- Sovereignty Journal Editors' note: the interview with Minister Bennett (head of The Jewish Home party) was held before the latest blow-up of political negotiations between Israel and the PA and the reconciliation deal between Abu Mazen and Hamas.
Just before his official entry into the political system, Minister of Economy Naftali Bennett, head of the Jewish Home party, issued his proposed policy entitled "The Israel Stability Initiative," the main thrust of which is the gradual annexation of the territories of Judea and Samaria and ending the Jewish-Arab conflict. From a recent conversation with him, more than a year after his entry into the government, it is clear that Bennett has apparently found no reason to change anything in his plan. "What I saw from there, I see from here as well," he tells us.
"The plan is based on the understanding that we must not and can not establish a Palestinian state within the Land of Israel, but we also must not and cannot incorporate two million Palestinians within the State of Israel and we cannot have two different classes of people in any given territory," Bennet begins, and presents the principles that led him to formulate the plan.
"The solution called 'The Stability Initiative' entails the application of sovereignty over Area C, which constitutes 60 percent of the territories of Judea and Samaria, an area where approximately four hundred thousand Jews live and about seventy thousand Arabs. We will offer a choice between residency and citizenship to those seventy thousand Arabs. In my estimation," he says, "almost all will choose residency and not citizenship, however, even if they all choose citizenship, this number of Arabs will not represent demographic ramifications."
And what about the rest of the territory?
"Regarding this territory we will establish Palestinian autonomy, this is an area in which two million Arabs live and not a single Jew."
Would this Palestinian autonomy actually be freezing the current situation as it is?
"In general, yes, but with the addition of contiguity of transit and not sovereignty. This will allow the Palestinians freedom of movement in Judea and Samaria. In my estimation this is the sore point. We understand that neither the Jews nor the Arabs in Judea and Samaria are going to disappear and since there is no magic solution we must arrive at the situation where the fabric of life is improved for everyone. Today, thank G-d, we travel on the same roads and I am not suggesting that we make separate roads for the Jews and the Arabs but rather to continue using the same infrastructure and the same roads."
So who actually does know how to make peace?
Minister Bennet sees the shared roads as another proof of the geo-political absurdity that we live in. "After all, it is the Jews of Judea and Samaria who know better than anyone how to coexist and this is the great absurdity. Why, who is it that sits in the traffic jams together everyday with the Arabs? The Geneva Initiative crowd from Tel Aviv? No. It is the residents of Ofrah and Eli and the rest of Benjamin who sit in the traffic jams at Adam Junction. Who shops together in Rami Levi supermarkets in Gush Etzion and in Sha'ar Benjamin? And who works together in the industrial area of Barkan or Mishor Adumim? Actually, it is the settlers who are making peace the most, in a practical way, even if not with the greatest love, and they can teach the left what true peace is."
"There is no great love in the air but most of the Jews recognize the fact that the Arabs are not going to disappear and also most of the Arabs recognize the fact that the Jews are not going to disappear. In this sense I believe in strengthening the dynamic, in improving the transportation infrastructure, the economy and the industrial areas in Judea and Samaria."
You describe your plan as one that is good for Israel as well as the Arabs. That's nice, perhaps, but the Arabs will tell you that they don't want it. They want a state and a place at the UN.
"So they want it. We want to live, we are a country that desires life and has no other land and ironically, because this land belongs to us and we recognize that there are two million Arabs in Judea and Samaria, we realize that we must give them a suitable and honorable answer."
"There are more than a few voices from the Palestinian territory who say that they do not trust the Palestinian Authority and do not want a Palestinian state because of the corruption and we represent an alternative. It is clear to me that it is not a perfect alternative but compared to the others it seems good to me."
What is the overall, practical solution that you see for the future?
"Long range, it is not impossible that Jordan will gradually become a sort of Palestine if only because seventy percent of the Jordanians are of Palestinian origin. I would see this process as a desirable one and, in my opinion, this is already happening. This is a long range process, but meanwhile we must not ruin what was already achieved in the field and we must surely, surely prevent the establishment of a Palestinian state west of Jordan at any cost."
Your plan to divide the territory into Areas A, B and C reinforces the terms of Oslo.
"The plan regarding the remainder of the territory speaks about autonomy that does not include security control. I know what the reality is. I do not want the Israeli civil administration to return to conduct life for the Palestinian residents of Judea and Samaria. I have no interest in deciding where Arab children will go to school and I am not interested in collecting taxes from them and controlling their daily lives. I believe that the present situation is alright."
The world will not recognize our declaration? It did not recognize previous declarations either.
Bennett does not sound especially concerned even when he is asked about the world's expected reaction to a plan of this sort after decades during which the vision of two states has been fixed in international consciousness as the only logical and reasonable plan.
"The world will not recognize the Israeli declaration of sovereignty over Area C just as it did not recognize the application of sovereignty in the Golan Heights or in the Old City in Jerusalem. So there will be another place that they don't recognize sovereignty," Bennett says dismissively and immediately focuses on the importance of the plan inside Israeli society.
"If we recognize Area C as sovereign territory that belongs to the State of Israel, the Israeli public will gradually feel that it is Israeli territory, and the public will come there more and all of the questions will disappear, but this is a process."
"I do not accept the approach that 'Things you see from there, you don't see from here.' I believe the opposite, things that you see from here you also see from there. From the seat of government, things appear exactly the same. On the contrary, from here, I see even more how correct our approach is."
"The present government under the leadership of Netanyahu desires the establishment of a Palestinian state. It is no secret that we object to this and will not lend our support. I am presenting an alternative because I believe that at the end of the day, the present process will not be realized, and when the present process comes to an end, everyone will ask 'what now?' -- and therefore, we must already prepare the answer."
Bennett is convinced that in order to promote the plan, it is particularly important to prepare the infrastructure in the sphere of international public relations. He explains the connection between these things. "It is very clear to me that we must create an international system against de-legitimization of Israel. Something appalling is happening here. Even the Left does not expect peace. Even Tzipi Livni has stopped claiming that there will be a peace agreement. I spoke with her about this and here is a scoop for you: Even she claims that an agreement will not bring peace. When you then ask why do all of this she says that the objective is that we will not be isolated in the world. That is, no one claims that the process will bring peace or security. On the contrary, they know that this process will bring missiles and all of the disasters that may happen, but they are convinced that there is no choice because the world is pressuring us. The State of Israel must establish a system that is beyond Israel advocacy. It must be a system to fight de-legitimization."
We must combine Israel advocacy, settlement activities and policy, but first and foremost is the discussion of our rights to the Land.
"I am active in the field of public opinion but unfortunately the prime minister is leading in the direction of establishing a Palestinian state. We knew this when we entered the government. It is clear to me that this direction will not happen because it is hopeless. The Palestinians will not give up on the right of return or Jerusalem and the process will not go forward. When I returned from Sharon's funeral in Havat HaShikmim and, immediately afterward, missiles were launched, I was reminded of all the security experts' great promises that the Disengagement would bring security. Not security, not anything at all. We must establish a basis for the alternative," says Bennett who, perhaps in contrast to others, does not consider his plan as the only plan to follow.
"I am not locked into it and I don't say that my solution is the only correct one. I hear about other suggestions for a solution and do not discount them. We must create alternatives that will be ready for the day that the current process is exhausted, and it is only a matter of time."
Along with all of this, and perhaps even before the day in which he can present the plan as a practical alternative on the table, Minister Bennett sees the real value, as it was in the past, to actually building and developing the Jewish communities in Judea and Samaria. "I very much believe in a system of Israel advocacy but it is also of great importance to continue the development and building in Judea and Samaria. The fact that there are, today, four hundred thousand Jews who live in Judea and Samaria is a fact that carries great meaning. We must develop the physical side along with the Israel advocacy efforts."
Just before we end the discussion Bennett feels that we have perhaps dealt too much with current politics and policy and that perhaps we have slightly neglected what is truly important. "There is one insight that I have learned especially as a minister in the government. I have had the opportunity to conduct over a hundred discussions and lectures on policy during the past year. I speak about security and demography but there is one thing that takes precedence over everything else in interviews and discussions abroad. More than anything, we must speak about our right to the Land. With all due respect to security rationale, in the end there is no lecture or interview that I don't open with the fact that this Land was given to our forefather Abraham 3,700 years ago and it will be ours forever. Afterward, there is room to speak about practical things, about missiles, etc. The greatest mistake in the entire international campaign is that people have not made it a practice to say these things."
These things brought us almost immediately into what has become Bennett's calling card in the world, the ancient coin of two thousand years ago that was found in Jerusalem, a coin which he takes out during interviews and has had a tremendous international impact in the official media. "This coin has made waves and everyone can relate to it. Tens of millions have seen this in various broadcasts. By presenting the coin you actually say the extremely simple thing that the Land of Israel belongs to the People of Israel and afterward we discuss how to cope with the presence of Arabs. It is not a matter of fine English, but rather the message. It is not necessary to speak of sensors and drones but that the Land of Israel belongs to the People of Israel."
Issue no. 3/ May 2014
Published by Women in Green and the Forum for Sovereignty
Editor-in-chief and interviews: Shimon Cohen;
Editorial board: Yehudit Katsover, Nadia Matar
Translation from the original Hebrew journal: Sally Zahav; English Language Editor: Lisa Melamed
Design and concept: Studio Good; Graphic design: Eli Weissberg;
Production: Efrat Itzuvim
Women in Green,
Jerusalem 91072, Israel;