The political right wing in Israel is as adamant as ever about retaining territory it considers Jewish by ancestral birthright.
Former Netanyahu Chief of Staff Naftali Bennett is clearly against a state of Palestine. The software multi-millionaire is now head of the right-wing political party The Jewish Home, Bayit Yehudi. He has been a key figure opposing a continuing moratorium on building homes on West Bank land claimed by the Palestinians.
Bennett said: “First of all, before we go about annexing, we have to reverse Israel’s position and the world’s position vis-à-vis forming a Palestinian state and only then very gradually apply Israeli law on the Israeli parts of Judea and Samaria. I think sometimes common wisdom is wrong. I think this is one of those cases. We are all together on a bus, the whole international community, riding towards a dead end.”
Bennett says Israel should annex Area C in Judea and Samaria, the West Bank, where some 60% of all the Israeli settlements are. He proposes giving Israeli nationality to the Palestinians living there, and autonomy for those in Areas A and B.
The roughly 800 Jewish settlers in the West Bank city of Hebron, where they live among 200,000 Palestinians, are very keen on this platform of Bennett’s.
The traditional burial site of the Hebrew patriarchs is in Hebron, together with the Muslim Ibrahimi Mosque. It is also a site of violent clashes and killings between the settlers and the majority population.
Settler Haim Bleicher said: “The feeling is that the people are sobering up. They understand that everything until now has been an illusion: the idea that we can give the Palestinians guns and let them rule here and that will give us peace. But there will be peace only if we are strong and believe in our right and not give way.”
Another party that counts for a lot in the long and hard dispute is the ultra-orthodox Shas. They are gaining in support from the Sephardic community of non-Europeanized Jews, promoting the Sephardic or Middle Eastern Israeli culture.
They have been decisive in the power arrangements of several governments, and Shas has just got its charismatic leader Aryeh Deri back, after a 13 year absence. That began with a three-year prison sentence for corruption. He was in Itzhak Rabin’s government in 1992 and supported the Oslo Accords peace framework.
He is considered a dove among the ultra-orthodox. His return may further boost the voice of Shas, whose numbers in the Knesset had dwindled to 12 seats.
Eli Yishai holds one of them. A member of the Netanyahu cabinet, he is considered one of the hawks – not rejecting outright the principle of exchanging land for peace with the Palestinians, but immovable over the final status of Jerusalem.