,” Bennett said. “Have no doubt: The settlement bill is leading the way to annexation.”
We beg to differ with Bennett’s conclusion. He seems to be jumping the gun, since the settlement bill, born out of political calculation, will not automatically lead to annexation.
Despite his public statements, Bennett likely knows this, since he joined efforts to get the bill passed only after he found himself overtaken on the Right by a group of 26 Likud MKs who petitioned Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to pass the settlement bill. Only then, when Bennett felt that he was being politically outflanked, did he spearhead efforts to push the bill through the Knesset.
What this shows is that the bill, which passed a preliminary reading on Monday, was more about politics than anything else. Originally presented as a solution for Amona, an outpost built illegally on private Palestinian land near the settlement of Ofra, the bill left Amona hung out to dry. The government is now searching for another solution ahead of the demolition ordered by the High Court by December 25.
If that is the case, the question that begs to be asked is why did Netanyahu and Bennett vote for the bill to begin with, especially considering the warnings from Attorney-General Avichai Mandelblit that its passage could bring war crime charges against Israel. There is also concern that the bill will push US President Barack Obama to take action against Israeli settlements at the United Nations.
The answer is simple – politics. Bennett wants to outflank Netanyahu and show that he is the true leader of the right-wing camp in Israel. Netanyahu can’t vote against the bill – even though he opposes it – since he would then be perceived as being to Bennett’s left, a move that could be costly in the next election.
So basically, Israeli policy on Judea and Samaria is being set by politics. Real strategic policy? Forget about it.
For this reason, Bennett is wrong when declaring that the bill will lead to annexation. Annexing the West Bank would be a dramatic move, the kind that Netanyahu and his government have stayed away from for the preceding eight years of his premiership.
This bill is meant to manage an isolated crisis – settler homes built on private Palestinian land. Annexation would require a policy decision. Making a real decision is far more difficult than just managing a crisis.
The problem is that the government prefers to avoid making decisions and to stick just to managing crises. This applies not only to the conflict with the Palestinians, but also to the standoff with Diaspora Jewry over the Western Wall and the government’s continued refusal to implement the decision it took in January to construct a pluralistic prayer plaza at the holy site.
When it comes to the Palestinians, Israelis deserve a government that sets policy. That policy could be annexation or a decision to freeze settlement construction and try again to renew peace negotiations with the Palestinians with the objective of reaching a two-state solution.
The problem is that the government lacks clarity on this issue. In 2009, Netanyahu gave his famous Bar-Ilan speech in which he endorsed a demilitarized Palestinian state; but last year, ahead of general elections, declared that if he was elected there would never be a Palestinian state.
“Anyone who is going to establish a Palestinian state, anyone who is going to evacuate territories today, is simply giving a base for attacks to radical Islam against Israel,” he said. “This is the true reality that was created here in the last few years.”
Next June, Israel will celebrate 50 years to the reunification of Jerusalem, as well as the conquering of the West Bank. After five decades, it is time for Israel to set a policy on how it views its future. Enough managing crises. It’s time to make decisions.