Into the Fray: The demands Bennett should’ve made

Beware, Naftali – lest you find yourself being seen as a patsy, the victim of deception.

Lapid and Bennett at Knesset swear in 370 (photo credit: Marc Israel Sellem/The Jerusalem Post)
Lapid and Bennett at Knesset swear in 370
(photo credit: Marc Israel Sellem/The Jerusalem Post)
The greatest tragedy of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is that everyone knows how it will end. We will divide up the region. Israel will return most of the West Bank, and the Palestinian flag will fly on public buildings in East Jerusalem.The only unanswered question is how many more people will have to die along the way. And so we will fight against the extremists on both sides, including our extremists, the settlers.                                                                           – Yair Lapid, Der Spiegel, May 8. 2008.
We must strive to return to the negotiating table with the intention of attaining peace with the Palestinians on the basis of “two-states for two-peoples,” in which the large settlement blocs (Ariel, Gush Etzion, Ma’aleh Adumin) will remain within the area of Israel.Jerusalem is the eternal capital of Israel and its unity is a national symbol of the first order.Jerusalem is not merely a place or a city but the center of the Jewish-Israeli ethos, to which Jews turned their eyes throughout the generations.                                       – Yesh Atid’s 2013 election platform.
In a recent column, “Bennett’s buddy. Or blunder?” (February 21), I severely criticized Naftali Bennett’s post-election conduct.
Bizarre bedfellows
I strongly condemned his decision not only to form a seamless alliance with Yair Lapid, conditioning his Bayit Yehudi’s participation in a Netanyahu-led coalition on that of Lapid’s Yesh Atid faction; but also to make a priori endorsement by Binyamin Netanyahu of Lapid’s proposal for ultra- Orthodox conscription into military and/or alternative national service a sine qua non for such participation.
With each passing day, this criticism is proving increasingly well-founded, as is the concern which prompted it. Indeed, as I write these lines, news has just come in of Bennett’s latest buddy, Kadima’s Shaul Mofaz, with whom he has, together with Lapid, formed a countervailing bloc of 33 MKs, to coerce Netanyahu to comply with the their collective demands.
Now, while Mofaz is certainly worthy of commendation for his military career, he is equally worthy of condemnation – some might claim, contempt – for his political one.
He is a politician so bereft of any credibility that he has brought grave disrepute to the theory and practice of cynical, unprincipled opportunism. After all, who can forget that it was Mofaz, who just prior to the 2006 election, gave Likud members his solemn commitment that he would not leave the party for Sharon’s newly formed Kadima – on the very day he did just that.
Stranger than fiction
So there you have it. Naftali Bennett, who was supposed to spearhead the opposition to territorial withdrawal and uprooting of Jewish communities across the 1967 Green Line, has locked arms with two of its most prominent proponents: Mofaz, who was defense minister at the time of the 2005 disengagement from Gaza and oversaw its implementation, and Lapid, who shamelessly exploited his widely read Friday column to vociferously endorse it and vehemently vilify any opposition to it.
You couldn’t make this stuff up.
Quite apart from the fact that this is pretty close to a nightmare scenario for many of Bennett’s supporters, there are more troubling and perplexing aspects to his behavior. One can only shake one’s head in bewilderment as to why he would chose to weld himself to an alliance with individuals whose core political credos are so divergent from his own and whose political judgment has proved so defective. Perhaps even more baffling is why he would insist so stubbornly that they should be given key positions in determining the fate of the nation – particularly at this challenging juncture in its history.
Poorly conceived pact
Whichever way you slice it, Bennett’s decision to bind himself inextricably to Lapid – and now apparently to Mofaz as well – is a poorly conceived initiative which can only precipitate undesirable outcomes – at least for a major portion of his constituency.
As I pointed out, Bennett’s primary banner was that of a security hawk rather than a socioeconomic crusader. True, he did broach – commendably – numerous socioeconomic issues during his campaign, not all that dissimilar from those raised by Lapid. But this is not what brought him the bulk of the ballots he received.
Had he presented precisely the same views on his socioeconomic agenda, but adopted a more dovish stance on security matters, it is virtually certain that a substantially different, and probably significantly smaller, sector of the electorate would have voted for him.
By contrast, Lapid did place his major emphasis on societal and economic matters.
For him, the issue of the ultra-Orthodox (together with the purported distress of the middle class) did comprise the cardinal elements of his campaign. Thus, his insistence on this matter, as an imperative for his coalition participation, seems far more understandable.
Better balance
So, if the Bennett-Lapid pact entailed making what was a cardinal issue for Lapid’s voters a sine qua non for partaking in a Netanyahu-led government, surely a commensurately cardinal issue for Bennett’s voters could – indeed, should – have been made one as well– particularly if such an issue could be fortuitously found in Yesh Atid’s election manifesto.
For example, as the introductory excerpts indicate, the unity of Jerusalem and the retention of major settlement blocs both feature in the party platform. Should not Bennett have, therefore, tested Lapid’s mettle – and his true intent – by insisting that these elements also be made a sine qua non for participation in a Likud-led government? Should he not have elicited a pledge from Lapid that he would not take part in such a coalition without a commitment to preserve a united Jerusalem and to retain the major settlement blocs? Surely this would have been a far more balanced approach to the pact – and a far more acceptable approach for Bennett’s supporters?
Practicing political prudence
It would intriguing to find out just how “unbreakable” the pact with Lapid-cum- Mofaz would be, should Bennett decide to insist on an a priori pledge on these issues as an indispensable precondition for joining the coalition.
After all, one would surely expect that for Bennett, ensuring the inviolability of Jerusalem’s unity and the preservation of the large settlement blocs should be no less crucial than the haredi issue? Accordingly, what possible reason – or justification – could there be for Bennett not insisting on it with equal force? Or for Lapid rejecting it, as these were both included in his platform? This should not be dismissed as petty “tit-for-tatting.”
Indeed, it is merely the sober practice of political prudence.
After all, even if one believes that Lapid can rise above the venom of his preelection campaign positions, it is quite another matter when it comes to the people who comprise his core constituency and provided the initial traction for his political career. For it is reasonable to assume that they were attracted to Lapid because of the views he expressed in his newspaper column, which was a major component in building his political profile and propagating his political credo. In it he frequently sallied forth with invidious and indiscriminate indictments of the settlers and settlements, irrespective of whether they were part of the large blocs or not.
It is far from implausible, then, to surmise that he may come under increasing pressures from his political base to revert to the positions that originally drew them to him.
The expected pressures from the White House can only make such a prospect even more probable.
Surely it would have been prudent for Bennett to lay down a preemptive and preventive bulwark to ensure against it materializing?
Perverse priorities
Without wishing to belittle the practical importance or moral merit in a resolute demand that the ultra-Orthodox play a greater role in both the military and the labor force, it is hardly the most severe or pressing item on the national agenda. Far more urgent and harrowing matters need to be addressed.
Consider the following: In the north, Lebanon is descending inexorably into the radical clutches of Hezbollah. Syria is in the throes of a bloodbath, with control over stockpiles of potentially devastating WMDs evermore tenuous, and only ominous outcomes on the horizon.
Slightly further afield, Turkey’s Islamist regime is waxing increasingly belligerent, with its leadership displaying troubling symptoms of demented delirium.
In the south, Egypt is edging toward socioeconomic meltdown – the only foreseeable consequence of which is severely diminished capacity of the central government to enforce any semblance of control in Sinai, where ascendant criminal warlords and jihadists comprise an ever-growing menace along Israel’s southern frontier.
In the east, the relatively benign Hashemite regime appears less and less secure in the face of mounting unrest, making the specter of an Islamist seizure of power more and more likely.
Beyond that, the tyrannical theocracy in Tehran is rapidly approaching the point of no return in its quest for weaponized nuclear capabilities.
Add to all these the increasingly blatant rejectionism of the Palestinians and the looming visit of an unsympathetic US president, and the haredi issue takes on a somewhat different perspective.
Given the gravity and the immediacy of these dangers, making ultra-Orthodox conscription – for all its undisputed importance and merits – a pivotal do-or-die issue seems to reflect a seriously warped sense of priorities.
Sense of proportion
needed Israel’s socioeconomic ills need to be seriously addressed. But they need to be addressed by an incumbent government, not by a premature and populistic declaration of intent likely to shatter on the rocks of reality.
Moreover, in admitting that much ails the socioeconomic fabric of the country and many defects lay heavy on the nation’s middle class, it is important not to lose our sense of proportion.
After all, since its inception, Israel has made stunning progress in virtually all socioeconomic spheres – both relative to its very difficult point of departure and in absolute terms relative to many industrial nations today. In fact, had the average Israeli citizen in the 1950s, when crushing deprivation and harsh austerity were the order of the day, been informed that the realities of today would in fact prevail today, he/she would surely have been incredulous.
In those days, it would have been considered a vision of Zionist success beyond the wildest dreams.
Life in Israel for the middle class is hardly that of a gulag – and it is a dangerous illusion that any government, no matter what its priorities, can provide a life devoid of all difficulty.
So while there is much room for improvement, let’s not get too despondent while sipping our lattes, holidaying abroad, buying new SUVs and trying out the latest mountain bike/skiing accessories.
Suspect sincerity
Just how sincere Lapid’s professed concern for the allegedly beleaguered middle class is, is revealed by his preference in portfolios.
Lapid has rejected the offer of the Finance Ministry – perhaps the ministry with the greatest potential for impacting the lot of the middle class and redressing the iniquities/inequities that allegedly plague it.
Instead, he has insisted on the Foreign Ministry, a portfolio that by its very nature has negligible effect on the fate of the nation’s middle class. Indeed, it is difficult to imagine one that has less relevance for that purpose.
Could all this middle-class prattle be merely a means to a far more sinister goal in the field of foreign, rather domestic, policy? By possibly helping to ensconce Lapid in the Foreign Ministry, Bennett is treading on treacherous terrain. After all, if Lapid were to be given charge of Israel’s foreign policy, what views would he advance? Those expounded earlier in his anti-settler, left-ofcenter column, or those in his later more settler-benign right-of-center manifesto? How would Lapid’s incumbency in the Foreign Ministry resonate with that of Hatnua’s Tzipi Livni’s in the Justice Ministry – another unfortunate consequence of Bennett’s obstinacy – especially with regard to the fate of the “territories.”
Beware, Naftali – less you find yourself being seen as a patsy, the victim of deception – whether well-planned or merely incidental.
Art of the possible?
It was the German statesman Otto Von Bismarck (1815-1898) who famously defined “politics” as “the art of the possible.”
In Israel, it would seem that it is more “the practice of the inexplicable.”