Since taking office in June, Prime Minister Naftali Bennett has announced at every opportunity that “There will be no diplomatic process with the Palestinians.” The goal is to improve their socioeconomic situation, a development he believes will bring stability and reduce violence. There will be no discussion of national rights, of borders, of the issue of Jerusalem, and certainly not of the right of return.
Israel will continue to control the land, airspace, water resources, and the Palestinian population registry. That is the reality to which the Palestinians – in the West Bank and to some extent also in the Gaza Strip – must accustom themselves. Anyone who dares to resist will pay for it, but if the Palestinians behave, they will get access to 4G internet. If they step up the security coordination with Israel and keep Gaza quiet, they’ll even receive economic compensation. In short: Eat, drink, and be merry (in your own cities) – but forget your dreams of statehood.
This is the model that the right in general and Bennett in particular want to impress on the soul of every Palestinian, the model that is also applied to the Arab community in Israel: yes to money and civil rights, no to national rights. This formula is supposed to guarantee supremacy to Israel as a Jewish and Zionist state for generations to come. But Bennett and his partners must understand that the decision not to renew the negotiations is, like any unilateral step, also a policy.
The Palestinians are all too familiar with this thesis. It was considered as far back as 1917, and formulated in the Balfour Declaration as follows: “His Majesty’s Government view with favor the establishment in Palestine of a national home for the Jewish people, and will … [endeavor] to facilitate the achievement of this object, it being clearly understood that nothing shall be done which may prejudice the civil and religious rights of existing non-Jewish communities in Palestine.” Civil and religious rights and nothing more. Israel’s successive governments merely preserved this formula, with American backing.
Bennett – a true man of the right, a former chair of the Yesha Council of settlements – cannot break this formula, despite the fact that his government includes and is dependent on Meretz and the United Arab List, and that Donald Trump is no longer in the White House. Not even the shift in global public opinion, including the Jews of Europe and the United States, will change him.
The prime minister can repress the fact that the international climate of opinion no longer sees the Palestinians as kaffiyeh-wearing terrorists who are a threat to the stability of the enlightened world, but rather as human beings who are deserving of national self-determination and fundamental rights. (It’s not a coincidence that the term “apartheid” permeates every lecture or conference on the topic.) He finds it easy to claim that the boycott movement and the International Court of Justice don’t frighten him. After all, none of this perturbs the average Israeli, either. But Bennett and his coalition partners ignore one thing: The Palestinians still live under occupation, and the disintegrating Gaza Strip is not about to be emptied of its inhabitants.
Bennett, understand this: While the right is counting settlers in the West Bank and talking about reinforcing the settlement enterprise that is beyond the Green Line, the Palestinian side is counting the number of Palestinians between the Mediterranean Sea and the Jordan River, in the hope that natural demography will create a new reality. Not only Bennett, but everyone seeking to hide behind him will be partner to this: Yair Lapid, Benny Gantz, Merav Michaeli and Mansour Abbas. Those who follow the path paved by Benjamin Netanyahu will one day tell their grandchildren how they contributed to the establishment of a single state between the sea and the river – Isratine.