‘Forming a Palestinian state along the lines that many readers of Fathom believe is the way forward would guarantee 200 years of misery for the two peoples’. That was the message from Naftali Bennett, the Israeli Minister for Education, leader of the Jewish Home party, and a highly influential member of Israel’s coalition government, when he sat down with Fathom Deputy Editor Calev Ben-Dor. Bennett also made the case for his own vision for peace, ‘The Stability Plan’ – Israeli sovereignty in Area C of the West Bank, limited Palestinian self-government in Areas A and B – and invited Europeans to stop looking at a very tough neighbourhood through the prism of ‘Oslo and cocktail parties’.
Calev Ben-Dor: In a speech on 7 May at the Jerusalem Post Conference in New York you said: “The left-wing doesn’t have a monopoly on peace, just like the right-wing doesn’t have a monopoly on patriotism. I am ready for negotiations without preconditions or pre-concessions.” What is your vision of peace?
Naftali Bennett: I’ve been both fortunate and unfortunate to have fought in many conflicts since the First Intifada – in southern Lebanon, Operation Defensive Shield during the Second Intifada, the Second Lebanon War, and I served as a Cabinet minister during the last round of conflict in Gaza in 2014 – so I think I have a very good perspective of our situation. First and foremost I will do anything in my ability to prevent war. Israel has no territorial claims over Lebanon, Syria, or Iran but we’re in the toughest region on earth. On our northern border we have the most concentrated area of rockets in the region in the hands of Hezbollah (and second on earth after the North Korean-South Korean border). To the north-east we have Iranian militias setting up on our borders. In the south we have ISIS’s strongest foothold in the Sinai, and in the south-west we have a border with Hamas. On the other side of each of those four borders are people who explicitly say they want to destroy Israel and the Jewish people.
When I look 100 years into the future and think how a country the size of New Jersey can survive and thrive, one principle is the capacity to be able to ‘defend ourselves by ourselves’. Israel’s brief history has taught us that the international ‘peacekeeping’ forces are great until you need to use them. They evaporated in 1967 and they are meaningless in Lebanon and in Syria.
Secondly, history shows that land Israel hands over to Arabs usually turns into an Iranian military foothold. The reason the Israeli public has moved to the Right in recent years isn’t due to ideology but rather to reality. As a child in the 1980s we had peace songs on the radio and in kindergartens and the Israeli public was conditioned to love and believe in peace. Yet in the last elections the word peace was taboo – not because the parties and public don’t desire it, but rather because we came to understand – the hard way – that desiring peace sometimes brings about the opposite. Over 1,000 Israelis died in the terrorist attacks during the 2000s, after we pulled out of parts of Judea and Samaria in the Oslo framework. We pulled out of Lebanon in May 2000 with hopes for peace – as neither side has any territorial claims on the other – but we got the Second Lebanon War in 2006. We pulled out of Gaza and did everything we were expected to do – withdrew exactly to the former armistice lines, kicked out the Jewish settlers, took out the army, and handed over the keys to Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas – and what we’ve had since is an ‘Afghanistan,’ a Hamastan; rockets that have killed many, three rounds of wars and an insoluble situation. READ MORE.