After 12 years with Benjamin Netanyahu at the helm, Israel is still afflicted with the malady he bequeathed it: doing one thing while, without batting an eyelash, saying the exact opposite in public.
Just like Netanyahu could hold coalition talks with the United Arab List while feeding the public the lie that these are “supporters of terror” who are ruled out as partners, so is the contact with the Palestinian Authority a fact on the one hand and a political taboo on the other. In the Israel of 2021, it has become perfectly reasonable to hold completely overt talks with Hamas, even mobilizing funds for the organization, while not revealing to anyone that we’re also talking with Mahmoud Abbas.
The open meeting of Defense Minister Benny Gantz with the Palestinian president in Ramallah, even with no one daring to release a photograph, was intended to weaken the deception that has taken root among Israelis – that there isn’t, and mustn’t be, any conversation with the PA. The truth is obviously the opposite: Relations, imbalanced as they may be, are tighter than ever, both between the governments and on the ground.
After all, it’s impossible to live in this region without cooperating at some level in security, economics, civilian affairs – in all walks of life. Israeli governments have an interest in both dominating the PA and preventing its downfall.
After years in which Netanyahu insisted on concealing these ties as much as possible, giving most of the work to the defense and finance ministries (does anyone remember Moshe Kahlon?), the current government is doing the obvious, taking these relations out of the closet. Only this way can we deal with the problem created by the former government: the bolstering of Hamas at the expense of the PA.
As much as this move is obvious, reflecting a reality that any sensible person can see is unavoidable, so is the particularly infantile response by Prime Minister Naftali Bennett to recent events disappointing.
“The Gantz-Abbas meeting was approved in advance by the prime minister,” he said. “This was a meeting on ongoing defense issues concerning the Palestinian Authority. No diplomatic process is being conducted with the Palestinians, nor will there be one.”
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Translation: “I’m the prime minister and I approve things. We only talked to Abbas about security issues – security is important, you’re allowed to discuss it. So don’t worry, we’re not talking to them about peace, heaven forbid, and we never will.”
Bennett is a prime minister who particularly shouldn’t be engaging in populist pandering to his base – for the simple reason that he has no base. He’s a prime minister who assumed power due to unique circumstances while holding a tiny number of Knesset seats.
And yet, instead of being a bold leader, as the circumstances allow him if he so wished, he insists on assuaging voters he doesn’t have over something that’s not only unavoidable, but is also the right thing to do.
Instead of emulating Netanyahu’s hypocrisy in these matters, Bennett should tell the public the truth: We have no way of ignoring the PA, nor should we; it lives among us and alongside us, which will always be the case. We need to find a solution to the conflict, not flee from one. History has given me an exceptional opportunity to work without being tied down by populist commitments, and I will use this for the future of us all.
But he’s incapable of doing this. He is captive to his imaginary base.