By Barring Left-wing Activists’ Entry to West Bank, Bennett Cynically Uses Army for His Politics

Saturday’s decision to issue restraining orders against radical left-wing activists is probably the responsibility of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. He’s the one who appointed Naftali Bennett – no doubt a talented man – to the role of defense minister in a caretaker government between Israel’s second and third elections within a year.

Netanyahu is also the one who last week threatened to boot Bennett from the Defense Ministry if he didn’t respond to his pressure to join forces with parties right of Likud ahead of the March 2 election. When the prime minister is treating a ministry in charge of human lives as a political tool, you can’t blame his minister for acting in a similar way.

Since he became defense minister in November, Bennett, who knows he’s on borrowed time, has been acting like a man possessed. Every few days his office releases a statement highlighting his efforts. It’s not just threats to retaliate against the Palestinians in Gaza (threats that don’t seem to have impressed Islamic Jihad) or a plan to get Iranian forces out of Syria. He’s striving to please potential voters as the head of the Hayamin Hehadash party – and chief among them are the Jewish settlers.

Quick pace, short meetings

Here’s a partial list of the steps declared by the defense minister in recent months: delaying the return of terrorists' bodies to their families; arresting civilians entering illegally from Gaza as “illegal fighters”; declaring that he will establish nature reserves in the West Bank where the presence of Palestinians will be limited; using the army in his campaign to take over Area C in the West Bank; and appointing an adviser whose main job is to organize this effort.

The General Staff is struggling to keep up with a defense minister who seems to be on uppers. Many of the decisions are based on short meetings without planning the groundwork. It should be noted, however, that Bennett also surprises sometimes by signaling he can go a different way. He has expressed support for easing financial restrictions on the Strip; last week he allowed the evacuation of buildings in an outpost of radical settlers near Yitzhar in the West Bank.

But he broke all records, at least for now, Saturday night in his office’s detailed statement. Bennett has instructed the army’s Central Command, the Shin Bet security service and the police to issue restraining orders against left-wing activists, banning them from the West Bank.