The Right is insisting on fulfilling the vision of one large state, and Netanyahu—at least in private conversations—understands that this is a creeping disaster. And when most of Likud’s Knesset members try to sounds more right-wing than the Bayit Yehudi party, Netanyahu is one of the only people there showing signs of sanity. But as we're about to see, it isn’t working out for him.
The Qalqilya construction plan is the new bone of contention between Netanyahu and the Right because it means an expansion of the city—which is under the Palestinian Authority’s jurisdiction in civil matters—towards Area C, which is under Israeli security and civil control and includes about 60 percent of Judea and Samaria's total area. According to Bayit Yehudi leader Naftali Bennett’s plan for addressing the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, this area is to be annexed to Israel.
The construction plan involves the expansion of 2,500 dunams (about 617 acres), out of the 3.3 million dunams in Area C—in other words, less than a hundredth of a percent. But it annoys those who think that as part of the one large state they are establishing, in which Jews and Arabs will live together in the perfect harmony the Middle East is accustomed to, there is a need to totally suffocate the Arabs. This may be the image of their coexistence fantasy.
The focus, however, is on Netanyahu. Last week, he reprimanded Bayit Yehudi and Likud ministers for denying decisions that they themselves had voted for. The only one who backed him was Defense Minister Avigdor Lieberman. The expansion was, naturally, coordinated with security officials, likely led by Maj. Gen. Yoav Mordechai, the oordinator of government activities in the territories.
Mordechai, by the way, is the person who has been making the most serious effort to allow the Palestinians—at least those who want to—to live as normal a life as possible.
The thing is that last week’s Netanyahu is not this week’s Netanyahu. It takes just a little resistance from within the coalition’s for him to show signs of caving. According to Channel 2 News correspondent Amit Segal, the prime minister said he “doesn’t recall” the decision on the Qalqilya construction plan. The Security Cabinet, therefore, will hold another discussion on the issue.
The Qalqilya crisis characterizes the current government’s conduct. The Right’s representatives argue that the people of Israel elected a right-wing government to fulfill right-wing values and that permits for construction in Qalqilya are definitely not part of the Right’s platform.
But this is a false argument, and can even be seen as deception. It’s true that Israel has a clear national Zionist majority, but in Netanyahu and Lieberman’s dispute with Likud ministers Tzipi Hotovely and Ze’ev Elkin and the Bayit Yehudi ministers, they know—and Netanyahu knows—that the majority would choose the statesmanlike Netanyahu.
A vote for Likud is not a vote in favor of suffocating the Palestinians, and certainly not in favor of annexing all the territories to fulfill the vision of one big state.
The public is in favor of the statesmanlike Netanyahu. The question is whether Netanyahu is actually choosing a statesmanlike approach, whether he has any backbone, whether every scream from Yossi Dagan of the Yesha Council makes him cave, and whether he is capable of leading to the implementation of a decision that was made in the Security Cabinet, likely on behalf of defense establishment officials.
Over the past two years, we have repeatedly learned that in the quarrels between Netanyahu and Bennett, the latter eventually emerges as the winner. The Regulation Law is a clear example.Netanyahu knew that it’s a harmful law for Israel, but when he had to choose between Bennett’s stance and the national interest, he chose Bennett. The law, of course, only caused damage and didn’t benefit the Right in any way.
And what about Qalqilya? In light of Netanyahu’s updated stance, we will likely witness a similar display.