Middle East
3:41 am
Mon January 21, 2013

Israel's Move To The Right, Ahead Of Elections

Originally published on Sun January 27, 2013 9:13 am

Transcript

STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

In his first term, the president sometimes had prickly relations with Israel. Tomorrow, Israelis vote in a new government. That election comes amid the revolutions of Israel's Arab neighbors and soon after an armed conflict with Palestinians in Gaza. And when David Remnick recently visited Israel, he found, in his words, the vivid and growing strength of the radical right.

In the New Yorker magazine Remnick writes of a rising political party that depends heavily on settlers of Palestinian areas - which the new party does not consider Palestinian at all. David Remnick is on the line to talk about this. Welcome back to the program, sir.

DAVID REMNICK: Thanks for having me.

INSKEEP: So you focus on this party that is essentially arguing that when it comes to the Palestinians, let's not bother with negotiations. Don't talk of a two state solution. We own Palestinian lands. That's the end of it.

REMNICK: Pretty much. This is the story of the elections and the move to the right in general and specifically a newcomer named Naftali Bennett, who is a 40-year-old, somewhat religious, very hard right leader but very different from the old settler model, which was obstreperous and vocally radical, and alienating to everybody to the left of them. This is somebody that's much more seductive, much more appealing, and he is gaining on Benjamin Netanyahu in this election campaign.

INSKEEP: I wonder if what's happening on the Israeli right is this, that this is what you're telling me, that in the past, the far right party, this very conservative parties might make a religious argument that Israel owns the land. They might even make a national security argument that Israel needs the land. But it's been broadened out now by conservative parties and they're making a practical argument, and essentially saying, look, we have no choice but to absorb the Palestinian territory. Is that what you're telling me?

REMNICK: What I'm saying is that the settlers are trying to, in political terms, occupy all of Israel; ideologically, politically. That their ideology, in the way that the kibbutz ideology of 50 years ago, 60 years ago, was so dominant, now the settlers, the far right feel that they are the vanguard party.

And also, it has to do with what they see as a sacredness of the land. When land is sacred, when it is imbued with religious significance then negotiation and political settlements become all the more possible.

INSKEEP: Any chance that the more conservative party, here, can win?

REMNICK: I don't think so. I think Netanyahu will be prime minister again. But I think you'll see that the government he has to put together will have to take into account the gains made by the far right. Remember, this is a very different electoral system than ours. They have - constantly have coalition governments one way or another. So this has real meaning, it's not an all or nothing game.

INSKEEP: It's not at all nothing game, meaning that the whole country is being pushed to the right.

REMNICK: Yes. And remember the context of what's going on here. You have Arab revolutions going on all over the region. You have a horrible mass murder going on in Syria. You have the Muslim Brotherhood in power in Egypt. You have potential instability in Jordan, et cetera, et cetera.

This makes the right all the more confident. This makes them all the more ready to say, look, we cannot afford to make a settlement with the Palestinians when, in fact, the Palestinians leadership itself is so divided, and the Hamas leadership talks openly about wanting all of historical Palestine.

Why should we make a settlement that puts the Palestinians completely in charge in the West Bank and creates yet another security difficulty for us, when we see that radical Islam is on the rise throughout the region? That is the rationale of the right, and increasingly, it is the reason that people in the center - who want, very much who want a settlement - don't trust the Palestinians to make a settlement.

INSKEEP: You know, I'm thinking about just a few years ago, not very many years ago, you had an Israeli prime minister, Ariel Sharon, who had impeccable credentials as being tough; who withdrew Israeli troops from Gaza; who was seen as leading a more pragmatic movement; and who was seen, in doing so, representing where it seems like most of his countrymen wanted to be.

How can things have shifted so much in a few years?

REMNICK: Because the disengagement from Gaza is seen as a failure all around. On the right, it's seen as a failure because you gave up settlements in Gaza and all we got, and I'm quoting their voice, all we got as missiles. And on the left and in the Palestinian camp, disengagement was seen as a high-handed, non-negotiating negotiated move, and therefore did not gain any political goodwill.

INSKEEP: You spent a lot of time with Naftali Bennett...

REMNICK: I did.

INSKEEP: ...the leader of this new party. Did you sense that he had thought deeply about the implications of the policies that he's advocating?

REMNICK: That's a very good question and I think the answer to that is no. His answer and his policy is a kind of foot stamping insistence: This is ours, that's the end of the story. It's a policy, if you want to call it that, born of religiosity, of frustration, insistence, and the knowledge that it has a lot of support.

INSKEEP: David Remnick, editor of the New Yorker magazine, thanks very much.

REMNICK: Thanks for having me.

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INSKEEP: It's MORNING EDITION from NPR News. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.