Habayit Hayehudi leader Naftali Bennett said last week that “we must give our lives” for the annexation of the West Bank to Israel. This isn’t an eccentric zealot or a rabbi who sends the so-called hilltop youth to attack Palestinians and their property. It’s the education minister, a member of the security cabinet and the leader of a party in the goverjining coalition.
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We “have to move from a holding action to a decisive action,” said Bennett, who likes to use military terms and wax nostalgic over his military service. He also urged Israelis to “mark the dream – Judea and Samaria will be part of sovereign Israel. We must act today and give our lives” for the cause.
Bennett was speaking at a conference in Jerusalem in memory of settler leader Hanan Porat, one of the Gush Emunim leaders who clashed with Labor governments in the ‘70s over the West Bank settlements. Bennett used the historical context to outflank Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on the right and criticize him over the plans to evacuate the illegal outpost Amona by the end of the year.
Under heavy international pressure, Netanyahu is seeking a solution to the delay in evacuating Amona, which reflects ongoing contempt for the law and the High Court of Justice. As prime minister, he is seeking a compromise between the court’s ruling and the settlers, who are threatening him.
Bennett is signaling to Netanyahu and Defense Minister Avigdor Lieberman that, with no inhibitions, he indeed plans to lead the right wing against the government, which is obliged to carry out the Supreme Court’s order.
The Arab equivalent to “giving one’s life” is jihad, which can be interpreted as a general sacrifice but also a holy war in which one kills and is killed for a religious or national cause.
Bennett, then, is not sufficing with the Palestinian enclaves among the settlements, Bantustans – the apartheid vision that the settlers have imposed on Israel. Instead, he’s ready for a bloody war, a civil war, between Israelis who object to the settlements’ evacuation and support annexation, and those who seek to end the conflict with the Palestinians with an agreed compromise involving evacuation and withdrawal.
Bennett is allowed to believe that evacuating settlements is something he cannot accept as a minister and leave the government. Netanyahu reached a similar conclusion 11 years ago after he retracted his support for Ariel Sharon’s decision to evacuate Gaza and the northern West Bank. But Bennett isn’t allowed to use the rhetoric of a theocratic jihadi state.
To gain votes and Knesset seats at the expense of other rightist parties, Bennett is willing to endanger civilians, police and soldiers. This is Israel’s education minister who, together with the justice minister from his party, Ayelet Shaked, controls a quarter of the security cabinet’s votes. This is his message for the Jewish New Year.