In marmur

Sarah Netanyahu’s reputed objections to Naftali Bennett joining her husband’s government – after the near-spectacular success of Bennett’s Habayit Hayehudi party in last year’s elections – may have been vindicated, even though her opposition was personal and the present rift between the prime minister and Bennett is ideological and political.

Netanyahu has been quoted as saying, with an eye on Kerry’s current efforts, that in a peace agreement with the Palestinians, Jewish settlers who’ll find themselves outside the jurisdiction of the State of Israel (it’s assumed that most settlements would stay inside Israel) should be able to live in the Palestinian state. In the same way as there’re Arabs (Palestinians) in Israel now, Jewish Israelis should be able to reside in the new Palestine.

Bennett, whose party is the de facto political wing of the settlers in the West Bank, erupted in protest saying something to the effect that Jews haven’t returned to their land to be ruled by the chairman of the Palestinian Authority. Netanyahu wasn’t amused and may have said something to the effect that if his minister doesn’t like it, he can take his party and leave the government.

However, this doesn’t necessarily mean that Netanyahu disagrees with Bennett. It seems that the prime minister’s statement about Jews living in Palestine was a tactical move intended to show the world that the Palestinians won’t compromise; that despite its efforts to compromise and make sacrifices, Israel has no partner. Netanyahu counted on vehement opposition to his suggestion from Palestinians, which indeed came.

But Bennett’s opposition stole Netanyahu’s thunder. To which the former is cited to have said that the prime minister could have shared his scheme with his cabinet and thus avoid the present confrontation. With my customary ignorance of the relevant facts, I interpret this to mean that Bennett isn’t keen to leave the government out of fear that Labour might replace his party and thus cramp the style of settlers while advancing peace with the Palestinians. A retreat by Bennett is, therefore, on the cards.

A possible reason for Netanyahu’s tactical move – if, indeed, that what it was – is the growing pressure, especially from the European Union, for Israel to yield to the Palestinians. There seems to be a concerted effort to boycott anything that comes from or is connected to the West Bank settlements. This is likely to harm all of Israel, both politically and economically.

The general sense in this country about the growing anti-Semitism in Europe – and not only in the familiar guise of opposition to Israeli policies – heightens the sense of urgency to deal with the Europeans. Perhaps if Israel can’t appease them, it should at least show them that it’s doing all it can to accommodate the Palestinians and it’s the Palestinians that are unreasonable and intransigent.

All this becomes especially urgent in view of the perceived weakness of the United States and the growing disappointment with Obama’s inability to live up to his excellent speeches. Doubts about Kerry’s efforts are of the same ilk.

Netanyahu’s reputed concerns may, therefore, be justified, but the way things are handled here smells of what friends might call lack of communication but what more sober analysts may rightly label as incompetence. The fact that the country functions as well as it does despite its political leadership remains a miracle.

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