On Jerusalem Day, former MK Ronnie Bar-On hosted Yifat Erlich, a right-wing journalist from Ofra who writes for Yediot Aharonot, on the Rosh Berosh (“head to head”) program on the Knesset TV channel. The program is usually hosted by Hagai Segal – former member of the Jewish underground, today a journalist and father of Channel 2’s Amit Segal. Bar-On is a frequent guest.
The conversation between Segal and Bar-On was one between two ideological rivals who appear to have a liking for each other. Segal presents clear right-wing positions – more inclined to the extreme than to the moderate Right – but is soft-spoken.
Bar-On is a more complicated figure to place. He first came to public attention during the Bar-On-Hebron affair in 1997, when Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu appointed him attorney general for all the wrong reasons. He resigned after 48 hours. He was elected to the 16th Knesset on the Likud list, and then joined Ariel Sharon’s Kadima. In the Knesset he served as chairman of several important committees, and served in the government in several senior ministerial positions.
Over the years he moved further to the Left on the issue of a settlement with the Palestinians. His image as something of an enfant terrible has gradually turned into that of an experienced elder statesman, and his sullen demeanor has been replaced by a more relaxed and congenial one.
His confrontation with Erlich on Jerusalem Day highlighted another quality – understated irony.
At some point the conversation moved to the future of Judea and Samaria. Erlich, who is an animated speaker, accused Bar-On of racism and hatred of the Palestinians, since he calls for a separation from them, and a two-state solution.
“And what do you suggest?” Bar-On asked her. After some verbal contortions she stated that over a five-year period, every six months Israel should annex another piece of Judea and Samaria, until finally Israel controls the whole area.
“And what will you do with the Palestinians,” he asked, “expel them?” “Oh no,” she replied, “offer them full citizenship, including the possibility to be elected to the Knesset.”
Bar-On looked at her in disbelief.
“You know,” he continued, “Benny Begin recently stated that the Right is made up of the moderate Right, the extreme Right and the stupid Right. Which Right do you belong to?” And immediately added, with a drop of irony: “of course, you are not stupid.”
“I belong to the Zionist Right,” she answered with confidence.
The conversation continued for a while longer, with Bar-On occasionally returning to Erlich’s accusation that he is a racist, but I am sure that in his head he was thinking: is she for real? How can right-wingers who can’t seem to live in peace with the 13 MKs of the Joint List believe that they will be able to cope with a vast Palestinian minority in the Knesset, made up of people who did not grow up in Israel, did not receive an Israeli education, suffered Israel as an occupier and basically hate our guts, and somehow preserve the Zionist state under such conditions? What sort of Zionism will that be? Erlich, and all other right-wingers who advocate one state west of the River Jordan, are either lying or living in la-la land. Doesn’t Erlich realize that living in a Jewish- Palestinian democratic state means taking Palestinian desires and aspirations into account as much as Jewish desires and aspirations are taken into account? What sort of Jewish state would that be?
We do not even seem able to reach an agreement among ourselves as to what should be done about the three Balad MKs who have crossed almost every conceivable red line. So what would we do with 30, 40, 50 or even 60 Palestinian MKs, who at best have Fatah leanings, and at worst Hamas ones? And how many Palestinian MKs who have neither Fatah nor Hamas leanings could be democratically elected to the Knesset? When one listens to Erlich it is difficult not to believe her sincerity. She even paid a condolence visit to the village of Duma after the murder of the Dawabshe family by Jewish terrorists, to demonstrate that not all the settlers are terrorists or hate Palestinians. But she didn’t seem to understand why many of the villagers did not want her around. She doesn’t understand that as a settler in the occupied territories she simply isn’t welcome – “neither your sting nor your honey.”
I do not know how many right-wingers share Erlich’s views. I suspect that many more agree with Rabbi Dov Lior, who also on Jerusalem Day stated at Merkaz Harav, in the presence of Netanyahu (what the hell was he doing there?) that a way should be found to transfer the Palestinians back to where they came from. The last I heard it was our patriarch Abraham who came from southern Iraq, or from southeast Turkey.
Incidentally, Netanyahu responded by saying that “I don’t dislodge people from their homes, and no one will dislodge us from our country.” What does he think of Erlich’s proposition?
The writer is a political scientist and a retired Knesset employee.