Naftali Bennett's Gaza Warmongering

Bennett's bluster is no substitute for the worthy efforts the government is making to achieve calm, and Netanyahu ought to say so

Smoke rises from an explosion caused by an Israeli airstrike on Said al-Mis'hal cultural center in Gaza City, August 9, 2018.
Arafat Ooda,AP

Education Minister Naftali Bennett is convinced that Israel’s indirect negotiations with Hamas over a long-term truce in the Gaza Strip are sowing the seeds of disaster.

Defense Minister Avigdor Lieberman “chose surrender that will lead to war,” Bennett warned last week. “His irresolution, and the delusional belief – that talking to Gaza residents will bring down Hamas and bring security to the residents of the Gaza border – are complete nonsense and irresponsible.” He termed the decision to negotiate a “weak policy ... under the guise of responsibility and pragmatism.”

Aside from noting this unusual personal attack by one cabinet minister on a different member of the same dangerous government, which was aimed mainly at Bennett’s far-right base, it’s important to examine these statements on their merits.

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Bennett has no tested idea for producing the permanent quiet that Israelis desire. For years, the army has employed its capabilities to the utmost, carrying out thousands of attacks from the ground and the air, assassinating Palestinian leaders and imposing a brutal closure on the Gaza Strip’s two million residents. After each of these operations, successive Israeli governments promised that “this time, Hamas has suffered a permanent blow,” only to discover that the permanent blow was actually temporary, that Gaza continued to rise up against the Israeli occupation rather than against the Hamas government and that Hamas has become the responsible governing authority in Gaza.

This time, too, after Israel has attacked some 150 targets in Gaza, we’ll discover that the solution to the Gaza crisis and the possibility of calm lie not in military power, but in what is now termed an “arrangement.” It’s true that a cease-fire is no substitute for a peace agreement, and it’s not clear how long such an understanding, if and when it is reached, will actually last. But when we’re talking about a national conflict that cannot be solved through political means in the foreseeable future, even temporary quiet would be an achievement, as proven by the period of calm that lasted for four years after the 2014 Gaza war, which also ended with an “arrangement.”

If Bennett believes Israel should reoccupy the Gaza Strip, fight from street to street and house to house, cause countless deaths on both sides, administer the Strip directly and pay for all its civilian services, he should say so explicitly. But if that’s his position, the right address for his attack isn’t the defense minister, but the prime ministers and all the other members of the security cabinet and, no less, the army’s chief of staff.

But Bennett prefers to throw sand in the public’s eyes, launch verbal incendiary balloons and trade in dangerous, nonsensical ideas in order to reap political capital. Bennett’s bluster is no substitute for the worthy efforts the government is making to achieve calm, and the prime minister ought to say so clearly.

The above article is Haaretz’s lead editorial, as published in the Hebrew and English newspapers in Israel.