Defense Minister Naftali Bennett is acting like someone who believes his appointment was not merely an empty gesture, one aimed at filling a crack in the “right-wing bloc” that, for a moment, threatened Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s strategy for entrenching his rule. At the rate he’s been making declarations during his three weeks in the post, by the next election Bennett may bomb Tehran, or at least declare that he will.
After he announced a more aggressive policy in Gaza and Syria and an ambitious goal – removing Iran’s military presence from Syria; stopped the return of terrorists’ bodies to the Palestinians; masqueraded as the liberator of the Iranian people by calling on Israeli computer experts to develop an alternative way for Iranians to connect to the internet after the regime cut them off, Bennett has now turned to advancing projects for the settlers in the wholesale market area in Hebron.
After more than two decades of right-wing settler hallucinations about establishing “territorial contiguity from the Cave of the Patriarchs to the Avraham Avinu neighborhood,” Bennett is exploiting his five minutes in the Defense Ministry to ignore a years-long dispute and give his approval to the desired planning process. He’s acting as if he isn’t defense minister in a transitional government that’s operating essentially with no Knesset, at a time when Israel is at a governmental impasse from which it is unclear how or if it will emerge.
The army objects to Bennett’s moves, which are perceived as a blatant promotion of settler interests. But why should that stop him and his dreams of annexation? Why should the leadership crisis stop the settlers’ champion from deciding on his own that the Hebron market buildings, which belong to the Hebron municipality but have been empty for 25 years, should be demolished and replaced by new stores and 70 apartments for Jews? And if he already has the lottery ticket that landed him in the Defense Ministry, why shouldn’t he bend the status quo at the Cave of the Patriarchs and install an elevator to provide access to the disabled?
These processes will presumably take time and generate lots of opposition. The settlers – through the IDF and the government – had already undermined commercial activity in the Hebron market when they surrounded the area with Jewish neighborhoods. That’s how it is in Hebron, where the needs of 800 settlers paralyze and disrupt the routine of a quarter-million Palestinians.
Still, Bennett’s declarations, which have turned the Defense Ministry into a headquarters for the next election campaign, provide a glimpse into everything a right-wing-settler “bloc” government is dreaming of. When the partner is a prime minister who can be squeezed and who trades in security assets and the state’s future for coalition-building purposes, these dreams are liable to become a nightmarish reality.
The above article is Haaretz’s lead editorial, as published in the Hebrew and English newspapers in Israel.