A House Divided
By Sarah Ann Haves
As the whole world awaits the unveiling of U.S. Secretary of State Kerry’s peace plan, Israeli politicians are becoming more and more divided, threatening a possible break-up of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s government coalition.
Recently, at an economic conference in Davos, Switzerland, Netanyahu floated a trial balloon, promising not to evacuate settlements or uproot Israelis in the West Bank (Judea and Samaria) under a final status agreement with the Palestinians. Netanyahu’s office later clarified that what he meant is that Jews should be allowed to live in a future Palestinian state, even if Israel withdraws from the territories and gives the Palestinians overall control of the area.
Netanyahu expected that Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas would publicly disagree with Netanyahu’s statement and claim, as he has previously, that not one single Jew will be allowed to live within the borders of a future Palestinian state. The scenario goes that if Abbas had responded in such a manner, especially if he made his comments public on International Holocaust Memorial Day, it would have revealed his racist and prejudice attitude towards the Jewish People and the State of Israel.
But, instead of Netanyahu getting a response out of Abbas, MK Naftali Bennett, leader of the Bayit Yehudi (Land of Israel) political party, stated his strong opposition to Netanyahu’s comments. Bennett said that Jews remaining in settlements under Palestinian control would be in danger and could be killed. He also commented on Netanyahu’s lack of moral values for considering such a plan. The Prime Minister’s office responded angrily to Bennett, and Netanyahu threatened to kick him out of the government if there was no apology. Bennett, in his own way, apologized, but the strain between Netanyahu and the right flank leader of his government, was publicly exposed. Apparently, Netanyahu has not been keeping Bennett and other government ministers abreast of his political strategies, and this contributed to the public dispute between the two men.
As Kerry gets closer to revealing the terms of a framework agreement between Israel and the Palestinians, backdoor deals to bring the left-wing Labor party into Netanyahu’s coalition are being considered in the event that Bennett’s party bolts the government. Bennett has been the strongest defender of the right of Jews to remain living on their own land under Israeli control; and, he has consistently vocalized his opposition to a two-state solution.
In mid-January, this writer attended a ceremony marking the 65th Knesset Session in Israel, and the opening of the current Winter Session. During Netanyahu’s speech, members of the various political parties began to argue openly about the peace process. It was obvious that there were major differences that were being voiced, even in a forum that was supposed to be a celebration of the many years of democratic freedoms expressed within the Israeli legislature.
A few days later, Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper addressed the Knesset for the first time. Harper’s speech revealed his undying support for Israel. But, again, this writer watched as Harper was heckled by Arab MK Ahmed Tibi. When Harper spoke against boycotts of Israel, Tibi shouted, “We want to boycott settlements.” Tibi continued to interrupt Harper’s speech and then finally walked out of the Knesset hall. Before Harper spoke, Tibi also interrupted Netanyahu’s speech.
Canadian journalists picked up on Tibi’s comments and he received 15 requests for interviews, along with an invitation to give lectures in Canada in the future. Tibi acknowledged that he accomplished his goal, which was to hurt Harper because of his pro-Israel stand. Appealing to anti-Harper Canadian journalists, Tibi admitted that his plan worked.
In a press conference the day after Harper’s Knesset speech, Harper refused to publicly criticize Israel. He said, “When I am in Israel, I’m asked to single out Israel. When I’m in the Palestinian Authority, I’m asked to single out Israel. And, half the other places around the world, you ask me to single out Israel.”
Whether it is Canadian journalists, Israeli journalists, or Israeli politicians, there is a tendency – both in Israel and the nations – to single out Israel for criticism.
It is these divisions in Israeli society, especially between political leaders, that is sending a confusing message to the international community.
Interruptions during political speeches at the Knesset are not new. They are welcomed in the name of “democracy and free speech.” But, political diversity that leads to outright division can hurt Israel’s global image. Mixed messages can contribute to Israel’s isolation abroad.
At a time when boycotts, divestments, and a rise in anti-Semitism is increasing, especially in European countries, Israeli politicians should be standing united, preserving and upholding Israel’s dignity as the nation state of the Jewish People in the midst of a hostile world.
The EU is flexing
If Israel and the Palestinians fail to reach a peace agreement, European countries have already been calling for harsher economic measures against Jewish settlements. The EU is flexing its muscle, threatening Israel that if there is no peace agreement, there will be private divestments and boycotts.
The Palestinians are also planning ahead. They are expected to launch a “diplomatic intifada” if Israel refuses to comply with all their demands. They have said they will, again, seek membership in the United Nations, looking for the international community to impose a solution on Israel. They are expected to try and prosecute Israelis for war crimes if peace talks fail. In addition, they may seek partners to host an international conference in order to force Israel into risky concessions to appease Palestinian aspirations.
While Israel should be preparing for the possibility that the current peace talks will fail, Israeli politicians, instead, are spending their time stating their strong opinions to the Israeli and international media. These politicians are digging in their heels, looking for a fight that could eventually break up the Netanyahu government. And, no one seems to be making plans for “the day after” if both Israel and the Palestinians fail to come to an agreement.
Israel should be actively looking to form strategic partnerships with countries that support its existence. Canada just signed such an agreement with Israel, encouraging economic growth between the two nations, increased trade relations, and military support. Israel’s Foreign Ministry should make it a priority to direct its diplomats to actively look for nations who will do business with Israel in the event that the current peace process ends in failure.
In a recent poll, 80% of Israelis said they do not think Kerry’s diplomatic plan will bring peace. And, 75% oppose his security plan for the Jordan Valley. Israeli Defense Minister Moshe Ya’alon voiced his opposition to Kerry’s plan for the Jordan Valley during off-the-record briefings with Israeli journalists. One liberal Israeli newspaper chose to publish his comments on-the-record, which offended Kerry. Ya’alon was then forced to publicly apologize.
The fact is, Bennett’s public comments about the likely death of settlers who remain living inside a Palestinian controlled state; and, Ya’alon’s private objections to Kerry’s plan that would cause Israel to give up control of the strategic Jordan Valley – both these statements are correct, based on historic facts, which should be of concern to Israelis. But, the kind of bickering that leads to public and political condemnation is not healthy. It is hanging out Israel’s dirty laundry so that an already antagonistic international community can launch more verbal attacks on the Jewish State.
Israel needs to get its house in order and begin to find common ground for unity at a time when its safety, security and survival is at stake. The Netanyahu government should do inventory, and he should make sure that his house is built on a strong foundation so that it will not fall when adversity comes at it full strength.
“If a house is divided against itself, that house cannot stand.” Mark 3:25 (NIV)
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Unless otherwise indicated, Scripture taken from the New King James Version. Copyright ©1979, 1980, 1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc. Used by permission. All rights reserved.