Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu Wednesday, Jan. 29, demanded Naftali Bennett, the pro-settlement Jewish Home party leader and Minister of Industry and Trade apologize or be sacked, for brusquely criticizing his proposal to leave Jewish settlements in a future Palestinian state.
The minister apologized without delay, regretting that “his concern for Israel’s future and security” was taken as a personal attack on the prime minister, whose leadership in difficult circumstances he respected. But he didn’t climb down. It was his duty, the minister stressed, to voice his belief that abandoning Israel citizens to Palestinian sovereignty was a dangerous notion that must be dropped.
debkafile: A cabinet crisis has been averted for now over the concessions urged on the prime minister by US Secretary of State John Kerry for the sake of a peace accord with the Palestinians. But by playing his cards too close to his vest, Netanyahu is exposing himself to more criticism and a loss of respect from within his own government.
Too often his words are countered or contradicted outright.
The Bennett episode roseout of the frustration of a member of the security cabinet which Netanyahu keeps in the dark over his solo performance.
But also today, Netanyahu was actually contradicted for insisting that the peace framework document that John Kerry is about to present to Israel and the Palestinian Authority is a US document, which represents America’s take on the points agreed and does not oblige Israel to accept its contents.
US Ambassador to Israel Dan Shapiro stepped forward to deny this. Addressing a National Security Institute conference in Tel Aviv, the ambassador said that the framework agreement mostly incorporates ideas presented by the two sides (Israel and the Palestinians), with only a few inserts of American origin.
Ambassador Shapiro must be presumed to have been authorized by Secretary Kerry to publicly challenge Prime Minister Netanyahu – and not for the first time.
Since mid-December, debkafile’s sources have disclosed elements of the framework proposal which conflict with Netanyahu’s public comments.
Without going into the rights or wrongs of the dust-up between the prime minister and Bennett, it is evident to debkafile’s sources that Netanyahu has most probably been prevailed upon by Kerry to make fairly far-reaching concessions to the Palestinians – particularly on the scale of Israel’s withdrawal from Judea and Samaria and Jerusalem. This information he has not shared with his ministers and as it comes out, more ructions are to be expected.
In Jerusalem, for example, Netanyahu almost certainly agreed to cede to Palestinian rule the Arab-populated suburbs of Shuafat, Beit Hanina, the Shuafat refugee camp and the large village of Issawiya. This village, which is a notorious hotbed of terror ruled by the radical Palestinian Democratic Front, has sprawled up the slopes of Mount Scopus by unopposed wildcat construction.
So the Palestinians are now also laying claim to Mt. Scopus, which has been the seat of the Hebrew University of Jerusalem without interruption since its foundation in 1918.
Even under Israeli control, heavy military and police backup is needed for entering Issawiya, which is less than 10 minutes drive from Jerusalem downtown. An outbreak of violence was quelled with difficulty by Israel border police this Wednesday. Under Palestinian control, no one doubts that this village will be one of the first sources of rocket fire on Jerusalem when even Israeli security forces are unable to subdue its hate-filled inhabitants.
Strategically, too, giving up Issawiya would mean Israel is relinquishing control of the highway connecting Jerusalem to Maaleh Adumim, throwing in the towel of a struggle waged for years to maintain territorial contiguity between these two Israeli cities.
If Netanyahu’s standing within his cabinet is waning, it is because in the view of many politicians and circles outside politics his tactics in the conduct of negotiations with Kerry and the Palestinians does not bear muster by democratic standards – and above all in Israel itself – for the handling of issues of vital concern to the nation’s security and very future.
In the case challenged by Bennett, Netanyahu appears to have yielded substantially in private to his two negotiating partners and then, when criticized, pretended the concession was not for real but a tactical stratagem for showing up Palestinian intransigence and insincerity in pursuing peace diplomacy.
It was therefore up to critics to trust him and shut up, a demand that Naftali Bennett contemptuously spurned.
Netanyahu is creating a confusing world of double and triple mirrors. The respect he claims is slipping away from him and exposed him to the less than respectful contradiction by the US ambassador.
And when he protests time and time again that his foremost concern is national security, his words are often thrown back at him – as they were Wednesday by Military Intelligence Chief Maj. Gen Aviv Kochavi, who warned shortly after the US ambassador’s comments that “170,000 rockets and missiles are threatening Israel.”
This figure was bigger before Israel’s Operation Pillar of Defense in Gaza last year, he said, and diminished in the course of the Syrian war. “But the number will rise again,” Kochavi assured his listeners.
About Iran, Kochavi said: “The Iranian nuclear project goes on and a decision by the Iranian leader will determine whether one or more nuclear bombs are built. In Washington, Director of US National Intelligence James Clapper confirmed that Iran has no technological bars for producing a nuclear bomb. It depends solely on a political decision.
The prime minister has neer tried to reconcile his avowed focus on security as his paramount concern while allowing Israel’s enemies to constantly build up the number of rockets aimed at Israel, or with Iran remaining with a single dilemma, reported repeatedly by debkafile in the past year, of whether to build one nuke or an arsenal, without Israel lifting a finger to forestall this threat.
It is this disparity between word and deed that is costing Netanyahu national and personal respect at a time that he needs it most.