Editorial

Netanyahu Just Doesn't Want to Be Eclipsed on the Right

He knows that massive construction in the settlements will turn Israel into a de facto binational state, but he just wants to survive politically in the here and now.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu (R) sits next to Education Minister Naftali Bennett during the weekly cabinet meeting at his office in Jerusalem, 30 August  2016.
Abir Sultan (Pool)

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Defense Minister Avigdor Lieberman are advancing plans to build 2,500 homes over the Green Line, but apparently two other people are really responsible for Tuesday’s announcement – U.S. President Donald Trump and Education Minister Naftali Bennett.

With Barack Obama’s exit from the White House, a new horizon has opened for the settlers. Their representatives were invited to Trump’s inauguration and the ambassador-designate, David Friedman, is considered one of them.

True, Netanyahu has warned against actions that would surprise Trump before the two leaders’ expected meeting next month. But to Netanyahu and Lieberman, construction in the settlement blocs – areas they assume will fall under Israeli sovereignty under any agreement with the Palestinians – isn’t meant to disturb the new president.

In any case, Trump isn’t the only one responsible for altering government policy. Netanyahu and Lieberman both feel Bennett’s hot breath on their necks.

The Habayit Hayehudi chairman is taking advantage of the latest preoccupation: the expected release of the state comptroller’s report on the security cabinet’s performance during the 2014 Gaza war. He’ll attack the prime minister for his deficient performance that summer. Bennett is challenging Netanyahu on the policy toward Hamas in Gaza, the quality of the war's management, and the question of its objectives.

But Bennett isn’t sufficing with that; he’s also demanding the annexation of the large settlement of Ma’aleh Adumim and the legalization of illegal construction in the West Bank. He may also well offer support to the residents of Amona against their expected eviction.

Netanyahu, already weakened by the hovering cloud of police scrutiny, understands that despite his assertion that “there will be nothing because there is nothing,” the struggle for the leadership of the right, both in his Likud party and outside it, is intensifying. Lieberman also sees the opinion polls and is trying to prove that he’s not guilty of excessive moderation.

The good of the country isn’t uppermost in the minds of Netanyahu and Lieberman. Both are constantly leaning to the right to get a sense of how the wind is blowing, since polls and the next election are more important than European condemnations or Palestinian frustrations.

It’s more important to empathize with the settlers and take into account the Yesha Council of settlements, which was very disappointed by Tuesday’s announcement. Yesha called it a “deception,” adding that “the Israeli government needs to approve all the plans currently on the table and solicit bids to build in all of Judea, Samaria and the Jordan Valley.”

Israel is in a choke hold because of narrow political considerations of survival. Netanyahu knows that massive construction in the settlements – in the settlement blocs or elsewhere – will turn Israel into a de facto binational state forced to choose between being a democratic state or an apartheid state. Netanyahu knows this but doesn’t care. He must survive; the rest just doesn’t matter.