With such political friends, settlers don’t really need enemies.
Right-wing politicians pushed to bring down Prime Minister Naftali Bennett’s government, warning it was a disaster for the West Bank settlements. But in doing so, they created a paradigm in which any scenario would harm Israeli residents of Judea and Samaria.
The government went into acute crisis mode over the Knesset’s failure earlier this month to pass legislation that would extend a directive granting residency rights to Israelis living in West Bank settlements.
The law had passed automatically every five years with so little fanfare that almost no one even knew the law existed.
Its expiration at the end of June was due to strip settlers of rights to healthcare and insurance, as well as many other rights that make civilian life possible, including the ability to obtain driving and marriage licenses and to be drafted into the army.
Read more on the dissolution of the Knesset and the upcoming elections:
- The announcement that Knesset will be dissolved, Lapid will become prime minister
- Israeli politicians react to the news
- Biden will visit Israel despite the political turmoil
- What are Naftali Bennett’s political options after he leaves PMO?
Right-wing politicians said the price of sacrificing the settlers in that way was worth it if it led to the end of this government.
It was a price Bennett was not willing to pay.
A dangerous step
Sending the government to new elections prior to the end of June automatically freezes that expiration until the new government is created.
Indeed, Bennett on Monday said the passage of this directive was so significant, that he would prefer to collapse his government rather than take such a dangerous step.
Without this directive, there would have been security risks and “legislative chaos,” said Bennett, emphasizing that “I couldn’t let this happen.”
Settlers might now be rescued on a basic day-to-day level, but the right-wing agenda in Judea and Samaria is now likely to take a hit.
The presence of right-wing politician Bennett at the head of the government had balanced out the left-wing and centrist flank of the government when it came to the settlements.
It remained largely a right-wing agenda that governed Area C of the West Bank. Some 4,427 new settler homes were advanced, including in isolated settlements. The Justice Ministry said it was legally possible to hook up the outposts to the electricity grid. There was talk of advancing Palestinian housing, but in reality, little was done.
Now that Bennett and Foreign Minister Yair Lapid have announced they plan to dissolve the Knesset next week, Lapid will replace Bennett as prime minister until a new government is formed. It’s the fifth such election cycle in less than five years.
Gantz's marching order
Defense Minister Benny Gantz will remain in his position, but he will be taking his marching orders from Lapid and not Bennett.
It’s possible, of course, that Likud Party head and former prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu could create a new right-wing coalition prior to the Knesset’s dissolution, thereby saving the country from elections.
Barring that Hail Mary move, the lame-duck government will now be headed by Lapid, who could not be more different than Bennett with regard to the West Bank and the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
Bennett does not support a Palestinian state and believes Israel should retain all of Area C. Lapid, in contrast, supports a two-state resolution to the conflict with the Palestinians and maintains that Israel should retain only a small portion of Area C.
In February, Lapid said he did not support any settlement activity that would harm the two-state option. “We are not going to build anything that will prevent the possibility of a future two-state solution,” he said.
More specifically, Lapid spoke about limiting settler building to natural growth. He has also spoken out in support of demolishing the Homesh yeshiva and against the deal to build a new settlement on the Evyatar hilltop. He is among those who support the settlement blocs but oppose isolated settlements and outposts.
He will be in office for a short time, probably just less than half a year. First there is the late election date at the end of October; then there could be additional time needed to form a government.
But it’s half a year that could be significant, starting with US President Joe Biden’s trip to Israel in July, during which time he is expected to press Israel to halt all unilateral actions in the West Bank, including settlement activity, and to promote Palestinian development of Area C.
Lapid and Biden
Lapid is much more likely to make concessions to Biden than Bennett would have.
When Netanyahu headed the lame-duck governments, elections were positive for settlements. Netanyahu made gestures to the settlements to gain favor with right-wing voters.
This time around, the half-year Lapid has in the prime-ministerial seat, he will be campaigning on centrist moves to advance two states.
Lapid, with Gantz’s help, also has more leeway to take action in the West Bank than he does within sovereign Israel.
He can, for example, with the support of Gantz, refuse to convene the Higher Planning Council for Judea and Samaria to advance settler building, but he could also push forward Palestinian housing projects.
The E1 hearing set for July 18, could be canceled; even Bennett canceled it once. Tenders and building plans could be frozen, and settler demolitions could be increased.
Settlers who complained of de facto freezes might now find themselves in a planned one.
Then there is the possibility that new elections might not yield a new government, thereby keeping Lapid in power even longer.
Right-wingers dreaming of an all-right government got a boost Monday night, and it could be that if their dreams are realized, they might say it was all worth it.
But to get there, they have put their agenda of strengthening their hold on Area C at risk and have placed at the government’s helm a politician who supports acting against the settlements if it helps a two-state agenda.