Sunday, February 02, 2014

Policy disputations

Two former political partners in the Israeli government coalition, Naftali Bennett, Minister of Economy and head of the Bayit Yehudi party and Yair Lapid, Minister of Finance and head of the Yesh Atid party, have become embroiled in disputes regarding government policy, as well as disagreeing with PM Netanyahu.

First, at the INSS conference in Tel Aviv, both Bennett and Lapid spoke and gave opposite conclusions. Bennett said that if Israel agrees to give up the West Bank (Judea and Samaria) to a Palestinian State in a peace agreement there would be terrorism and rockets fired on Israel and it would spell economic ruin for Israel. Lapid on the other hand said that his Ministry had done calculations that if Israel agreed to a peace treaty with the Palestinians there would be a huge economic dividend for Israel, coming from increased trade with Europe and reduced spending on arms. These are the right wing and the left wing perspectives on peace, respectively. Who is right? Probably both are, to an extent. But, note that while Bennett's party went up in the polls, Lapid's went down.

Bennett also got into hot water with Netanyahu. After Netanyahu stated publicly that if the Palestinians excluded all Jews from their territory in a putative Palestine State, that would be tantamount to "ethnic cleansing," Bennett declared that any Jews who stayed behind in such a Palestinian State would be murdered. This undermining of his position angered Netanyahu and he told Bennett that if he disagreed with Government policy he should leave the coalition. This caused Bennett to rethink and he apologised to Netanyahu, saying he did not mean it as a personal attack, but he did not in fact retract his statement. So the whole idea of whether or not Jews should be allowed to live in a Palestine State is really up in the air. There is no doubt that the Palestinians themselves don't want any Jews, even though there are a million Arabs living in Israel, and the thought is that if Jews stayed behind as part of an agreement the Palestine Government could not protect them anyway.

It will be interesting to see where US Secty of State Kerry comes down on these issues in his anticipated Framework for the negotiations. Does the US support the right of Jews to remain in part of their Holyland in Palestine, and if so how would their lives be protected, or does the US support the Palestinian position that all Jews must be uprooted from Judea and Samaria and excluded, which would be ethnic cleansing? We wait to see how Kerry walks this particular tightrope.


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