Opinion |

The Straw That Broke Bennett's Back

Carolina Landsmann
Carolina Landsmann
PM Naftali Bennett lashes out at the Knesset last Wednesday
PM Naftali Bennett lashes out at the Knesset last WednesdayCredit: Ohad Zwigenberg
Carolina Landsmann
Carolina Landsmann

Two lawmakers, not one, collapsed Wednesday under the pressure in the Knesset over the so-called electricity bill, allowing homes built without a permit to connect to the electric grid.

Prime Minister Naftali Bennett freaked out in full view of everyone. He simply couldn’t keep it together anymore. A mental collapse. The head of the Joint List, Ayman Odeh, who abstained from voting, was admitted to Hadassah University Hospital, Ein Karem, with complaints of pressure in his chest. A physical collapse.

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This is not surprising. They both acted against their conscience. By not supporting the bill, Odeh turned his back on Israel’s Arab citizens. Not all Joint List MKs did the same. Ahmad Tibi, Osama Saadi (Ta'al) and Sami Abu Shehadeh (Balad) set aside petty politics at the moment of truth and voted Yea.

Bennett turned his back on the settlers. It’s worth noting what broke him: the calls of “shame” by opposition members at him and his settler colleagues in the coalition, after his own Yamina party’s Nir Orbach voted against their reservation demanding the connection of young settlements to the grid. Bennett defended Orbach; he charged his detractors with failing to see to the “young settlements” (as they call them) when they were in power and reminded them for the millionth time that Benjamin Netanyahu had voted for the disengagement from the Gaza Strip. In other words, who are you to preach to me, hypocrites.

There’s only one problem with that comparison. It misses the point. Netanyahu is many things, but he’s not a “Greater Israel” adherent. His support for the disengagement from Gaza, even if it doesn’t look good on his resume and has provided ammunition to his opponents, is not tantamount to betraying his conscience. Netanyahu is not an annexationist. It’s no accident that when the Likud Central Committee voted four years ago to impose Israeli sovereignty in the territories, Netanyahu was absent. He had to be somewhere else at that very moment.

Netanyahu ran his governments by means of external opposing forces. The settlers pulled to the right, the left (in the opposition, in the High Court of Justice, in the media and the Arabs, of course) pulled to the left. The United States under a Democratic administration and the European Union pushed against annexation and in favor of a two-state solution, and Netanyahu and his government were seemingly trapped between two opposing forces: I want to go right, but I’m being blocked. It’s not me, it’s the High Court. It’s Bill Clinton. Barack Obama. The anti-Semitic Europeans, may their name be erased.

Then came Donald Trump and ruined everything. In his readiness to go along with Netanyahu, rather than against him, he broke the tensions of forces that held Netanyahu’s rule in place. Without the American pressure, there was no one to counterbalance the right’s demand to annex and to advance far-right policy.

In terms of depth processes, Netanyahu fell because the penny dropped for the pro-annexation right. He didn’t keep his promise to implement sovereignty, despite having everything that was required: a strictly rightist government, Trump in the White House, a settler U.S. ambassador and a settler justice – Noam Sohlberg – in the High Court. How come he didn’t annex? Oh, and of course, the evacuation of Khan al-Ahmar, which even the High Court had approved and urged the government to do it already.

Bennett established a government that contains all the tensions: The left is inside, the Arabs are inside. As a result there’s no opposition from the left. That means no resistance from the left. Bennett doesn’t have what Netanyahu had – external forces pushing in opposite directions, neutralizing him and preventing him from moving right or left as he had said he would.

The world is busy with the coronavirus, the United States is rehabilitating its global standing after the damage Trump caused and the “leftist” media is busy mainly with self-censorship, silencing any voice critical of the government on the left – God forbid we should contribute to Netanyahu’s return.

The fear is understandable. The problem is that this government remained exposed only to pressure from the right. And when the internal pressure increases, sometimes people collapse.

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