Economy Minister Naftali Bennett’s excellent English is a public relations disaster, since no one can claim afterward that his remarks were misunderstood. That he didn’t say, while being interviewed by CNN’s Wolf Blitzer after learning of the deaths of four boys on a Gaza beach, that Hamas was “committing massive self-genocide” and “butchering its own children.” In Orwellian style, Bennett spoke about Israel finding Hamas rocket launchers in Gaza hospitals. He colossally undermined Israel’s claims of self-defense, primarily through his inability to express any empathy over the deaths of the four children.
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“I would never take my own children and place them next to missile launchers,” Bennett said. But even if he doesn’t know just who and what killed those children, don’t their deaths warrant his regret, at least?
Bennett went on to talk about wanting to build an economy in the Gaza Strip emulating that of Singapore — without, of course, mentioning Israel’s Population Registry, the limited electricity supply, the shortage of desalinated water and the thwarting of every international initiative to build greenhouses or factories with European or other funding. Israel wants peace, he said, when it is at war. With his questions, Blitzer tried to offer saner-sounding formulations that take into consideration both the facts and a moral backbone, but Bennett was not to be swayed.
Bennett is very popular in Israel, but right now his ideology and his remarks are a burden. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu did not want another Operation Cast Lead on his hands, but apparently he was okay with another Operation Defensive Shield. Netanyahu also refused to allow his fanatic disparagers, who can’t imagine any peace accord and fantasize about mute and invisible Palestinians, to continue to attack him, and he fired Deputy Defense Minister Danny Danon. But Bennett is not Danon. He is the head of a large and relatively independent political party, and he is hurting Israel’s efforts to be seen as attacking for lack of an alternative. He certainly doesn’t have any vision for the day after the military operation, since he’s convinced that Hamas is butchering its own children. Bennett’s efforts to create an analogy with the Assad regime in Syria are almost pathetic. He comes off as a caricature.
Every peace-loving individual must ask: What are Netanyahu’s goals, who should be in his cabinet and what should Israel do after the ground operation? Former combat soldiers from the left, members of Breaking the Silence who read their testimonies out loud in Tel Aviv’s Habima Square, can agree with their opponents from the right, who do not support killing for its own sake, that a vision is needed for the Gaza Strip — and not a vision of military rule. What’s needed are diplomatic efforts by Israel to achieve a cease-fire, demilitarization, the shift of control to Mahmoud Abbas’s Palestinian Authority and ultimately a change of policy on the Gaza Strip.
To these ends, Netanyahu should bring the Labor Party into his coalition and remove Bennett’s Habayit Hayehudi from it. It is a dramatic, extreme measure in a time of crisis. Bennett of course “supports” Netanyahu, and Netanyahu doesn’t need Labor at this moment in order to govern. But at a time of increasing extremism in Israel and growing bitterness toward the Palestinians, when, almost ironically, Netanyahu is being attacked from the right, a national unity government should be formed. A government that will think about measures that would lead to a long-term agreement, that would bring quiet and economic well-being to Gaza, in cooperation with Abbas and under the aegis of the international community. But Israel’s economy minister doesn’t truly care about the Gazan economy. Just the opposite.
The left supported Netanyahu and praised him for his relative restraint so far. Now it’s time for him to look again at the center and the left in Israel, and to realize that the extremists won’t get him anywhere. Operation Protective Edge mustn’t be allowed to turn into quicksand.