It came as no surprise that Economy Minister Naftali Bennett so harshly attacked Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu for the latter’s remark that settlers should be allowed to remain in their homes under Palestinian rule. Bennett, who is also the chairman of Habayit Hayehudi, is the emissary of the settlers in the government and as such he must protect those who sent him, who see any agreement to be signed with the Palestinians as a “irrationality of values.”
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What is more worrisome is the statement released by the prime minister’s bureau that Bennett is “impeding the prime minister’s effort to show that the real obstacle to peace is the Palestinian Authority.” There is no other way to understand this statement than as Netanyahu’s official admission that his actions and statements are an ongoing attempt to sabotage negotiations between the Israelis and the Palestinians brokered by U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry.
Netanyahu was not angry about the fact that Bennett’s hysterical statements harmed the negotiations to which the Israeli government is committed, but that Bennett is thwarting a tactical move whose purpose is to present the Palestinians as “obstacles to peace.” In fact, the prime minister is complaining about the fact that officials at home are not allowing him to carry out maneuvers, feints and deceptions of the international community with the goal of sinking any future agreement.
This devious tactic is backed up by Netanyahu’s doublespeak. He told Israeli journalists on Friday at the Davos conference that he did not intend “to uproot a single Israeli,” while on Monday his bureau conveyed to foreign reporters that Netanyahu thinks that settlers who want to remain in their homes should be allowed do so under Palestinian rule after the signing of a peace agreement. Ostensibly there is no contradiction between the two statements, but in fact Netanyahu is trying to “sell” the world a peace-seeking position and to Israelis, an obdurate one.
Whether Netanyahu’s motives are fear of the settler right that controls his party and of the national camp in general, or he himself does not believe in the peace process, Netanyahu must cease obfuscating Israeli policy and attempting to push the Palestinians to cut off negotiations. The Israeli public, like the Palestinians and the international community, should be able to know what the prime minister’s true position is. If he cannot or does not want to conduct negotiations sincerely and seriously, he should say so now because even a late shattering of an illusion could extract a high security and economic cost.