Netanyahu Must Not Give in to Bennett on His Coalition’s Right Wing

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Naftali Bennett, left, and Benjamin Netanyahu. They're heating things up. Credit: Olivier Fitoussi

The list is long: tension in Jerusalem, the unstable relationship with Washington (which this month condemned the construction plan for the city’s Givat Hamatos neighborhood) and the plan afoot in the European Union to impose sanctions, in part because of construction across the Green Line. None of this has stopped the government from heating things up.

This week the Jerusalem District Planning and Building Committee will meet to discuss a plan to build 1,600 housing units in Ramat Shlomo across the Green Line. The plan already sparked a diplomatic crisis with the U.S. administration when it was approved back in 2010.

If the government were acting logically it would, at least for the moment, work to calm things down. It would shun provocative steps and try to prevent violence, the taking of more victims, and international sanctions.

Instead, forces on the right are heating things up to the point of a third intifada that would start in Jerusalem. Calls to change the status quo on the Temple Mount, construction plans across the Green Line and settlers’ takeover of more and more houses in East Jerusalem ratchet up tensions in the city and rattle Israel’s relationship with the United States and its other friends around the world.

This wanton behavior is being led by the party that controls the government and sets its extreme policy – Habayit Hayehudi. This party doesn’t just turn up the flame in Jerusalem, it demands that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu turn it up high.

Economy Minister Naftali Bennett and Housing and Construction Minister Uri Ariel threatened last week that if the “tacit freeze” on construction in the territories does not end, they will leave the coalition. Habayit Hayehudi is proving once again that the security of Israel and its citizens is not its top priority, but rather the fulfillment of the settlers’ messianic vision.

Despite this party’s electoral power, its policies do not reflect the will of most Israelis. They do not want another intifada in exchange for takeovers of space in the heart of Palestinian communities.

Netanyahu must fill the leadership vacuum into which Bennett and Ariel are forcing themselves. His mandate as prime minister obligates him to protect Israel, not calculate his chances of reelection and try to satisfy the settler lobby.

He must act now to calm things down and freeze all construction plans in the territories. If Bennett and Ariel make good on their threats, not only will Israel, currently in the settlers’ thrall, be the better for it, so will Netanyahu.