U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry plans to release his “framework” for an Israeli-Palestinian peace agreement in the next several days. The details, yet to be confirmed, have been criticized by both sides, but now Kerry’s effort faces a direct political threat. Naftali Bennett, who leads the conservative Bayit Yehudi (“Jewish Home”) party to the right of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s Likud Party, has laid plans to block any concessions to the Palestinians in Kerry’s outline. “The goal is to torpedo any agreement,” Bennet is reported to have said.
Bennett’s plan is to build enough support within Netanyahu’s own governing coalition to block concessions, and to prevent Netanyahu from replacing Bayit Yehudi with the left-wing Labor or Kadima Party to preserve his government if the more conservative members break away. The threat from Bennett, who was Netanyahu’s own chief of staff several years ago, is not unexpected: Bennett has given such warnings before and has built his political support on public mistrust of the Palestinians and, increasingly, the Obama administration.
Some of the conservative members of Bennett’s party would, no doubt, have rejected any concessions to the Palestinians anyway. Yet Bennett’s case has been strengthened by Palestinian officials’ behavior in recent weeks, such as Palestinian leaders celebrating terrorists who murdered Israelis as heroes, and accusing the late Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon of assassinating Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat. Such incitement not only helps convince Palestinians to reject peace, but also convinces Israelis that further concessions will not bring peace.
Ironically, Bennett’s threat strengthens Netanyahu’s hand in negotiations, because it demonstrates how little room he has to give, and will likely place pressure on Kerry to make the peace framework more attractive to Israelis. One sticking point has been security arrangements in the Jordan River Valley, where Israeli Defense Minister Moshe “Bogey” Ya’alon has resisted U.S. suggestions for alternatives to Israeli control. Ya’alon, who recently called Kerry “messianic,” apologized but recently reiterated his criticism of Kerry’s proposals.