Into the fray: The demands Bennett should’ve made

By Martin Sherman, JPOST

The greatest tragedy of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is that everyone knows how it will end. We will divide up the region. Israel will return most of the West Bank, and the Palestinian flag will fly on public buildings in East Jerusalem.
The only unanswered question is how many more people will have to die along the way. And so we will fight against the extremists on both sides, including our extremists, the settlers.                                          
– Yair Lapid, Der Spiegel, May 8. 2008.

We must strive to return to the negotiating table with the intention of attaining peace with the Palestinians on the basis of “two-states for two-peoples,” in which the large settlement blocs (Ariel, Gush Etzion, Ma’aleh Adumin) will remain within the area of Israel.Jerusalem is the eternal capital of Israel and its unity is a national symbol of the first order.Jerusalem is not merely a place or a city but the center of the Jewish-Israeli ethos, to which Jews turned their eyes throughout the generations. 
– Yesh Atid’s 2013 election platform.

In a recent column, “Bennett’s buddy. Or blunder?” (February 21), I severely criticized Naftali Bennett’s post-election conduct.

Bizarre bedfellows 

I strongly condemned his decision not only to form a seamless alliance with Yair Lapid, conditioning his Bayit Yehudi’s participation in a Netanyahu-led coalition on that of Lapid’s Yesh Atid faction; but also to make a priori endorsement by Binyamin Netanyahu of Lapid’s proposal for ultra- Orthodox conscription into military and/or alternative national service a sine qua non for such participation.

With each passing day, this criticism is proving increasingly well-founded, as is the concern which prompted it. Indeed, as I write these lines, news has just come in of Bennett’s latest buddy, Kadima’s Shaul Mofaz, with whom he has, together with Lapid, formed a countervailing bloc of 33 MKs, to coerce Netanyahu to comply with the their collective demands.

Now, while Mofaz is certainly worthy of commendation for his military career, he is equally worthy of condemnation – some might claim, contempt – for his political one.

He is a politician so bereft of any credibility that he has brought grave disrepute to the theory and practice of cynical, unprincipled opportunism. After all, who can forget that it was Mofaz, who just prior to the 2006 election, gave Likud members his solemn commitment that he would not leave the party for Sharon’s newly formed Kadima – on the very day he did just that.

Stranger than fiction 

So there you have it. Naftali Bennett, who was supposed to spearhead the opposition to territorial withdrawal and uprooting of Jewish communities across the 1967 Green Line, has locked arms with two of its most prominent proponents: Mofaz, who was defense minister at the time of the 2005 disengagement from Gaza and oversaw its implementation, and Lapid, who shamelessly exploited his widely read Friday column to vociferously endorse it and vehemently vilify any opposition to it.

You couldn’t make this stuff up.

Quite apart from the fact that this is pretty close to a nightmare scenario for many of Bennett’s supporters, there are more troubling and perplexing aspects to his behavior. One can only shake one’s head in bewilderment as to why he would chose to weld himself to an alliance with individuals whose core political credos are so divergent from his own and whose political judgment has proved so defective. Perhaps even more baffling is why he would insist so stubbornly that they should be given key positions in determining the fate of the nation – particularly at this challenging juncture in its history.

Poorly conceived pact 

Whichever way you slice it, Bennett’s decision to bind himself inextricably to Lapid – and now apparently to Mofaz as well – is a poorly conceived initiative which can only precipitate undesirable outcomes – at least for a major portion of his constituency.

As I pointed out, Bennett’s primary banner was that of a security hawk rather than a socioeconomic crusader. True, he did broach – commendably – numerous socioeconomic issues during his campaign, not all that dissimilar from those raised by Lapid. But this is not what brought him the bulk of the ballots he received.

Had he presented precisely the same views on his socioeconomic agenda, but adopted a more dovish stance on security matters, it is virtually certain that a substantially different, and probably significantly smaller, sector of the electorate would have voted for him.

By contrast, Lapid did place his major emphasis on societal and economic matters.

For him, the issue of the ultra-Orthodox (together with the purported distress of the middle class) did comprise the cardinal elements of his campaign. Thus, his insistence on this matter, as an imperative for his coalition participation, seems far more understandable.

Better balance 

So, if the Bennett-Lapid pact entailed making what was a cardinal issue for Lapid’s voters a sine qua non for partaking in a Netanyahu-led government, surely a commensurately cardinal issue for Bennett’s voters could – indeed, should – have been made one as well– particularly if such an issue could be fortuitously found in Yesh Atid’s election manifesto.

For example, as the introductory excerpts indicate, the unity of Jerusalem and the retention of major settlement blocs both feature in the party platform. Should not Bennett have, therefore, tested Lapid’s mettle – and his true intent – by insisting that these elements also be made a sine qua non for participation in a Likud-led government? Should he not have elicited a pledge from Lapid that he would not take part in such a coalition without a commitment to preserve a united Jerusalem and to retain the major settlement blocs? Surely this would have been a far more balanced approach to the pact – and a far more acceptable approach for Bennett’s supporters?

Practicing political prudence 

It would intriguing to find out just how “unbreakable” the pact with Lapid-cum- Mofaz would be, should Bennett decide to insist on an a priori pledge on these issues as an indispensable precondition for joining the coalition.

After all, one would surely expect that for Bennett, ensuring the inviolability of Jerusalem’s unity and the preservation of the large settlement blocs should be no less crucial than the haredi issue? Accordingly, what possible reason – or justification – could there be for Bennett not insisting on it with equal force? Or for Lapid rejecting it, as these were both included in his platform? This should not be dismissed as petty “tit-for-tatting.”

Indeed, it is merely the sober practice of political prudence.

After all, even if one believes that Lapid can rise above the venom of his preelection campaign positions, it is quite another matter when it comes to the people who comprise his core constituency and provided the initial traction for his political career. For it is reasonable to assume that they were attracted to Lapid because of the views he expressed in his newspaper column, which was a major component in building his political profile and propagating his political credo. In it he frequently sallied forth with invidious and indiscriminate indictments of the settlers and settlements, irrespective of whether they were part of the large blocs or not.

It is far from implausible, then, to surmise that he may come under increasing pressures from his political base to revert to the positions that originally drew them to him.

The expected pressures from the White House can only make such a prospect even more probable.

Surely it would have been prudent for Bennett to lay down a preemptive and preventive bulwark to ensure against it materializing?

Perverse priorities 

Without wishing to belittle the practical importance or moral merit in a resolute demand that the ultra-Orthodox play a greater role in both the military and the labor force, it is hardly the most severe or pressing item on the national agenda. Far more urgent and harrowing matters need to be addressed.

Consider the following: In the north, Lebanon is descending inexorably into the radical clutches of Hezbollah. Syria is in the throes of a bloodbath, with control over stockpiles of potentially devastating WMDs evermore tenuous, and only ominous outcomes on the horizon.

Slightly further afield, Turkey’s Islamist regime is waxing increasingly belligerent, with its leadership displaying troubling symptoms of demented delirium.

In the south, Egypt is edging toward socioeconomic meltdown – the only foreseeable consequence of which is severely diminished capacity of the central government to enforce any semblance of control in Sinai, where ascendant criminal warlords and jihadists comprise an ever-growing menace along Israel’s southern frontier.

In the east, the relatively benign Hashemite regime appears less and less secure in the face of mounting unrest, making the specter of an Islamist seizure of power more and more likely.

Beyond that, the tyrannical theocracy in Tehran is rapidly approaching the point of no return in its quest for weaponized nuclear capabilities.

Add to all these the increasingly blatant rejectionism of the Palestinians and the looming visit of an unsympathetic US president, and the haredi issue takes on a somewhat different perspective.

Given the gravity and the immediacy of these dangers, making ultra-Orthodox conscription – for all its undisputed importance and merits – a pivotal do-or-die issue seems to reflect a seriously warped sense of priorities.

Sense of proportion

needed Israel’s socioeconomic ills need to be seriously addressed. But they need to be addressed by an incumbent government, not by a premature and populistic declaration of intent likely to shatter on the rocks of reality.

Moreover, in admitting that much ails the socioeconomic fabric of the country and many defects lay heavy on the nation’s middle class, it is important not to lose our sense of proportion.

After all, since its inception, Israel has made stunning progress in virtually all socioeconomic spheres – both relative to its very difficult point of departure and in absolute terms relative to many industrial nations today. In fact, had the average Israeli citizen in the 1950s, when crushing deprivation and harsh austerity were the order of the day, been informed that the realities of today would in fact prevail today, he/she would surely have been incredulous.

In those days, it would have been considered a vision of Zionist success beyond the wildest dreams.

Life in Israel for the middle class is hardly that of a gulag – and it is a dangerous illusion that any government, no matter what its priorities, can provide a life devoid of all difficulty.

So while there is much room for improvement, let’s not get too despondent while sipping our lattes, holidaying abroad,  buying new SUVs and trying out the latest mountain bike/skiing accessories.

Suspect sincerity 

Just how sincere Lapid’s professed concern for the allegedly beleaguered middle class is, is revealed by his preference in portfolios.

Lapid has rejected the offer of the Finance Ministry – perhaps the ministry with the greatest potential for impacting the lot of the middle class and redressing the iniquities/inequities that allegedly plague it.

Instead, he has insisted on the Foreign Ministry, a portfolio that by its very nature has negligible effect on the fate of the nation’s middle class. Indeed, it is difficult to imagine one that has less relevance for that purpose.

Could all this middle-class prattle be merely a means to a far more sinister goal in the field of foreign, rather domestic, policy? By possibly helping to ensconce Lapid in the Foreign Ministry, Bennett is treading on treacherous terrain. After all, if Lapid were to be given charge of Israel’s foreign policy, what views would he advance? Those expounded earlier in his anti-settler, left-of center column, or those in his later more settler-benign right-of-center manifesto? How would Lapid’s incumbency in the Foreign Ministry resonate with that of Hatnua’s Tzipi Livni’s in the Justice Ministry – another unfortunate consequence of Bennett’s obstinacy – especially with regard to the fate of the “territories.”

Beware, Naftali – less you find yourself being seen as a patsy, the victim of deception – whether well-planned or merely incidental.

Art of the possible? 

It was the German statesman Otto Von Bismarck (1815-1898) who famously defined “politics” as “the art of the possible.”

In Israel, it would seem that it is more “the practice of the inexplicable.”

March 9, 2013 | 10 Comments »

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  1. It is high time to deal with the greatest hoax of the Arab/Israeli conflict: the fabrication by a few people in the UN of the Palestinian refugee problem. Contrary to every other refugee, the Palestinians were given an exception. It happens that now a number of scholars in the US have come to realize that the UNRWA is for the past 60+ years in violation of national laws of probably EVERY Western countries. Using the definition applied to every refugee since 1940-45, there no more than 50,000 true Palestinian refugees. Enough with the bullying, cheating, lies and propaganda. IL can easily absorb 50 thousands Pal. The 5 Mi is a lie that has never been challenged legally and has been protected by Muslims and anti-Zionists PROPAGANDA. J & S future must be put on hold and the US govt & SD will have to face the truth once for all.
    We all know that the UNRWA was created and financially supported almost exclusively by the West with the tact support of the Arabs. The Pal have been and remain a sore for everybody. As far as I am concerned, UNRWA was a weapon created by the West to antagonize the Jews and prevent the development of Israel.
    For those in need of an education, check this: Ben Dror Yamini is a good starting point.

  2. One thing is for sure when the smoke clears after the division of portfolios the Likud will has realized that it really lost the elections. The prime portfolios except for PM FM and DM all the other major portfolios will go to Bennett, Lapid and Livni. Even Mofaz with 2 mandates will have 1 portfolio.

    I expect disappointed Likud MK’s to revolt all that is missing is someone to lead the revolt against BB and I do expect such a leader to materialize sooner than later. None of the second Tier Likud MK will get promoted and the likud will keep their current crop of ministers less those who can’t be fit with a ministry.

    From what I understand Both Bennett and Lapid caved from exercising the full weight of their power by not demanding certain industries allowing some of the more important ones to stay in the Likud’s hands like Education and Internal security. For example BB cut off the the ministry of housing the Israel Lands Authority and gave it to a popular Likudnik during the run-up before the elections. That authority was always part of the Housing ministry and it wields a lot of power but not many spoils system jobs. Bennett apparently did not demand it returned to the housing ministry. That’s a major downgrade of ministerial power. Bennett apparently allowed the Likud to keep the education ministry, a ministry second to defense in Budget.

    I have the feeling that they played poker so well till now and they are losing a lot of their gains at least their potential by not going all they way.

  3. I have to agree with some of the above posters,Sherman is drawing his conclusions from vague ideas which may or may not come to pass in the real world.there are other outcomes which are much more likely to happen!
    1)In Israel there is too much centralization of power.With the Haredi & Shas in his cabinet Netanyahu has virtually dictatorial powers.He pays them off & they rubber stamp whatever he tells them.I have seen this go on at the mayoral level in Brooklyn,NY.The Haredi (Chassidim?)are the closest thing I have seen to Jewish Gypsies.They are part of no nation,always living in someone else’s country.As such they are,like the Gypsies,parasites living off of whatever host society they happen to be living among.They would vote to sell Israel to the Arabs for their own narrow interests!
    2)Netanyahu seems to be a political snake posing as a Jewish patriot!Netanyahu,if he were completely candid,could say the same as Groucho Marx said many years back”Those are my principles,and if you don’t like them….well,I have others!
    3)The Internet is the greatest thing to happen since Gutenberg invented the printing press.More & more information is available to the voting public about the political establishment.Politicians can no longer hide behind the main media who in the past doctored the pap that was told to the public.The political sins of Netanyahu & the other career politicians can no longer be hidden from public view.
    4)With the public more aware of the double dealing of the polticos,their ability to avoid accountability becomes much more restricted,we see the emperor naked,without any clothes!
    5)With these new faces at top level of government,we will get what America’s Founding Fathers called “checks & balances”.Let the different politicians in the government voice their ideas,in full view of the public & let the public figure out what it want!
    6)This may be the dawn of a new era of a relatively unrestricted flow of information,bypassing the establishment media,to the public.Believe it or not,most people will reach reasonable conclusions if presented with unbiased & undistorted info &

  4. Critics of Sherman have rendered both Sherman’s and the critics views confusing. Sherman posits what Bennet should have done in the way of getting committments from Lapid. Critics suggest he either may not have been able to get what he wanted from Lapid, Netanyahu or both or that he had to compromise in the spirit of the art of politics, to get what he could get.

    Because specifics and particulars of negotiations amongst and between Bennett, Lapid, Netanyahu, Livni are so far being conducted under a veil of secrecy, we won’t know the upshot of any coalition deal until it is revealed. From that point, pundits and other professional guessers will weigh in to try to figure out how each of the coalition members got to where they got to reach a deal and from where they began in that quest.

    Still, it is fun to try to peer into the fog of political maneuvering before the end result emerges clear as day.

  5. Politics is the art of getting what you get now. Bennett got what he could now without loosing out on core issues. He is in the government and can help push it in the right direction on Judea and Samaria.

    No there are probably not enough votes in the Nationalist Camp to annex area C as Bennett would like now. However he can keep Zippi Livni from doing real damage to potential giveaways to the PALS.

  6. Should not Bennett have, therefore, tested Lapid’s mettle – and his true intent – by insisting that these elements also be made a sine qua non for participation in a Likud-led government? Should he not have elicited a pledge from Lapid that he would not take part in such a coalition without a commitment to preserve a united Jerusalem and to retain the major settlement blocs? Surely this would have been a far more balanced approach to the pact – and a far more acceptable approach for Bennett’s supporters?


  7. Sherman is jumping the gun and jumping to unsubstantiated conclusions.

    Without the benefit of The agreement between Nennett and Lapid the Ultra religious parties would be in the government and I have a strong hunch With the prospect of Lapid sitting in the opposition with 19 mandates he would have found a way to compromise so as not to be left out of the coalition.

    Since no agreement has yet been formalized and published between the parties we don’t know yet what demands were made by Bennett which were accepted/ rejected or only partially accepted and rejected. The coalition agreements when signed should give us a clearer picture.

    Historically neither Shas nor UTJ ever prevented any initiative or opposed by vote and or threat of leaving the coalition for any government initiative or action to remove Jews from their homes or giving up parts of the historic homeland to our enemies. Most of the time they were the decisive votes allowing past Israeli governments to dismantle Jewish settlements and give away parts of our homeland to our enemies.

    Neither Shas nor UTJ should be considered Zionist political parties. The are not. They do represent a program and policy of voluntary poverty and escapism which no modern state can support either ideologically or economically. The Likud desires these parties because after being paid handsomely from the public mostly Zionist coffers they provide a passive non threatening political flank supporting the stability and passive acceptance of most government policies. They being included in the government coalition would in fact have no influence on the governments policies re: Peace, settlements or land transfers East Jerusalem except for Haredi neighborhoods and the Wall but not the the Temple Mount, which I don’t think they give a damn about. For them it’s ex-territorial in any case.

    From a nationalist and right wing political perspective the Shas and UTJ parties are no partner or asset and can never be counted on to partner opposition to any retreats and giveaways by BB or any other party and national leader. Their agenda is mostly narrow sectarian and not national.

    I for one am quite happy to see them out of government and since Lapid is as yet an untested unknown I would not rush to judgement yet.

    Having a government were any of three distinct parties making up the coalition can bring the government down is nothing to sneeze at as long as BB and the Likud are top dog.

    Shas or UTJ would never leave the government over policies of ceding territory and demolishing settlements. They would threaten over major cuts to their budgets, reduced subsidies in housing mortgages, food and child allowances.

    Remember BB Ostensibly called early elections in the first place due to opposition of budget reductions in the coming fiscal 2013-14 budget proposals. Bennett and Lapid make better partners for passing the budget without threat. A budget rejected means automatic new elections by Law and has yet to happen. No government ever fell due to


  8. NormanF Said:

    I normally agree with Dr. Sherman. In this case however, Bennett had to avoid being marginalized since Netanyahu and the Likud were never interested in building a Jewish national camp government.

    To do that, he had to link up with Lapid and Mofaz because Netanyahu couldn’t be trusted. This is especially true after Netanyahu made a point of not calling Bennett after the election and pointlessly humiliating him over his wife Sarah. Along with his cynical alliance with Tzipi Livni.

    I agree with you. Sherman’s arguments bothered me also.
    NormanF Said:

    And it was more important to change the national dynamic from Israeli leaders’ obsession with seeking a non-existent peace with the Arabs

    . But Mofaz or Lapid are also not in the nationalist camp. Only Bennett is and perhaps a majority of Likud MK’s. It was Yesh Atid that wanted negotiations within 6 months according to their platform and it has many peace now types in their list.
    Lapid and Bennett are reformers whereas Netanyahu was for the status quo. No one can change the budget allocations by much so economically it will be steady as she goes.

    But Sherman’s question remains.Why didn’t Bennett get a commitment to not abandon the settlement blocs including E1 and a united Jerusalem. All he got was a commitment to put to a referendum an peace deal the Cabinet has accepted. But of what value is that. First of all a majority of Israelis are not nationalists so Bennett is giving up fighting for his principles when he leaves it to a referendum. Furthermore, the referendum is not the last word because after the referendum it goes back to the Knesset to vote on it. Who is to say that the Knesset will do what the referendum says?
    Sherman asks, “Should he not have elicited a pledge from Lapid that he would not take part in such a coalition without a commitment to preserve a united Jerusalem and to retain the major settlement blocs?” This commitment should include E1 with the blocs. Yesh Atid did not include it in their platform. But he should also require the same commitment from Netanyahu. I doubt whether Lapid or Netanyahu would give such a commitment. That at the least would have separated the real Netanyahu from his rhetoric.

    We are told that Bennett and Lapid prevented Bibi’s Bar Ilan speech from being in the guidelines. Of what value is that? Surely we can’t take from that that the pursuit of the Two-State Solution is being abandonned.

    But we are told that the pact with Lapid includes “In return, what Bennett has apparently received is a guarantee that the next coalition will not only include Bayit Yehudi but will also have to respect Bayit Yehudi’s core principles, especially regarding the political and strategic issues that surround the settlement enterprise in Judea and Samaria.”

    Can anyone put some flesh on these bones?

  9. I normally agree with Dr. Sherman. In this case however, Bennett had to avoid being marginalized since Netanyahu and the Likud were never interested in building a Jewish national camp government.

    To do that, he had to link up with Lapid and Mofaz because Netanyahu couldn’t be trusted. This is especially true after Netanyahu made a point of not calling Bennett after the election and pointlessly humiliating him over his wife Sarah. Along with his cynical alliance with Tzipi Livni.

    And it was more important to change the national dynamic from Israeli leaders’ obsession with seeking a non-existent peace with the Arabs to actually addressing long-neglected domestic challenges that will strengthen Israel from within. This exactly what Israeli voters want and with Lapid agreeing to accept the Finance Ministry portfolio, it looks like they will get just that after all.

    When your party has only 12 seats, its smart to maximize your political clout. What Bennett is doing is making friends and cashing in political IOUs with them that can be called in the future. Plus both recent events and Netanyahu’s own behavior appear to have vindicated his strategy.

    The national religious want to be thought of as having an influence on the Zionist movement and not merely looking out for the interests of their own sector. Bennett understands this quite well even if Netanyahu has forgotten it. Bayit Yehudi wants to expand its size in the next election and Bennett is doing all he can to make sure that he and not Netanyahu will be the future beneficiary of the voters’ gratitude.

    Which after all is the essence of Politics 101.