Meir Deutsch is the director of the Regavim movement and has been a frequent guest in Israel National News' studio. With elections looming and the very real possibility that another center-left-Arab government could be formed, he discussed some of the burning issues of the day.
"The terrorist who committed the attack just a few days ago in the Jordan Valley is a known criminal," Deutsch said. "In the past, he's stolen our water and our land, with illegal construction. He himself lives in an illegally built home in Area C. In the last few days we found out that he has also served a prison term in the past for conspiring to murder a Shabak agent. So we see this close connection between taking over land, the actual establishment of a Palestinian state in those areas, and terrorist activity."
Deutsch emphasizes that he and his organization have been warning about this connection for years. "Stealing land in Area C is not something 'innocent' that regular people do. It's a dangerous nationalist event in terms of the establishment of a terrorist state in the heart of the country."
According to him, the reality on the ground is only getting worse and "time is not on our side. In the Negev, the Galilee, and Judea and Samaria, a strip of continuity is created that starts from Lebanon through the Arabs of the Galilee, through Wadi Ara, Samaria, east Jerusalem, Judea, and the Bedouin in the Negev. A de facto partition map has been created, one that's actually worse than the Partition Plan of '47."
Deutsch notes that Regavim has been presenting regular reports to the authorities for the past three years, recognizing that the problem is on such a scale that only the state can take adequate steps to solve it. "But over the past year, not only has nothing been done to stop the illegal building, but the Defense Minister has actually been supporting what's going on. He is consciously promoting the establishment of a Palestinian state - not just by permitting the illegal construction to continue, but also by allowing them to pave roads in Area C and to lay electrical infrastructure. As we speak, Ramallah is being connected to Jordanian power sources. This means the neutralization of the State of Israel's ability to control the Palestinian economy [via withholding electricity]. This is a very significant step."
Regarding the repeated claims of Ministers Elkin and Sa'ar that Benny Gantz is not a leftist, Deutsch says: "I didn't know what's happening to these people. We now have even Matan Kahana talking about strengthening the Palestinian Authority following a terrorist attack. Of course, Gantz has been talking in the same vein for the past year, parallel to the increase in terrorist activity.
"Until a year ago, the Palestinian state wasn't even on the agenda and we saw a decrease in terrorist activity against the State of Israel. As soon as Benny Gantz started to permit the construction of roads in Area C, illegal building units, and electricity infrastructure, more and more illegals started pouring in and this has strengthened the PA and terrorism too. Matan Kahana is simply delusional to claim that the Palestinian Authority needs to be strengthened in order to prevent terrorism."
Referring to the political positions of Yoaz Handel and Ayelet Shaked, Deutsch says that in his opinion their hearts are in the right place, but that they were deluding themselves to think that they could safely form a government that relied on the United Arab List (Ra'am) for its majority, "and we will be seeing the consequences of this partnership for years to come. What the country needs now is to restore governance in the Negev and against the Palestinian Authority, and we will not be able to do this in a unity government, but only in a national government where we're not reliant on left-wing parties to pass legislation."
Regarding the claim that successive Netanyahu governments did nothing in the Negev for 12 years, Deutsch says that indeed many things have not been done and his organization was the first to warn about this. However, he stressed that certain steps were taken under Netanyahu's leadership, such as the Kaminetz Law, the establishment of an enforcement unit in the Negev, a five-year plan that allocated 250 million shekels for enforcement, and tree planting in the Negev. "Over the last year, all the little that the Netanyahu governments did was reversed. Israel is like a huge ship and even after the captain has started to turn the wheel, it takes a long time until you see results.
"During the Netanyahu era, the wheel was turned to the right and we started to see the results over the last year in terms of enforcement, but at the same time we saw the Bennett-Gantz-Lapid government turn the wheel back to the left and we will see the results in the coming years," Deutsch says.
Deutsch then discussed the plan to establish three settlements for Bedouins in the Negev, calling it a positive development and one that Regavim supports. "We will only be able to see the bottom line in a few years once these settlements are fully populated by those currently dispersed more widely. On the other hand, we have seen how the Electricity Law allowed tens of thousands of illegal buildings to be whitewashed, mainly in the Galilee but also in the Negev. This was a catastrophe in terms of law enforcement in the State of Israel. So Shaked, who was behind both of these moves, has done both good and extremely bad things."
Furthermore, he stressed that while the establishment of the three Bedouin settlements in the Negev was discussed during Netanyahu's time as premier, it was planned to be conditional on the regulation of the young settlements in Judea and Samaria, whereas Bennett, when prime minister, removed that condition, in response to the demand of the United Arab List, which refused to join his coalition otherwise. "I think this was immoral, to distinguish between illegal construction by Arabs and that by Jews," Deutsch concludes.