Anyone who followed Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s efforts to form a new government would have been liable to think they were witnessing professional bartering over minsterial portfolios, government budgets and positions of power among shrewd negotiators. That, however, was only what appeared on the surface.
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Beyond what met the eye, something entirely different was going on: Israel was coming face-to-face with an untenable situation with regard to a sustainable political structure. Neither a government of 67 seats in the 120-seat Knesset, nor the 61-seat government that Netanyahu ultimately formed, will manage to hold on for an entire term rather than breaking up and precipitating a new round of elections (other than in a situation in which everyone would unite for a time over a round of military hostilities).
This situation is a direct result of Habayit Hayehudi party leader Naftali Bennett telling the truth. This process of finally revealing Israel’s political truths has been contagious and has taken hold of the entire political system. Since 1967, it had been an accepted assumption that Israel was holding onto the occupied territories as a bargaining chip for a future peace agreement. That was not only Israel’s official position, but also the conclusion that could have been drawn from the country’s decision not to annex most of the territories that it had conquered.
Control over the Palestinian people always appeared to be a temporary situation that Israel was seeking ways to end. When the left claimed that the right wing didn’t want peace, the right explained that it in fact did want peace and was interested in ending Israeli control over the Palestinians, but only when security arrangements were worked out that would allay its fears. In other words, the right was simply seeking to be the one to represent the country’s interests in negotiations with the Palestinians.
The political system organized around this narrative, which from a critical, retrospective view looks like a methodical lie. But all of this was shattered when Bennett revealed his view that Israel and the Palestinians are not in a process leading anywhere. Israel will not return territories, and the Palestinians – other than about 50,000 whom Bennett proposes giving Israeli citizenship to – are to simply remain under Israeli control. In other words, millions of stateless people will live under Israeli military rule.
Following Bennett, and apparently in an effort to appeal to Bennett’s Habayit Hayehudi electorate, Netanyahu declared a few days before the March 17 Knesset election that if he was reelected, there would be no Palestinian state. The election therefore was dominated by the possibility – articulated by Bennett and adopted by the prime minister – of continued military control over the Palestinian people until further notice, and without apology. In light of the new diplomatic option placed on the map of reality, the political system had to reorganize.
The problem, however, is that a country that professes to be democratic is not entitled to decide to control millions of human beings by force. The possibility presented by Bennett and adopted by the right wing is impossible.
The solution to the problem cannot be that there is no solution. In addition, the very proposition that “no solution” is a legitimate option does away with the idea that the status quo is only temporary “until there is peace.” Who would now believe Israel when it declares that it seeks peace without taking concrete steps to relieve the historic entanglement between Israelis and Palestinians?
Bennett, who was the first to articulate the right wing’s diplomatic horizon, and Netanyahu, who embraced the spirit of his faithful student, sealed the grave of historic movement in any direction, and in doing so they have brought disaster upon the country, because the fates of the two peoples are intertwined. If there is no solution to the Palestinian problem, there is no future for the Israeli state. Until Israelis manage to understand this, they will continue doling out cabinet portfolios among themselves every few months.