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Natfali Bennett: Talks 'Aint Going Nowhere'

In wide-ranging interview, Jewish Home head restates his opposition to a Palestinian state, says Tehran primarily concerned with survival.
By Ari Soffer
First Publish: 11/21/2013, 5:51 PM

Economics and Trade Minister Naftali Bennett
Economics and Trade Minister Naftali Bennett
Flash 90

Economics and Trade Minister Naftali Bennett has reiterated his opposition to a Palestinian state in Judea and Samaria in an interview on PBS's Charlie Rose Show.

Speaking to veteran presenter Charlie Rose, Bennett spoke his mind about a range of topics; from his own political career to negotiations with the Palestinian Authority and the Iranian nuclear standoff - although for Israeli audiences not that much new was covered.

When asked what brought a successful hi-tech businessman into the gritty world of politics, the Jewish Home party head said he traced that decision "to one moment," after he was called up for military reserve duties during the Second Lebanon War in 2006. 

Bennett commanded a team of Israeli special forces which searched for missile launchers firing at Israeli cities. It was "the first time I fought as a dad," he recalls, and the experience had a profound effect on his worldview. 

"I was in Lebanon and these guys, Hezbollah, are shooting thousand of missiles at my parents' house in the northern Israeli port city of Haifa - and they don't have any territorial claims! 

"They're not saying 'give us this city and we'll make peace,' they just said we want to kill you, we don't want your state to be there'."

It was at that point that he took the decision to leave the field of hi-tech - which he describes as "my real passion" - and enter into politics, first as then-opposition leader Binyamin Netanyahu's chief of staff, and eventually becoming the leader of the Jewish Home (Bayit Yehudi in Hebrew) party.

Despite tracing its roots back one hundred years, when the entrepreneur-turned-politician took over the Jewish Home (formerly Mafdal or National Religious Party) it was a shadow of its former self and "about to evaporate," having garnered a paltry 3 seats in the 120-seat Knesset.

His secret to reinvigorating what most Israelis had written off as a dying party was to become more inclusive, he said. Instead of representing the narrow interests of one population sector, Bennett "changed the mission to being a mission of restoring Jewish identity in Israel".

It was a successful strategy, and won the Jewish Home 12 seats - 5 of which, he claims, came from the secular public. 

In the half-hour interview, Bennett also took the opportunity to reiterate his call for Israel to become "a lighthouse in the storm" of instability, violence and bloodshed currently raging in the Middle East, insisting that Israel should not be "defined by conflict", but by its successes, and should focus on projecting those successes to make the world a better place.

Bennett also addressed the issue of his membership in a government which is taking part in negotiations with the Palestinian Authority, with the stated goal of creating a Palestinian state in Judea and Samaria - despite his party's staunch opposition to that goal.

He explained that the understanding between him and Netanyahu was that if "push comes to shove" and the two sides proposed an agreement which included Israeli territorial concessions, the final decision would be taken to the people in a national referendum.

Ultimately, "whatever they [the people] decide I'll respect," he said.

However, he made it clear that in his view the talks "aint going anywhere".

Bennett also explained his alternative to the current "Two State Solution" put forward by the US, which would see areas already under PA control remain autonomous, but demilitarized.

But he rejected the notion of further Israeli territorial concessions out of hand. Noting that each time Israel made territorial concessions in the past - in southern Lebanon, Judea and Samaria, and Gaza - it received deadly terrorism in return, asking rhetorically: "How many times do we have to hand over land to people who then minutes later shoot missiles at my children?"

Regarding Iran, and Israel's staunch opposition to any deal short of the total dismantlement of the country's nuclear program, Bennett reiterated the Israeli government's stance that western nations should be leveraging the current sanctions regime to issue an ultimatum to Tehran to abandon its nuclear ambitions, and that sanctions should not be lifted until that objective was reached.

Crucially, Bennett explained that the basis for that position was Jerusalem's view of the Islamic Republic as a rational state actor, in spite of the extreme ideological position of its leaders.

The regime, he insisted, valued one thing above all else: survival, and would choose survival over a nuclear program.

However, he warned that the current "bad" deal on the table would increase the chances of an Israeli strike, as the Jewish state views a nuclear Iran as an existential threat to its own existence.

"Our assumption as an indpendent state is that we will never outsource our security and our existence to anyone, including America," he insisted.

Part one of full interview:

Part two: