Bennett Presents: How to Establish One State Without Ruffling Feathers

So what did we have in Prime Minister Naftali Bennett’s holiday interviews? He spoke politely to his interviewers, was careful not to anger them or the viewers at home, and handed out an abundance of credits to his ministers and coalition partners. What can we say – the very essence of change. It’s hard to believe that the polite reader of the talking points is the same Bennett who once competed with former Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu over pithy slogans. Where are the days of “no more apologies,” and “Bennett will beat Hamas,” and of course, the hit that catapulted him into government: “How to beat a pandemic.”

Now Bennett is in government and the belligerent and restless figure he presented in his campaigns is hidden in a drawer for future use. Instead, he plays the role of not-Netanyahu. We can imagine that in the preparatory conversations for the interviews marking his 100 days in office, Bennett and his advisers binge-watched Netanyahu’s interviews and practiced what not to do. But just as Netanyahu’s outbursts on television were scripted lines and not a manifestation of spontaneous emotion, so is the statesmanship of his successor. Take another valium, his coaches told him – the important thing for you is that they see you in the wood-paneled office of the prime minister and not get a single headline out of it.

Bennett took the credit himself for three issues he is dealing with: COVID-19, the Iranian nuclear program and ties with Israel’s main allies – the United States, Jordan and Egypt. All the rest he distributes generously to his ministers. For example, in an interview with Tal Shalev on the Walla website, he said this about the Gaza Strip: “The defense minister has taken upon himself to bring about a peaceful arrangement. If it works, excellent” If it fails and the Gaza Strip flares up, it will be possible to blame Defense Minister Benny Gantz, who volunteered with such gallantry to bear responsibility. Good job, Benny. And Foreign Minister Yair Lapid? He’s “focusing on his comparative edge” in the Foreign Ministry. Finance Minister Avigdor Lieberman got an excellent state budget passed, according to Bennett, and Gideon Sa’ar is altogether amazing as justice minister – a message that sounds like a dig at his embittered partner and former justice minister, Ayelet Shaked.

It’s good that Bennett respects his partners, as opposed to Netanyahu’s attitude of “me, myself and I.” He clearly doesn’t compare himself to Moses, King David and Theodor Herzl, as his predecessor did. But this modesty also means he’s passing the buck. After the escape of several Palestinian prisoners, Bennett didn’t make it all about himself and avoided dramatic speeches to the nation. Thanks to luck and resourcefulness, the crisis was resolved quickly and quietly. But if it had gone bad, those to blame would have been the ministers who dove in head first. This pattern will repeat itself in troubled times to come. The defense minister will see to defense, the finance minister to the economy and the justice minister to blocking Netanyahu’s return. That’s the way it is with Bennett. He’s just the chairman of the board, and responsibility stops below.

And yet, the most important message in Bennett’s interviews involves his policies, not his style. Bennett established a diverse coalition and linked up Zionist left-wing parties and an Islamist party. But don’t misconstrue the situation. He hasn’t adopted their positions as he remains deep in the right wing and plans West Bank annexation. Bennett wants to establish the one state that will perpetuate Israeli rule over millions of Palestinians lacking civil rights in the West Bank, East Jerusalem and Gaza. He opposes a Palestinian state and pointless talks with Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas. He mocked the defense minister who went to meet the Palestinian president in Ramallah. Gantz pestered me, so I approved it, is the way Bennett explained it.

Bennett didn’t invent the occupation or annexation. This is the reality he inherited, created before he was born. But as opposed to some of his predecessors, who at least talked about change, and sometimes tried to work toward it, he sees the status quo as a blessing and is certain that Palestinian independence will put Israel in danger – and hopes that economic crumbs will satisfy the Palestinian hunger for self-determination and national recognition. According to him, if Palestinian laborers leave for work at 6 A.M. instead of 3 or 4 A.M., they’ll feel relieved and stop sulking about the settlements, the nighttime arrests and the political oppression. What is all that compared to making minimum wage at an Israeli construction site?

Bennett understands that with President Joe Biden in the White House, and better ties with Arab countries, there’s no place for talk of “extending sovereignty” in the West Bank and provocations like the eviction of Khan al-Ahmar’s residents. He simply applies his polite style to Israel’s foreign and security policies as well. Instead of arguing with allies, he keeps them happy and gallops softly and determinedly toward one state with millions of Palestinian subjects. That is the core of his policy, which is much more important for the future of Israel than any shows of change, the statesmanship and the professionalism of the prime minister. And that’s what Bennett should be judged by.

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