Speaking Monday at the World Summit on Counter-Terrorism hosted by the International Institute for Counter-Terrorism in Herzliya, several members of Israel’s security cabinet revealed the great divide between them on the subject of Israel’s Palestinian neighbors.
While Justice Minister Tzipi Livni and Finance Minister Yair Lapid continue to support a two-state solution and ongoing negotiations with Palestinians, Economics Minister Naftali Bennett and Communications Minister Gilad Erdan slammed the idea as outdated.
Livni described a world in which “good” or “moderate” states were those which recognized and accepted the “other”, while “bad” states sponsored terror based on religious fundamentalism and rejection of the “other”.
“There is no legitimate reason for terror,” said Livni, “nothing to understand, no reason to speak to them, no reason to listen what is bothering them. They are motivated by deep religious ideology, that is their roots and motivations. They are unable to accept ‘infidels’.”
However, she went on to explain, “Just as it is a mistake to try to appease the religious terrorism, it would be a mistake from Israel’s point of view to let the cruel terror in this region work against all rational thinking that obligates us to initiate and find a solution to the national conflict between us and the Palestinians.”
For Israel to be considered a full-fledged moderate state, Livni argued, the country must put aside its distaste for its neighbors and engage the Palestinian Authority, which she sees as having only nationalistic, not religious, motives. Such engagement, along with strengthened coalitions with Western and other moderate Arab states, would improve Israel’s safety and security.
“Those who use the threats in the region to explain why it is forbidden to conduct negotiations are preventing our ability to deal with the world, and the Arab world, against those same threats,” she said.
Lapid echoed Livni’s sentiments. He criticized his government for declaring 4,000 dunams in the Ezion Bloc state lands, claiming it only served to deepen the rift with the US.
“In normal days I support strengthening the settlement blocs,” he said. “But in my conversations with administration officials I hear the same thing over and over: friends don’t act this way with each other.”
He recommended a joint conference with the US, in which Israel would declare, “Israel’s security will always only be in our own hands, but that we are willing to separate from the Palestinians and be part of the coalition fighting Islamic terror.”
Bennett dismissed Livni’s arguments out of hand. “I must say that I do not believe what I hear,” he began.
“I feel as if I am living in the 90s,” Bennett said, referring to the beginning of the Oslo peace process and the height of the land-for-peace philosophy’s popularity. “It’s not me; the Left lives in the 90’s.”
He accused the Left of ignoring reality. “ISIS is moving in the east, Hezbollah is getting stronger in the north, Hamas is building terror tunnels in the south, and they are continuing with the regular refrain that a Palestinian state will solve all the problems.
“Six months ago I said that a Palestinian state would destroy the Israeli economy, and they laughed at me,” Bennett said. “But after Hamas managed to close down flights coming into Israel by targeting Ben Gurion Airport, my colleagues have stopped laughing. Does the Left really believe we can trust the PA with the hills overlooking the center of the country? All it would take is one missile to ruin our economy.”
As if in direct response to Livni’s distinction between Hamas in Gaza and the PA in the West Bank, Bennett pointed out that a recent survey in the West Bank showed if elections were held there now, 66% of the people would vote for Hamas leader Ismail Haniyeh, and only 25% would vote for for PA President Mahmoud Abbas.
“Most of the public in Judea and Samaria want Hamas now,” he said.
“What Palestinian state are you talking about?” he asked. “How many times can you repeat the same refrain, the same conception? It’s like someone sitting on the beach where this is a tsunami, but looking only at his isolated aquarium, and not seeing what is happening around.”
Erdan, too, called for a change in Israel’s approach to the security situation. “From a diplomatic perspective, I think to continue to talk about Palestinian nationalism with the same determination and confidence as was done 10 or 15 years ago is not responsible,” he said.
“We have to change the hard disk, and not lean all the time on the same old solutions,” he said. “I know that not all my colleagues in the government are willing to look at reality as it is.”
Speaking on Israel Radio Tuesday, Livni responded to Bennett’s accusations. She said that Israeli settlements in Judea and Samaria did not provide security, they undermined it. An unwillingness to negotiate, she said, prevented future generations of Israelis from living in peace.