Bennett's Party Will Disappear if He Lets Down the Settlers

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Naftali Bennett visiting the settlement of Netiv Ha'avot in 2017.
Naftali Bennett visiting the settlement of Netiv Ha'avot in 2017. Credit: Emil Salman

A little before the last election, Naftali Bennett toured what are known as “young settlements” (some of these outposts are more than 20 years old). In Sde Boaz he stood in front of the cameras and pledged: “On my first day as prime minister I’ll sign full authorization for the young Jewish settlements in Judea and Samaria .... For 12 years Netanyahu hasn’t done anything to authorize them .... It’s possible, believe me, it’s possible.”

As a result of this belief he is now prime minister. His voters weren’t disappointed when he didn’t keep his promise on “the first day.” They were disappointed when the days became weeks and the weeks became months.

Encouraged by the “believe me, it’s possible” slogan, a few legislators in the Land of Israel Caucus decided to submit a bill to implement Bennett’s promise. But on Wednesday, when the Knesset voted on a bill he promised to advance, Bennett instructed his Yamina party's MKs to thwart it. Fifty-five MKs, including Yamina’s, voted against. Only 44, including Benjamin Netanyahu, voted for.

Yes, the man during whose premiership the outposts could easily have been authorized and new ones added suddenly remembered the terrible injustice done to their residents and to the ideal of settling in Judea and Samaria. This ideal may have been frozen in the last dozen years, but it hasn’t stood still.

Bennett, surprisingly, didn’t attend the vote. Nor did Ayelet Shaked (“Yamina pledges that authorizing the young settlements will be the first priority of any future government”) or the party’s Matan Kanana (“Thank you to the people of the young settlements ... for their sacrifice for us all .... The Israeli government must authorize the young settlements”).

They may have resigned from the Knesset, but their substitutes, people who made it into parliament thanks to the so-called Norwegian Law, voted according to the party chairman’s instructions. Only Yomtob Kalfon, also a “Norwegian,” dared to be absent. He couldn’t vote against his conscience.

Gideon Sa’ar has a reputation of a man who thinks before he speaks. Sa’ar, who was a member of the Land of Israel Caucus, has several times demanded that 25 settlements be authorized. (“I see this as a matter of principle. It’s the state’s moral obligation to its citizens.”)

His words raised hopes among the (real) right-wing camp, certainly the hope of these embattled outposts that are struggling for recognition. Although his New Hope party holds the key to the government’s existence, it voted against the bill. Its founder no longer sees authorization as “a matter of principle” and a “moral obligation.”

Most of these communities are located on the cold mountain slope. Around 20,000 people live there, including about 10,000 children and infants. Even though most of them settled there with the consent of Israeli governments (see Talia Sasson’s 2005 report) and even encouragement, many of them aren’t connected to the power, water and communication grids. Only a decision by the government can see to that.

At a time when Yamina votes in the Knesset against such a decision, the government is pushing the so-called electricity bill designed to sanitize some 70,000 homes in the Arab community that were built without a permit, in violation of the planning and construction laws.

Bennett isn’t conditioning this bill on a cabinet decision (which Benny Gantz has already drafted) to authorize the young settlements, and is bouncing right, right, left, left. Unless Bennett makes a U-turn, his party, which he presented as “the real Land of Israel party,” will disappear, along with him, from the political map.