Opinion |

How to Shake Off Israel’s Far-right Party

Benjamin Netanyahu has received a rare opportunity: to join Donald Trump's diplomatic initiative and rid himself of his biggest headache

Iris Leal
Iris Leal
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Education Minister Naftali Bennett and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in Tel Aviv, November 2017.
Education Minister Naftali Bennett and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in Tel Aviv, November 2017.Credit: Moti Milrod
Iris Leal
Iris Leal

Let’s lay our skepticism aside for the moment and pretend that what was said during the UN meeting of Donald Trump and Benjamin Netanyahu reflects their true intentions and stands a chance of being realized. And in the spirit of the Sukkot holiday, let’s go even further and assume that Netanyahu had advance warning of the “two-state solution” frog that erupted from Trump’s mouth, with Bibi expressing a willingness to swallow it.

Now let’s take another step, on the brink of hallucination, and observe the period since Trump said in February 2017: “I am looking at two-state, and one-state, and I like the one that both parties like,” as if this were a systematic plan that was rolled out slowly and turned out to be the promised “deal of the century.” After we have taken all these steps and placed in brackets the “leftist’s dilemma,” as Haaretz Editor-in-Chief Aluf Benn called it late last week, the anticipation of good news becomes palpable.

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At such an early stage, anyone who objects to advancing the process will be exposed in his true colors. Most observers believe it will be the Palestinian leadership, either Fatah or Hamas, that will reject any proposal for ending the conflict, dividing the land or giving up the right of return for Palestinian refugees. But the chairman of the Habayit Hayehudi party, Education Minister Naftali Bennett, was the first to declare that his party won’t be part of any government that agreed to the establishment of a Palestinian state, saying that would be “a disaster for Israel.”

As I understand it, Habayit Hayehudi and its eccentric Knesset members such as Bezalel Smotrich and its two ambitious leaders, Bennett and Justice Minister Ayelet Shaked, are the real danger to Israel — not to use that charged word “disaster.” Thus the prime minister has received a rare opportunity: to join, with goodwill, the diplomatic initiative of his American patron and rid himself of one of the biggest headaches of his last two governments.

That can happen, obviously, only if Trump launches his plan before the next Israeli election. Only then will Netanyahu be able to present it to Israeli voters on his own terms, casting Bennett in the thankless role of the perpetual wrench thrown into the works.

>> Read more: Netanyahu Backs Future Palestinian State, Reigniting the Leftist’s Dilemma | Analysis

A society that chooses to wallow in the post-traumatic stress of the Oslo Accords, at the price of giving up any hope for a change, had suddenly been given a small gift: the possibility of envisioning a diplomatic process with genuine negotiations while returning Bennett’s annexation plans to the attic.

Such a society has no need for a small, ultranationalist party with disproportionate power whose sole purpose is to perpetuate Israeli rule over another people, refuse to recognize its right to self-determination, sever it from its agricultural land and annex 60 percent of the West Bank. It can go back to the good old days of being a moribund party that reeked of mothballs called the National Religious Party.

Perhaps we’ve let our imagination run wild, but why not? If Netanyahu keeps the positive tone he took after his meeting with Trump, or even if he accepts the American offer halfheartedly, one thing is sure: He can sell the proposal to Israelis and Bennett can go hang.

That really would be having a bird in the hand and a bird in the bush, because the simple truth is that Habayit Hayehudi and Bennett owe their political future to Netanyahu’s conflict-management policy and that Israelis want to see a good offer on the table. A peace process will do to Bennett what garlic does to vampires, and that’s a lovely possibility.

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