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Bennett is not the problem

American administrations have a tendency to blame the ‘radical’ settlers for torpedoing peace missions. The real problem, however, is with the ‘moderates’ who are complicit in maintaining the status quo. 

There is a lot of talk in some circles about Naftali Bennett’s appearance at the Saban Forum last weekend (video below). Bennett, who heads the Jewish Home party and is the star of the Israeli Right, took to the stage with former special envoy to the peace process Martin Indyk. Bennett essentially declared that Israeli will never accept the two-state solution, that there will be no more “land for peace” and that he has the Israeli public behind him. “How many more missiles need to fall on Ashkelon until you wake up?” he asked Indyk, who remained mostly speechless. Bennett shared a clip of the event on his Facebook page.

Bennett, with his overtly confrontational attitude, is clearly the new boogeyman in the eyes of the Obama administration. According to mainstream thinking, if he ends up being appointed the next defense minister, the peace process will be as good as dead. This is a mistake: there is no hope for peace with Bennett, but this is not where the real problem lies.

American administrations have a tendency to divide societies into “good guys” and “bad guys,” or “moderates” and “radicals.” Moderates, they believe, are the ones you can do business with, and thus are the political forces worth cultivating.  The Israeli case is no different: there is a non-stop effort to decipher whether or not certain politicians – specifically rising stars and potential leaders – are “moderates.” The settlers are always the radicals, while Labor leaders are the moderates as long as they show some interest in the Palestinian issue. Liberman was a radical; now he is a potential moderate. Netanyahu was the exact opposite; there was a moment when he had the ability to become a moderate, but is now considered a hopeless case.

While amusing, this game misses the point entirely. Besides a lot of wishful thinking, it betrays a simple misunderstanding of Israeli politics. What political leaders think or say is not as important as the balance of interests and the environment that shape their behavior.

The heart of the matter is this: the common denominator that allows coalitions in Israel to exist is an agreement on the status quo with regards to the occupation, or at least an agreement with a certain version of the status quo (*).

By “common denominator” I mean that Netanyahu, Lapid, Livni, Liberman and Bennett have different, often conflicting ideas on the way Israel should approach the Palestinian issue. However, they can all live with the status quo. Although they may want something else, they can still agree to maintain the current trends on the ground.

This is what allows these politicians (and the forces they represent) to sit together in the same government. They conduct a tug of war over some nuances – the rate of settlement construction, the “illegal” outposts, whether or not to talk to Abbas – but they never stray too far from the status quo, since doing so will make it impossible to share power. In fact, the status quo is so important that the government is ready to go to war in order to maintain it. This is exactly what Israel has been doing since the Second Intifada.

Despite the rhetoric, Bennett can live with the status quo just as Livni can. This is precisely why they sat together in this last government, just as Ehud Barak sat with the settlers in the previous one. When international actors scratch their heads wondering why peace missions fail again and again they shouldn’t be looking at the settlers, who were never even close to constituting a majority in Israeli society. Instead, they should be looking at their “moderate” friends, whose common ground with the Right is the basis for the status quo.

And here’s the punch: even in the case of an election upset that would see the emergence of a center-left coalition, it will likely need to be based on an unspoken agreement on some version of the status quo. This is the only way that Liberman, Kahlon, Lapid, Livni and Herzog can sit in the same coalition.

Electing “the right politicians” will never be enough for an Israeli government – any Israeli government – to make to real change. For real change to occur, the circumstances under which all politicians operate need to shift as well. In other words, the only way this can happen is if major forces in Israeli society decide they cannot live with the status quo any longer (most likely because the price they would pay for doing so is simply too great).

It is not enough that these politicians would rather see the occupation end; ending the occupation needs to be the new common denominator for their political approach. As long as we are engaged in the “moderates” vs. “radicals” conversation, we are simply not going to get there.


(*) A note on terminology: the term “status quo” is misleading. I use it to describe the political arrangements and the most important procedures Israel implements on the ground. However there is nothing static in the reality they create, as the last year clearly demonstrated.

‘Anyone but Bibi’ isn’t the point: Pre-election postulations
Israel’s elections: A referendum on Netanyahu

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    1. He has a real attack dog vibe going on. It’s too bad some people think that aggression is a sign of strength. It’s more a sign of carelessness, recklessness and danger and is a front to hide the obvious feelings of inferiority, impotency and weakness. This isn’t someone who should be in a position of power. My opinion.

      Reply to Comment
      • Ginger Eis

        manic marnie,
        a. you have no job. When others are at work, you are here and elsewhere ranting about Jews and Israel;
        b. you are a single mother;
        c. you are on welfare;
        d. you are not seriously looking for a job to stand on your own feet and support yourself and your daughter, no, instead,
        e. you spend 24hrs a day and 7-days a week obsessing with Jews and Israel, visiting several websites ranting mumbo jumbo about stuff you have no understanding of.
        Obsession with Jews and Israel is a disease, manic marnie, that will eventually destroy your psychotic self and everything you hold dear. You need to quit and invest your time to finding a job, standing on your own feet and investing in the emotional, spiritual and material care of your children. If you can’t quit on your own, maybe it is time to seek professional help, no?

        Reply to Comment
        • Danny

          Hey Ginger, give my regards to Fred when you see him (BTW, I loved you both in ‘Top Hat’! Naftali did too, he loves to play with his cucumber!)

          Reply to Comment
          • Ginger Eis

            hihi hihi – Danny the Jihadi

            Reply to Comment
        • First I need to apologize to Noam Sheizaf for Eis and myself because these posts between us are off topic and strictly cat fights. Ginger Eis has slandered my good name and lied about my life and my family for a while now. We’ve had some ridiculous moments here. She can’t stand me; I don’t like her either and have not attempted to hide that. I won’t make up a false narrative about her because it’s something I just can’t comprehend anyone wanting to do. It reminds me of the antics of a 12-year-old. There is no way that I or anyone else posting here should have to defend their life to strangers. She has made it her business to make up a story and call it my life, to gossip, lie and accuse me falsely of everything from being a single mother and – well just look at her post, everything she has put down is malicious fabrication, you know the stupid bitchy things women are famous for, including, and I’ll never understand this, but suggesting on multiple occasions that I kill myself. There’s plenty of people I don’t like, but I’d never suggest they kill themselves. That is very wicked. My personal life is nobody’s business but my own, and there is no fucking way I’m going to enrich her fantasy life with any information about myself or my family. I’m disgusted by her and myself for even responding to her. I could make up some stories about her, keep telling them over and over and over again but for what purpose? It is ridiculous and would bring me down to her level of dysfunction and I’m not going there. The way she addresses people here is extremely offensive. I know it is deliberate, to try to make people you don’t agree with go away or be silent. There is a line that she always crosses and if she is an adult, she definitely should know better. For someone with such a high opinion of herself (all bravado I’m sure) she fails to grasp the fact that every time she insults someone she is debasing herself. It makes her look stupid. If that’s the look she’s going for, she’s got it in spades.

          Eis – stop stalking me.

          Reply to Comment
          • Ginger Eis

            You can’t make this stuff up! Here is the real Marnie – in quotation marks!

            “manic marnie
            November 10, 2014

            “… women running after forbidden fruit (Palestinian males), thus making them “insecure” and “afraid.” So the vagina of the jewish israeli woman belongs to the jewish state, not the jewish israeli woman (David Sheen). All because said jewish israeli males don’t know how to please their women. You’d be surprised how much jewish israeli women kvetch about their men. The things you hear in the ladies room. What better way is there to reassure the israeli jewish male about his performance than the next best thing – your M-16! You’ll get your shot off and kill the competition at the same time”.

            (Indeed, you think you can demonize the Jewish people and get a bucket of flowers in return! Next time you make a promise to Baladi Akka, keep it!)

            Reply to Comment
          • Marnie, she is stalking you, as she has just revealed via her month ago “quote.” There are right nationalists commenting on this site who, while perhaps not hoped for dinner partners, don’t do this. And she indeed did hint on several occasions suicide on your part. I suggest ignoring such comments; they really do not do her viewpoint service at all.

            Now, anticipating another salvo by her, I’m outta here.

            Reply to Comment
          • It looks weird when people don’t copy the entire quote, so here in its entirety

            manic marnie
            November 10, 2014

            “Lehava, the right-wing, anti-miscegenation group whose main activity is to incite against Arabs as a way of dissuading Jewish Israeli girls from dating them, has taken its incitement beyond intermarriage and into the realm of security.”

            It’s very plain what Lehava is insecure about. They’re sick and tired of their jewish women running after forbidden fruit (Palestinian males), thus making them “insecure” and “afraid.” So the vagina of the jewish israeli woman belongs to the jewish state, not the jewish israeli woman (David Sheen). All because said jewish israeli males don’t know how to please their women. You’d be surprised how much jewish israeli women kvetch about their men. The things you hear in the ladies room. What better way is there to reassure the israeli jewish male about his performance than the next best thing – your M-16! You’ll get your shot off and kill the competition at the same time.

            You could see a licensed sex therapist, but that would make too much sense.

            Reply to Comment
          • GilGamesh

            Marnie do you honestly think the complete quote makes what you wrote any less racist and disgusting?

            Reply to Comment
          • Ben Zakkai

            Marnie, unfortunately, there are poisonous people in the world, and some of them come to spout Hasbara on this site. Ginger is perhaps the worst of them. (In fairness, there are also unsavory characters who come here to criticize Israel; “Victor Arajs” comes to mind.) Why would you continue to engage her? Okay, she writes nasty defamatory personal attacks; what do you care? About 80% of her posts are vicious and so crazy they’re scary; can you imagine what kind of a personal life Ginger has? So let her scream and cackle like the Wicked Witch of the West, and just keep a bucket of cold water handy, to pour over yourself when you’re tempted to grant her the honor of a serious reply. The comments section at +972 can occasionally serve as a forum for people who are genuinely interested in developing mutual support, strategies and ideas that might be useful in eventually ending Israel’s Occupation, so we shouldn’t let Ginger Sluggo et al. hijack the discussion. Of course I too sometimes fall prey to temptation and react seriously to nonsense; all I’m saying is that that’s not the most productive use of our time.

            Reply to Comment
      • Marnie, GE said about the same thing to me, but apparently her well paid photo spies were unable to verify my motherhood. Of course, it is well known that most single mothers in the US are on welfare, refusing to work to post on left sites, so deranged that they refuse the saving psychological help they need. It’s why we must repeal the ACA here in the States.

        Reply to Comment
        • Greg – enjoyed your post and your point of view.

          Reply to Comment
        • Ginger Eis

          Indeed, Greg Polock, and I changed your life and made it better for you, did I not. As a result of my effort you finally confessed that ‘there is something “deviant” about your preoccupation with Jews and Israel and you made a change for the better. Since then, you spend less time obsessing with Jews and Israel and had more time invested in yourself making your once useless private life better. Right now there are tens of thousands of Americans matching in the streets of New York, California, Missouri, etc. demanding protection from the cops. The human rights situation in the US is far worse than in Israel. But, you do absolutely NOTHING to help YOUR OWN country, instead, here you are again obsessing with Israel and Jews – clearly relapsing again. Tell us again, Greg Pollock, why are you in this: is it because you care about human rights? Or is it because Jews are involved?

          Reply to Comment
    2. Danny

      Is it me, or does Bennett look like he’s Down’s syndrome in the pictures provided?

      Anyway, Bibi, Bennett, Lieberman and Lapid are not the problem. They are the symptoms of the problem. The problem with Israel is the people who put these creatures in power, and these are the majority in Israel. Arab hatred is what drives these people to crown the likes of Bibi and Bennett as their kings, and the latter try to not disappoint their constituents by upping the ante on anti-Arab activity.

      As Richard Silverstein said today, the results of the upcoming Israeli elections are one big “doesn’t matter and don’t care”, because even if it were possible to remove Bibi from power, what would his alternative be? Someone just like him (or quite possibly worse).

      The Israeli people are the problem, and they need to be taught a good lesson. This is why BDS is the real game vis-a-vis Israel, not some meaningless election.

      Reply to Comment
      • Ginger Eis

        “Is it me, or ….”

        No, it is YOU, imbecile!

        Reply to Comment
      • Brian

        Danny this question might turn on hormones (see Uri Misgav’s observations, below).

        Reply to Comment
      • Speaking of BDS –

        – Netanyahu lands unexpected endorsement: the Boycott Israel movement
        Haaretz‎ – 1 day ago
        Omar Barghouti credits the prime minister for the BDS movement’s success in recent years.

        – Elbit Systems loses key Brazil deal over Palestine protests December 3, 2014 by Palestinian BDS National Committee – See more at: http://www.bdsmovement.net/#sthash.PlMfsuS9.dpuf

        – Houston BDS targets RE/MAX for supporting illegal settlements…

        Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions activists protest RE/MAX in Denver
        Workers World‎ – 20 hours ago

        – Colorado BDS | Facebook


        We did it !!!!! 10 stalwart Palestine activists took it to the headquarters of RE/MAX International today. We delivered letters, held signs and handouts saying …

        – Brighton BDS on Twitter: “Estate agents to Israeli …


        Nov 23, 2014 – Estate agents to Israeli Occupation settlements #Re/Max @remax have just opened an office in … Don’t miss any updates from Brighton BDS.

        Reply to Comment
    3. Bruce Gould

      The Israeli Air Force can fly its F-16s for no more than a few weeks without U.S. parts, technical support and money, and attitudes are shifting rapidly here. BDS is also racking up some surprising successes in its short history.

      Reply to Comment
      • Fair Play

        Likewise the Egyptian air force, the Saudi air force, the Turkish air force, the Pakistani air force, etc. the Brits are building a base in Bahrain. So your point is what, exactly?

        Reply to Comment
      • Fair Play

        And the Russians keep the butcher of Damascus in the air, dropping barrel bombs on his own citizens.

        Reply to Comment
    4. Fair play

      You guys are hilarious. Here in the US we know that Israel is 1% of the ME, that the “Palestinians” didn’t even call themselves that until the 1970’s, that the latest Muslim intellectual has just made a psuedo-splash in that tiny discourse community that thinks BDS will ever be a threat by writing that Israelis won’t be safe as long as Israel exists! Hilarious! That’s what all the “Palestinians” believe, and that’s what you support, so of course Israel can only manage the never ending conflict! In the meantime (forever, since we will not abandon Israel) try this thought experiment: stand on any street corner in the US outside of Amherst MA or Columbia University. Ask the first ten people you meet what the letters B, D and S mean to them. Harvest the wind. And dream on.

      Reply to Comment
      • Lo

        You’re right. The ossified, lily-white base of American-Israeli support is still dominant. Yet if you look at how viciously and energetically the Israel Lobby is clamping down on groups like Jewish Voice for Peace and Open Hillel, you see that cracks are forming in the Jewish community’s monolithic support for Israel. Also, seeing that such a large portion of American supporters for Israel aren’t even Jews (rather, millenarian Christians), I think there’s a lot of room for change.

        Reply to Comment
      • Eliza

        I think you miss the point re BDS. Its not a game of brand recognition. I doubt that BDS by itself will bring about the ‘shift in circumstances’ that Noam refers to, but it may well be a significant contributory factor. All BDS has to achieve is a small drop in profitability in companies for them to re-evaluate their policies re Israel. Small drops in revenue and/or corporate reputation will not go unnoticed by directors and/or shareholders. Let’s not forget that a small percentage rise in the unemployment rate can spell real trouble for a Government and a society.

        It really doesn’t matter if most Americans are unaware of BDS.

        Reply to Comment
        • Fair Play

          I think it would be great if BDS would contribute to a moderation of Israeli policies and move the two parties closer to a solution. But the while leaders of BDS say the number one goal is the full right of return, and celebrate a guy who says Israel will never be safe while it exists, lots of folks may have a problem with that. (Abbas makes a brave statement on Israeli TV, and has cooperated with security, but for that he’s called a collaborator, and he’s unpopular, not least with the BDS crowd.) Will the BDS movement have to clarify whether they seek divestment from all Israel or just the settlements? When those companies reevaluate their policies, if they decide to keep doing business within the ’67 lines, will that move the Israelis to change much? Will it be enough to give the Left new life in Israel? Is the hope that American politics will change, then the Israeli? Do you expect relations between Israel and the US to be worse than they are now with Clinton or a Republican president? (I suspect they will improve either way.) Will the BDS movement get to a point where they have to clarify whether they can live with the existence of Israel? How long before the shift becomes the turning point you hope for? What will the region look like by then? And if violence continues in the foreground, and all around, will that further slow things down, and if so, will the Left ever have new life, BDS or no? Or, by then, will the ascendant right finally just complete the barrier, declare the borders that they want, justify it by the bloody chaos all around, and call it done?

          Reply to Comment
          • Eliza

            Hells bells Fair Play – I don’t really know the answers to all these questions.

            I basically think that right now, most Israelis are not too concerned about the Palestinians and are happy enough to live with the status quo. Even if there are Israelis who take no pleasure in the plight of the Palestinians and would wish for a kinder, gentler occupation. They may even disapprove of continued settlement activity but I doubt that they see this as an obstacle to peace.

            I don’t think that its a left/right issue. In the broad sweep of things, the left in Israel, when in government has also encouraged settlements. I think its more basic than that; its the realisation across the political spectrum that ‘Greater Israel’ can not come into being unless it does so as a bi-national state.

            I just think that Israel will continue on with the status quo, perhaps in fits and starts, until the status quo extracts too much of a price. And that is where BDS comes in. It may be able to extract a price.

            As far as I know, BDS is not prescriptive re resolution of the I/P conflict. It does not take a position on one or two states or on the extent of the actual ROR; this is different from not conceding a ROR for all Palestinians. High profile ‘leaders’ or advocates of BDS may have their favoured form of resolution, but so what.

            Even if there was formal consensus within BDS on supporting Hamas, eliminating Israel etc, (which there is not) why should this matter? Do you think that if Israel is ever in the position when it realises that it has to deal with the Palestinians fairly, that it is going to do what BDS prescribes? No, it will continue to do what it sees as being in its interests. BDS is never going to call the shots this way.

            I doubt that BDS alone will bring about the required chance that will facilitate ordinary Israelis to accept that the status quo is not sustainable. But hopefully, it will be a part of this transformation of Israeli society.

            I doubt that it will matter very much whether the next US President is Democrat or Republican. But, then I’m not a great believer in the great man view of history.

            If the strategic interests of the USA and Israel are diverging, then eventually the USA will distance itself from Israel. Israel is a client state and America has many interests and allies. I tend to think that unless Israel moves to come to a just resolution of the I/P conflict, then relations with the USA will continue to fracture.

            Finally, if the right unilaterally declares it borders etc, it ‘won’t be done’ as you say. Nothing is ever just ‘done’. Do you think that Palestinians are just going to somehow go away?

            Reply to Comment
    5. Ginger Eis

      Thank you, Noam Sheizaf, for giving Naftali Bennett an audience on your site, thank you – (I never imagined I will ever be saying this to you!). I don’t agree with all aspects of your good analysis (and I hope this is not a one time event), but by giving Naftali Bennett an audience you make it possible for your readers (the ones that are open minded and fair that is) to listen to him and make their own judgments as fair and balanced as possible – something that is an abomination at +972mag. Naftali Bennett is the embodiment of the ordinary Israeli on the Street and the Jewish Survival Spirit. He believes in the Jewish People, he believes what he says, preaches what he believes, and practices what he preaches; a true Jew who is an Honest and Righteous man – the kind of leader the world needs today to defend Freedom and uphold the Judeo-Christian Tradition! No more lies. No more wimps!

      Reply to Comment
      • Brian

        On the subject of ‘feelings’ and all that, and the ordinary Israeli, Uri Misgav in Haaretz:

        “…If Netanyahu remains the head of Likud, it is possible that Habayit Hayehudi will become the largest right-wing party. Its chairman, Naftali Bennett, is very popular in Israel’s Tea Party, especially among first-time, hormone-driven voters.

        This is regrettable in itself, but in practical terms it’s great news for the center-left. Bennett will in any case take most of his new Knesset seats from Likud, and is still viewed as more extreme than that party. Contrary to initial fears, he’ll never be able to form a coalition. Habayit Hayehudi dreams of annexing the West Bank’s Area C (territory under exclusive Israeli control according to the Oslo Accords), controlling the Justice Ministry and putting Rabbi Avichai Rontzki, the Lord of Hosts’ anointed one, high up on its Knesset slate. These aren’t yet the dreams of mainstream Israelis…”

        Reply to Comment
      • Average American

        A strong-arm ultra-nationalist leader is what every fascist government needs.

        Reply to Comment
    6. Mikesailor

      I agree that Bennett is not the problem. Nor is Bibi, Livni, Lieberman, Lapid, Kahlon or any of the moral and intellectual midgets vying for the leadership of the so-called “Jewish” state. In a nation of Gingers, Sluggos, Whiplashes, Gustavs etc. they are only reflections of the Zionist insanity prevalent among the weak-minded. For, what is Zionism but a reaction against modernism? It promises an exclusivist Jewish state will end all ills for the Jews, never mind that such a view has historically always proven disastrous. They trumpet the idea of “self-determination” for Jews but ignore the equal and superior right of “self-determination” for those who resided on the land during the Jewish interregnum. Therefore, they lie. They claim a “Jewish” state will protect Jews, yet forget about Babylon, Greece and Rome. They claim the right to persecute others in the name of Jewish superiority, yet when when someone calls them on their hyocrisy they immediately proclaim the messenger is somehow “antisemitic”. Facts or truth do not dter th Zionist, for they discout all criticism in a blizzard of denial, obfuscation and ad homineme attacks. The only way to kill a bad idea is to drive a stake through its heart. It was what killed Nazism and is all I can see will kill its bastard twin: Zionism.

      Reply to Comment
      • Ginger Eis

        Mikesailor. This is just a FRACTION of the whole summary of the origins, meaning and goal of Zionism.

        Watch. And weep!


        Pls. stop lying, Mikesailor.

        Reply to Comment
      • Fair Play

        Let ’em have it, you tough minded Mike! Go get ’em tiger! So by your own words, you seek violence as the best form of “resistance.” And you wonder why they must manage the conflict. How disappointing that they won’t just jump into the sea, sailor boy!

        Reply to Comment
    7. Average American

      I agree with the article. No one is going to go against Zionism. Zionism is the creator and life and blood of Israel. Zionism says all of Eretz Israel belongs to The Jews. Wow.

      Reply to Comment
    8. Lo

      Normally, I have very little patience for “heighten the contradictions” malarkey, but Naftali Bennett sure is working hard to make the scales fall from American eyes.

      When you run around making statements like, “it’s no big deal to kill an Arab, I have killed many Arabs,” you’ve gone off the deep end. You’ve given away the game and now you’re a liability to cooler-headed activists.

      Reply to Comment
      • Sluggo

        It’s a song by the Cure

        Reply to Comment
    9. Noam makes great points. Another way for framing the ‘moderates vs the settlers’ is ‘good cop and bad cop’. Regardless of how one tries to smooth over the situation the end goal is the same maintenance of the status quo.

      Reply to Comment
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