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An encounter with Naftali Bennett

Mar 11,2019 - Last updated at Mar 11,2019

Upon an invitation from the British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC) to participate in the television and radio programme “Global Questions”, I travelled to Jerusalem. I was called upon to participate in both the English and Arabic versions. The other three interlocutors who participated in one tape were changed by a different three in the second one.

In the English version, I was joined by Naftali Bennett, the right-wing Israeli minister of education, while the Palestinian participant was the lawyer Diana Buttu and the American participant, Jake Walles, was an adviser for the four US presidents preceding Donald Trump.

The presenter was the prize-winning Zeinab Badawi. The audience attending the taping were around 100, mostly Jewish youth, 30 years of age or younger. The programme’s main theme was the future prospects of peace between the Palestinians and the Israelis, with a focus on what is called “the deal of the century”.

Most of the intensity in the dialogue came from the verbal clashes between Buttu and Bennett. She called him racist, apartheidist and a man of close affinity with the deceased rabbi Kahane. He simultaneously called her terrorist, ungrateful citizen and provocateur against Israel.

I had three moments of less violent disagreement with Bennett. He had the gall to say that the Palestinians already have their state in Jordan, which is predominantly Palestinian. I corrected his statistics by reminding him that Jordan has 2.2 million refugees, or 20 per cent of its population, registered with UNRWA. All those of Palestinian origin are less than 40 per cent.

I also mentioned to him that in 1994, a peace treaty was signed between the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan and the state of Israel, and what he said was in direct violation of that peace treaty, which was ratified by 118 Knesset members. I warned him never to let a Jordanian hear him say that again. Former Israeli prime minister Ariel Sharon said it before him and he swallowed it.

He also mentioned that Arabs were 1 billion, and Israel is only 13 million, including its Arab inhabitants. Well, I had to correct his information that Arabs are only 430 million.

When Bennett gloated over Israeli achievements, he asked Buttu: What did you do? I snapped at him “Do not you think Palestinians and Arabs are talented?” To my dismay, he said absolutely, yes.

I was deeply shocked by his sloganeering. He was getting signals from someone in the audience, and I am sure that someone was one of his election campaign advisors.

At the end of the session, many Israeli youth came to me in a friendly disposition. Their main question was “If a peace is reached with the Palestinians, do you think they will accept us?”

Of course, we touched on many issues, like Jerusalem, Gaza and the deal of the century. I mentioned on tape that minister Bennett had already refused the deal of the century. He never responded to that.

I am surprised that this man, responsible for the Qana massacre, would be so right-wing? He is ICT savvy and a very rich man, as a result of building and selling two successful companies. A man like that is usually a Tel Aviv liberal. He did not strike me as truly religious. His religiosity, like his boss, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, is a matter of political convenience. Unfortunately, this brand of politics has reinforced extremists in the Arab world and led to the shedding of Arab blood in Palestine and abroad.

A word of appreciation should go to the BBC team, especially Badawi. 

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