Israel’s Education Minister Naftali Bennett is in New York to make Israel Great[er] Again. He spent Monday meeting with three members of Trump’s transition team in attempt to push them to re-examine the longstanding American policy of supporting a two-state solution.
This is exactly what Netanyahu feared when Trump was elected- that Bennett would go behind his back to advance the Israeli right’s goal of annexing the West Bank. Trump is still two months away from assuming office, but Netanyahu’s headache has already begun. Consequently, the Prime Minister issued a directive against Israeli ministers contacting Trump’s team. It read: I would like to inform you that by the directive of the prime minister, the ministers and deputy ministers are required to not make any contact with the incoming U.S. administration, other than through the Prime Minister’s Office or the Israeli Embassy in Washington.
Bennett told Ha’aretz that he had travelled to New York for routine business meetings. This included attending the ZOA gala, where Trump strategist Stephen Bannon was slated to be honored but was a no-show, as well as other meetings fulfilling his role as Minister for Diaspora Affairs.
From using Israel’s education system as a political tool, to advancing legislation to legalize settlements, Bennett has done all that is within his capacity to advance the goal of annexation- and now, he sees a golden opportunity. Trump’s election is the best thing that could have happened to the Israeli right, and Bennett knows this is a once in a lifetime political opportunity – having a U.S. government that is more right-wing than Benjamin Netanyahu. A government that will seemingly give Israel the right to destroy itself.
Bennett’s plan to annex the West Bank is driven by his religious ideology. His thinking is not rational, it ignores pragmatic policy or Israeli security concerns, and relies on his commitment to the Old Testament. It is simple: if Israel decides to claim sovereignty over the West Bank and Gaza, it will control 4.5 million more Palestinians, in addition to the 1.5 million currently living in Israel. 6.3 million Jews and 6 million Palestinians will be under Israel’s control. In less than ten years, Israel will be one of two things, an apartheid state or an Arab state.
Bennett’s plan takes this widely-shared calculation into consideration when he proposes expanding area A (in other words letting Palestinians control their major cities). There are two problems here: Palestinians would never accept this proposal, and it would cement Israel’s place in the world as an apartheid state. A claim that not even the best Israel advocate could defend.
Last Friday, he posted a dvar torah on his Facebook page about the weekly Torah portion “Lech-Lecha.” Describing how G-d promises to Abraham the entire, greater land of Israel, he continues, “So there may be missiles, here and there and there may be Arabs, here and there but we must realize that this entire land it ours: from beginning, middle, and end.” I greatly respect Bennett’s religious observance but the idea that God’s promise to Abraham should shape Israeli policy is troubling.
Netanyahu fears this, and though a hawk, he is not a religious ideologue who is ready to kill the two-state solution. He truly knows that a two-state solution is the only way to keep Israel Jewish and democratic.
If anything is going to kill the two-state solution, it is making policy decisions that are driven by a dangerous religious ideology. Naftali Bennett is the leader of the Jewish Home party, which ironically, is doing its very best to transform Israel into the Arab Home. Let’s make sure this doesn’t happen.