Naftali Bennett, the leader of the hardline "Jewish Home" Party, who is Israel's Economics Minister, made a significant speech today which tells us how serious the peace negotiations being pushed by U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry have become -- and how worried opponents of the two-state solution are getting.
Bennett put forth many spurious arguments, among them that the demographic clock is working in Israel's favor and that whenever there are peace negotiations terrorism increases. But the main point of the speech was to lay down a marker that Bennett's party will not remain in a coalition that gives up territory or divides Jerusalem.
Speaking at the Institute for National Security Studies in Tel Aviv, Bennett said: "We will never agree to give up a unified Jerusalem... we will never accept an agreement based on the 1967 lines." He warned Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu not to go down in history as the man who gave up Jerusalem after 2,000 years of Jewish prayer.
The fact that Bennett felt the need to deliver this speech now is actually a sign that the negotiations are making progress and nearing a decisive phase. The concessions Bennett opposes are no longer theoretical. They are on the table.
Kerry is trying to get the Israelis and Palestinians to agree to a "framework agreement" that will address all the main issues in the negotiations and lay down the principles for a permanent peace agreement. Though Kerry has remained relatively silent regarding the details of the framework, Israeli media have reported that it will establish negotiations on the basis of the pre-1967 lines with land swaps, with a formula for mutual recognition.
It has always been clear that the Israeli coalition as currently constituted could not remain united once the time comes to commit to peace. The good news is that there is a clear majority in the Knesset for a two-state solution and that the opposition Labor Party and Meretz both stand ready to support the government if Netanyahu decides to move forward toward peace.
Another chilling sign that the extremists are worried came in an article by David Wilder, the spokesman for Hebron's Jewish community, that was published by various right-wing Jewish outlets. Wilder argued that Ariel Sharon, Yitzhak Rabin and Menachem Begin all met unhappy ends because they surrendered land and he warned Netanyahu that he is liable to suffer a similar fate if he gives up land to the Palestinians.
In words that we should all take very seriously, Wilder wrote:
"Bibi beware. Don't fall into the potholes left to you by Sharon. And to the others, who can join him, or leave him, can support him or bring him down, your fate is too hanging in the balance. Purify yourselves from the contamination of Kerry. Before Sharon's miserable fate will almost look good to you."
This is the nature of the opposition to peace. We can't say we haven't been warned.