In his first address to the Knesset plenum as an MK Tuesday, Naftali Bennett, the leader of the Orthodox, right-wing Jewish Home party, made clear his ideological opposition to relinquishing any parts of the Land of Israel — sovereign Israel, as well as the West Bank — in a peace deal with the Palestinians.
“There is no room in our small but wonderful God-given tract for another state,” Bennett said in a speech that stressed Israel’s Jewish religious heritage as a cornerstone of its society. “It won’t happen. Friends, before every discussion on the territories, we need to declare: ‘The land of Israel belongs to the people of Israel.’ Only then can we start the debate.”
The hard-line statement came a day after Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, whose Likud-Yisrael Beytenu faction is in the midst of negotiations with the Jewish Home in an effort to form a coalition, reiterated his support for a two-state solution to the conflict.
A major component of Bennett’s platform in running for the leadership of the Jewish Home, and later for Knesset, was an initiative to annex most of the West Bank — the 60% designated as Area C which includes most settlements and about 50,000 Palestinians — and grant a form of autonomy to Palestinians in the remaining territories that would not become part of Israel proper.
Bennett also touched on another major political issue: the initiative to mandate a comprehensive draft into national service, including among the ultra-Orthodox community and Israeli Arabs. Serving in the army, he said, was a “mitzvah,” or religious obligation.
“I won’t accept that only in some sectors of society will the mothers lie awake at night worrying about the fate of their sons,” Bennett said.
Universal conscription was a major theme of coalition negotiations on Tuesday between representatives of the Likud-Beytenu and Yair Lapid’s centrist Yesh Atid party. During the meeting, Likud presented its formula for ultra-Orthodox induction, which Yesh Atid said it would study ahead of the next round of talks.
The new plan, details of which were not made available to the press, was drafted by Likud after Yesh Atid and Jewish Home rejected a previous outline that was formulated by Strategic Affairs Minister Moshe Ya’alon in 2012.
Lapid, the leader of Yesh Atid, made the ultra-Orthodox draft a central motif of his Knesset campaign, and has reportedly conditioned his party’s partnership in a Likud-Beytenu-led government on the passage of a law that would see most eligible members of the Haredi community conscripted into the army.
At the heart of the issue are tens of thousands of ultra-Orthodox students and teachers who do not do any form of national service. The ultra-Orthodox parties are vehemently opposed to taking any young men away from their studies in order to serve in the army.
Both Yesh Atid and Jewish Home have stated that without an equitable resolution to the draft issue, they won’t join a Netanyahu-led coalition. With their respective 19 and 12 seats, Yesh Atid and Jewish Home can form a make-or-break bloc for Netanyahu’s coalition aspirations.
Bennett said later Tuesday that he and Lapid “share a direction” even though they “don’t agree on everything.”
Jewish Home coalition representatives on Tuesday evening denied reports that they were invited by Likud negotiators to be the first party to join the coalition, and offered the education portfolio, religious affairs portfolio, and a major economic portfolio if they said yes within two days.