Analysis |

As Peace Talks Ramp Up, Israel's Religious Zionists Face Off Against the ultra-Orthodox

The settlers fear that the Haredim will support a peace agreement with the Palestinians in return for government funding.

Chaim Levinson
Chaim Levinson
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Chaim Levinson
Chaim Levinson

When talks took place to form the current governing coalition, it became clear to the ultra-Orthodox that the alliance between Habayit Hayehudi leader Naftali Bennett and Yesh Atid chief Yair Lapid had pushed the Haredim away from the government trough. The Haredim then warned Israel's religious Zionist leaders that they were creating a rift between the two religious camps that could not be mended.

The Haredim threatened that just as religious Zionism was destroying the world of Haredi yeshivas, the Haredim would destroy the settlements. It's unlikely that the Haredi wheeler-dealers believed that the chance to settle accounts would come so soon. Now, without the Haredi parties, the settlers don't have enough votes to derail peace talks.

Since U. S. Secretary of State John Kerry announced the renewal of direct peace talks, two groups have formed on the non-Haredi right. The first group, in the smug spirit of Bennett, believes that the talks with the Palestinians are just a game of convincing the world that the other side has derailed the negotiations.

The second group believes that the talks are serious and that the peace initiative should not be dismissed out of hand. It's actually Likud's vote contractors who are well aware of Benjamin Netanyahu's sad status in his own party; these people suspect that the negotiations will lead somewhere. They think Netanyahu's ability to run again for prime minister is in doubt. He has less of a base, is getting older and has served for many years. They believe that despite Netayahu's suspicious, hesitant and conservative nature, he might view the peace process as a way to reinvent himself.

The wheel-dealers are especially suspicious of the current Knesset. They realize that a deal would garner plenty of support there. The Arab parties, Hatnuah, Meretz and the Labor Party would support any agreement – 38 votes. Add to that 16 of Yesh Atid's 19 MKs; the other three, Shay Piron, Pnina Tamano-Shata and Dov Lipman, are perceived as sympathetic to the settlers. Altogether, that means 54 MKs in support of an agreement with the Palestinians.

In Likud there would be both support and opposition. Yisrael Beiteinu leader Avigdor Lieberman is hard to predict. And then there are the Haredi parties. The religious Zionist leaders' nightmare is that the Haredi MKs votes can be bought.

They would call it "saving the yeshiva world." In return for government funds and easing the law on the draft, they'd support anything. That's how it was before the Gaza pullout. United Torah Judaism joined the Sharon government that withdrew from Gaza for NIS 290 million in government funds for the yeshivas.

On Sunday, the leaders of the Yesha Council of settlements met in Jerusalem to discuss the recent developments. In the meantime, they requested a meeting with the prime minister to see which way the wind was blowing. They also plan to try to get Likudniks to put pressure on Defense Minister Moshe Ya'alon to prevent a tacit construction freeze in the settlements.

Last week, Ya'alon postponed discussions on four building plans in isolated settlements; Yesha suspects that this augurs more postponements. The key question is how to make life difficult for Netanyahu as talks progress. Should, as recent press leaks suggest, one try to subvert peace negotiations from the Knesset?

It could be a Pyrrhic victory. Through their proxies in Likud – MKs Miri Regev, Danny Danon and Yariv Levin – the settlers could cause problems for Netanyahu. But the more they make his life difficult, the further they push Netanyahu into the embrace of people who aren't committed with every fiber of their being to the Greater Land of Israel.

Minister Naftali BennettCredit: Emil Salman

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