Yes, prime minister - opinion

It was appropriate for you to have called settlers the “protective wall of us, all [whom] we must strengthen and support in word and deed.”

 Prime Minister Naftali Bennett at the cabinet meeting, December 5, 2021.  (photo credit: EMIL SALMAN/HAARETZ)
Prime Minister Naftali Bennett at the cabinet meeting, December 5, 2021.
(photo credit: EMIL SALMAN/HAARETZ)

Yes, Prime Minister Naftali Bennett, you were right to tweet about the “settlers in Judea and Samaria [who] have been suffering from violence and terrorism, daily, for decades.”

It was appropriate for you to have called them the “protective wall of us, all [whom] we must strengthen and support in word and deed.”

It was wise of you to stress that though certain kinds of fringe phenomena exist everywhere, “we cannot make a broad generalization about an entire sector.”

Yes, prime minister, it was apt of you to criticize Public Security Minister Omer Bar Lev for his outrageous discussion with US Under Secretary of State for Political Affairs Victoria Nuland, during their meeting this week at the David Citadel Hotel in Jerusalem. Too bad you didn’t actually mention his name or tag him in your post. But then, he’s a key member of your cabinet, and you have to be strategically prudent.

Even without your spelling it out, everyone understood that you were referring to Bar Lev, who had boasted on social media about his get-together with Nuland, claiming that she “was interested, among other things, in settler violence and how to reduce tensions in the region and strengthen the Palestinian Authority.”

Zionist Union MK Omer Bar-Lev (credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM)Zionist Union MK Omer Bar-Lev (credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM)

Your longtime sidekick — or possibly former one, now that you turn to Shimrit Meir for foreign policy and other advice — was more direct. Interior Minister Ayelet Shaked attached her comments to Bar Lev’s tweet, accusing him of being “confused.”

The settlers, she wrote, “are the salt of the earth, descendants of the pioneers from the valley and the mountain.”

She pointed out what is obvious: “The violence that should be causing shock is that of the dozens of cases of throwing rocks and Molotov cocktails at Jews every day — only because they’re Jews — all with the encouragement and support of the PA. I recommend that you talk about that violence with Ms. Nuland.”

Yes, prime minister, Shaked appears to have a bit more leeway when it comes to castigating coalition partners. But she’s got to perform a delicate balancing act of keeping the government from falling, while planning ahead for her political future.

This involves attempting, whenever possible, to defend her colleagues, but simultaneously indicating to her — and your — base that she hasn’t abandoned its right-wing positions. These are the views that persuaded some members of the public to cast their ballots for Yamina, the party you head and the one she used to chair.

Yes, prime minister, in the old days, mere months ago, you would have been the first Israeli lawmaker to decry the Biden administration’s reported “obsession” with “settler violence.” You certainly would have been horrified at the very suggestion of American officials putting settlements on a par of importance and urgency with the nuclear threat from Iran.

Yes, prime minister, you would have made public statements against US Secretary of State Antony Blinken’s insistence, during his meeting in Washington earlier this month with Defense Minister Benny Gantz, on highlighting the ostensible danger that settlement activity poses to the “two-state solution.” You are aware and have stated on more than one occasion that it’s a “dead end.”

Being a loyal Laborite, Bar Lev still clings to the false land-for-peace paradigm that not only has failed abysmally but has been exposed as a Palestinian ploy to erase the Jewish state. As the name of his proposed 2013 peace initiative suggests, he believes that “It’s in Our Hands” to end the conflict and preserve Israel’s democratic and Jewish character.

It’s no wonder, then, that his visit on Tuesday to the South Hebron Hills, where he was briefed on the ongoing and uptick in Palestinian assaults on Jews in Judea and Samaria, didn’t make a dent in his outlook.

“I understand that it’s really difficult for some of you to hold a mirror up to your faces,” he said smugly, pointing out that “extremist settler violence” is such a serious matter that it’s causing concern in the international community. He was clearly alluding to last Thursday’s UN General Assembly resolution condemning just that. What a surprise.

 “I will continue to fight Palestinian terrorism as if there is no extremist settler violence, and fight extremist settler violence as if there is no Palestinian terrorism,” he then stated, pleased with himself for tweaking the late prime minister Yitzhak Rabin’s declaration in the 1990s that “we must fight terrorism as if there’s no peace process, and work to achieve peace as if there is no terror.”

Given that Rabin’s remark was made during negotiations that led to the signing of the disastrous Oslo Accords, Bar Lev ought not to have been so quick to invoke it. Nor should any Israeli – let alone the public security minister – compare the violence of a tiny minority of settlers who face punishment to the full extent of the law, with the widespread acts of terrorism that are encouraged, incentivized and rewarded by Palestinian leaders.

Yes, prime minister, you know this about the settlers. You know it, as well, about the PA, which on Wednesday lauded Bar Lev for presenting the “first official recognition” of “settler violence,” and called on more Israeli ministers to “condemn and oppose settler terrorism and attacks on Palestinians.”

Regional Cooperation Minister Esawi Frej, from the left-wing Meretz Party, did so on Tuesday, tweeting: “Not all settlers are violent, but there is a great deal of violence that originates in the settlements. Anyone who ignores this problem, and the need to deal with it, encourages it.”

Yes, Prime Minister, you’re familiar with Frej. He’s the minister who last month led Israel’s delegation to the biannual gathering of PA donor countries in Oslo, where he did some fundraising for the leadership in Ramallah. Their till, after all, has been on the wane as a result of their refusal to cease paying stipends to the families of Palestinians killed while committing terrorist attacks on Israelis, or to those survivors imprisoned for doing so.

Frej is also the guy who accompanied Health Minister Nitzan Horowitz on a pilgrimage to Ramallah in October to suck up to PA Chairman Mahmoud Abbas and assure the terrorist-in-a-tie that the left-wing members of the Israeli government were on a mission to “keep the two-state solution alive, not let it disappear and not sabotage the chance of reaching it in the future.”

Horowitz told Abbas, “We believe that there’s no room for unilateral measures… No new settlements, no illegal outposts, and no violence by extremists among the settlers.”

Yes, prime minister, though you are cognizant that the Palestinian apparatus, not the settlement movement, is the real cause of “violent extremism,” you are stuck with the likes of Bar Lev, Frej and Horowitz for the duration of this coalition. But it’s a concoction that you yourself contrived.

The “settlers in Judea and Samaria [who] have been suffering from violence and terrorism, daily, for decades” – many of whom voted for your party – aren’t thanking you for your lip service.