Naftali Bennett’s New Party Might Signal a Major Change in Israeli Politics

Jan. 10 2019

The announcement that Israel’s next elections will be held in April has led to a major political shakeup, with the fracturing of existing blocs and the creation of several new parties. Among the most surprising developments is the decision of Naftali Bennett (who is religious) and Ayelet Shaked (who is not) to defect from the party they lead—the Jewish Home (most of whose voters are religious)—to found the New Right party. Shmuel Rosner explores the significance of the move:

The Jewish Home, the party that made Bennett and Shaked, . . . used to be called Mafdal, the acronym [in Hebrew for] “the religious nationalist party.” For seven decades, Israelis belonging to [the religious-Zionist] sector voted in great numbers for this party, which in return focused on their own sectorial interests—more funds for religious schools, more accommodation for hesder yeshivas [that allow for a combination of military service and religious study], more legislation that favors the settlers, [and so forth]. This was a fine arrangement for a group that felt like a vulnerable minority, but it started to feel awkward and misplaced when religious Zionists started to play a much more pronounced role as leaders in all Israeli institutions.

Bennett and Shaked identified the changing times and wanted to turn the Jewish Home into something else—something less sectorial, with more crossover [between religious and secular constituencies]. They failed. The DNA of the Jewish Home is one of sectorial politics, and it proved resistant to dramatic change. [But] Bennett and Shaked have little interest in being the leaders of a sector. They entered politics to reach the top. And once they realized that the Jewish Home party limited their horizon, by insisting on playing the old sectoral politics of religious Zionism, the two leaders jumped ship. . . .

And this is just one example of an old political Israel that is cast aside as times change. Yesh Atid is a party of the secular and the religious, a party of centrism. Kulanu is a party of centrism. Gesher, a new party [founded by the parliamentarian] Orly Levy-Abekasis, is a party of centrism. These parties cast aside the old definitions of right and left, as do [the other parties founded in the past two weeks]. Sure, this is partially because the “left” is no longer a viable currency in Israel’s politics, so everybody must rush to the center. But make no mistake: this is not just tactics.

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More about: Ayelet Shaked, Israel & Zionism, Israeli politics, Naftali Bennett, Religious Zionism

By Recognizing Israeli Sovereignty over the Golan, the U.S. Has Freed Israel from “Land for Peace”

March 25 2019

In the 52 years since Israel seized the Golan Heights from Syria, there have been multiple efforts to negotiate their return in exchange for Damascus ending its continuous war against the Jewish state. Shmuel Rosner argues that, with his announcement on Thursday acknowledging the legitimacy of Jerusalem’s claim to the Golan, Donald Trump has finally decoupled territorial concessions from peacemaking:

[With] the takeover of much of Syria by Iran and its proxies, . . . Israel had no choice but to give up on the idea of withdrawing from the Golan Heights. But this reality involves a complete overhaul of the way the international community thinks not just about the Golan Heights but also about all of the lands Israel occupied in 1967. . . .

Withdrawal worked for Israel once, in 1979, when it signed a peace agreement with Egypt and left the Sinai Peninsula, which had also been occupied in 1967. But that also set a problematic precedent. President Anwar Sadat of Egypt insisted that Israel hand back the entire peninsula to the last inch. Israel decided that the reward was worth the price, as a major Arab country agreed to break with other Arab states and accept Israel’s legitimacy.

But there was a hidden, unanticipated cost: Israel’s adversaries, in future negotiations, would demand the same kind of compensation. The 1967 line—what Israel controlled before the war—became the starting point for all Arab countries, including Syria. It became a sacred formula, worshiped by the international community.

What President Trump is doing extends far beyond the ability of Israel to control the Golan Heights, to settle it, and to invest in it. The American president is setting the clock back to before the peace deal with Egypt, to a time when Israel could argue that the reward for peace is peace—not land. Syria, of course, is unlikely to accept this. At least not in the short term. But maybe someday, a Syrian leader will come along who doesn’t entertain the thought that Israel might agree to return to the pre-1967 line and who will accept a different formula for achieving peace.

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More about: Donald Trump, Golan Heights, Israel & Zionis, Peace Process, Sinai Peninsula, Syria