Trailing in the polls behind center-left Labour Party leader Herzog in the run up to this week’s national elections in Israel, Prime Minister Benjamin ‘Bibi” Netanyahu appeared in a settlement on the outskirts of East Jerusalem and proclaimed that as long as he were Prime Minister, and his Likud Party were in control, there will be no evacuations from the occupied territories, and no independent Palestinian State.
Here, laid bare in the heat of a national election, was a simple declaration that the regime of the Likud Party will not negotiate in good faith with any Palestinian authority for a so-called ‘two-state’ solution.
In an article by William Booth, the Washington Post reported in today’s evening edition that
'“On the final day of his reelection campaign, Benjamin Netanyahu said that as long as he serves as prime minister of Israel, there will not be an independent Palestinian nation.
His declaration marks the second time in a month that Netanyahu has chosen to confront Washington directly: first by opposing, in a speech before Congress, President Obama’s possible deal to try to curtail Iran’s nuclear ambitions and now by opposing a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, which Secretary of State John F. Kerry spent nine months pursuing.
Netanyahu’s assertion, made on camera to an Israeli media site, appeared to reverse the prime minister’s previous declarations of support for a sovereign Palestinian state.
“I think that anyone who is going to establish a Palestinian state today and evacuate lands is giving attack grounds to the radical Islam against the state of Israel,” he said in a video interview published Monday on the NRG Web site.
“Anyone who ignores this is sticking his head in the sand. The left does this time and time again,” Netanyahu said. “We are realistic and understand.”
The final polls before Tuesday's Israeli election shows the opposition poised to defeat Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's party. (Reuters)
Netanyahu was then asked specifically if he meant that a Palestinian state would not be established if he were reelected prime minister. He answered, “Correct.”
In a speech at Bar-Ilan University in 2009, Netanyahu famously said he supported a two-state solution to end the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, as long as Israeli conditions were met and Israel’s security was guaranteed. That speech and two rounds of U.S.-brokered peace talks since then led many to assume that the prime minister was prepared to see a Palestinian state arise on the West Bank and in the Gaza Strip.
On Monday, Americans and Israelis were left unsure whether Netanyahu was just speaking off the cuff during an interview in the heat of a very close race or whether he was signaling a real change in policy.
State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki declined comment except to say: “There are many things said leading up to elections.’’ She added: “Obviously, our view continues to be that the only way to have peace and stability in the region is for there to be a two-state solution.
Erel Margalit, an opposition leader in the Labor Party, called Netanyahu’s statements “outrageous.”
“It undermines the direction that Israel has declared it is striving for during the last three prime ministers,” Margalit told The Washington Post. “We need to build trust with the Palestinians again and make sure they do not continue with their unilateral steps.”
Saeb Erekat, the former chief Palestinian negotiator during Kerry’s peace talks, said he was not surprised to hear the remarks. “Netanyahu has done everything possible to bury the two-state solution,” he said. “This is not something new to us.”
Netanyahu’s words hit the Internet soon after the prime minister came to a Jewish settlement in East Jerusalem on Monday and warned that if it were not for him and his right-wing Likud party, residents here would be next-door neighbors with the Islamist militant movement Hamas.
At a news conference at which journalists were not allowed to ask questions, Netanyahu stood at a lectern on the terrace of Yaron and Sigal Hakoshrein’s new condominium apartment, framed by building cranes over his shoulder, towering above units under construction.
Netanyahu called his host to stand beside him and asked on camera, “Do you want to see Hamastan over there on that mountaintop?” He then pointed in the general direction of Bethlehem, the Palestinian city in the West Bank where the Bible says Jesus was born.
Yaron Hakoshrein, a Likud activist, shook his head and said no.
“Then there is only one answer. Then you have to put the voting slip for Likud in the ballot box,” Netanyahu said.
The message was not subtle — but it sure was direct.
Israelis who fear that Hamas will take over the West Bank, as it did the Gaza Strip in 2007, have adopted the shorthand “Hamastan” to express that concern. Hamas is branded a terrorist organization by Israel and the United States. Israel and Hamas fought a 50-day war last summer.
On Sunday night, Netanyahu warned supporters at a rally in Tel Aviv that he may not win Tuesday’s election, a potentially dramatic fall for a consummate political survivor whose nine years in office transformed him into the public face of contemporary Israel.
The final round of opinion polls Friday showed Netanyahu and his Likud party facing a surprisingly strong challenge by Isaac Herzog, leader of the center-left Labor Party, and his running mate, former peace negotiator Tzipi Livni, who hold a small but steady lead.
For the past five days, Netanyahu has been working to bulk up support among his nationalist right-wing base, warning Israelis that his challengers would “give away land for peace” to the Palestinians, would divide the “eternal capital of Israel” and would turn over the eastern sections to the Palestinians for a future state.
Netanyahu has vowed “no concessions” and “no withdrawals” from the West Bank in speeches and statements during the campaign.
Over the past quarter-century, Israel and the Palestinians have engaged in many talks that failed to bear fruit. Kerry’s attempt collapsed last April, with each side blaming the other.
In a statement issued from his Likud party a week ago, Netanyahu was quoted as saying that his past support for an independent Palestinian state is now irrelevant.
“In the Mideast today, any evacuated territory will be overtaken by radical Islam and terror groups backed by Iran. Therefore, there will be no withdrawals and no concessions. It’s just not relevant,” read the statement, attributing the remark to Netanyahu.
Afterward, Netanyahu’s spokesman attempted to clarify matters by stating that the prime minister meant to say that “under current conditions in the Middle East, any land that is handed over would be grabbed by Islamist extremists.
The Palestinian Authority under President Mahmoud Abbas, which oversees part of the Israeli-occupied West Bank, has vowed to pursue a path of nonviolence and has coordinated its security responsibilities with Israeli forces.
Netanyahu’s campaign staged its Monday news event at the Jewish settlement of Har Homa in East Jerusalem for a reason. During his first term as prime minister, Netanyahu approved construction there.
Netanyahu said settlement construction at Har Homa was not only to provide housing for residents but also to deny Palestinians territory and contiguity.
Jewish settlements in the West Bank and East Jerusalem are considered illegal under international law. U.S. diplomats prefer to call the settlements “illegitimate.” The Israelis dispute that.
“It’s a neighborhood that I initiated in 1997 in my first stint as prime minister,” Netanyahu said. He said its value was that “it stops the continued advancement of the Palestinians.’’‘(1)
“Bibi” is, of course, running like a rat in heat in an attempt to retain his hold on power. Whether this represents a change in Likud policy or simply an attempt to rally his political base is now a question of some debate. Many, however, myself included, see Netanyahu finally coming clean, in the heat of battle, by declaring his real agenda. Many international observers, over the years, have been frustrated by the intransigence of both sides but it was revealed today that Netanyahu and Likud have no intention of proceeding further along the path toward peace.
The election in Israel is, no doubt, a divisive one. But the divisions plaguing Israeli politics have now spilled over into the international arena, first by the Prime Minister’s outrageous conduct in coming to the United States and addressing Congress in an overt attempt to sabotage delicate on-going negotiations with Iran involving not only the United States but several member nations of the U.N. Security Council. Now he stands before his nation and the world and unilaterally declares an end to the decades-long peace process. An act an Israeli Labour Party spokesman quickly labeled ‘outrageous”.
For a long time many have suspected the Israeli government of acting in bad faith. The result of Israeli policy–particularly under the leadership of the Likud coalition–has been to further alienate support for Israel among its allies, particularly the United States. It has also further alienated Israel in the region. Nothing demonstrates this more vividly than the erection of that fence along its border, in effect transforming Israel into a super ghetto.
The tragedy that is the Middle East is in large part due to the legacy of the treatment of it’s peoples by European powers. The story of the Holocaust and the impetus that gave to the nascent Zionist movement as it emerged with the Balfour agreement just prior to World War I is well known. In the aftermath of Hitler’s terror and rampant anti-Semitism in other parts of Europe there emerged a groundswell of support for the creation of the state of Israel. But it was British frustration in dealing with Zionist uprisings (and, yes, terrorist activities) and finally the recognition of Israel by the United States that finally made the difference.
What’s less understood here in the United States is the European legacy as it pertains to the Arab world. With the end of the Ottoman Empire in the aftermath of the First World War, Britain, France, and other European powers quickly moved to fill the void. Most of the ‘national’ frontiers were drawn up in the British Foreign Office with Great Britain assuming ‘trusteeship’ over the territory of Palestine. What followed was that the ‘west’ quickly set up regimes that promised to maintain order and, with the discovery of oil, deliver the ‘Saudi Tea” at reasonable prices and on time. Several ruling cliques were recognized, aided, and supported with military hardware to ensure that stability would reign. To the Arab on the street watching the national treasure being pumped out of the ground by foreign nationals for pennies on the dollar was bad enough; that damn little of it reached the villages and the people only added to the outrage. And, when confronted with popular unrest the United States could be relied upon not only to supply the tanks and helicopters, guns and rockets, tear gas and bullets, but also the funding and training of not so secret security forces like Iran’s Savak under the late Sha. The ‘West’ and increasingly the United States began to be seen by the Arab in the street as the ‘force-behind-the-force”. Not only the Israeli’s but the Arab States themselves being mere puppets dancing to the command of a foreign master. It has been the “European Neo-Colonial” postwar legacy that has been the driving force behind the divisions in the region; a legacy with an increasingly American face.
For nearly 40 years now the United States has been about the business of trying to act as a neutral arbiter in the region, resisting at all costs the inclusion of our Western Allies, the Russians, or anyone else that would offer to become an honest broker. We have had little success. We have had little success because it has become increasingly difficult for the players in the region (particularly ‘non-state’ players) to see us as an ‘honest broker’. This is not only because of our unqualified support of Israel but because of our propping up increasingly unpopular and repressive regimes that serve only the petrol -industrial interests internationally and the interests of the ruling clique in our client states. When the governments of the region turn on the people, Israel against Hamas, Egypt against the Arab Spring, Iraq against its tribal uprisings, it is with American arms, American built tanks, American built helicopters.
This posture is particularly attenuated when it comes to Israel. The Israeli military is a wholly owned subsidiary of the American Military-Industrial complex. The United States gives more foreign aid to Israel than any other country and without American support it is difficult to imagine an Israeli Prime Minister saying what Netanyahu said today. The posture of the United States is seen by all parties as so one-sided that it is no wonder our Secretary of State be it Henry Kissassinger, Madeline Albright, George Schultz, or John kerry, is not taken seriously.
Violence begets violence and it has been the long-standing policy of Israel to retaliate, sometimes all out of proportion to the offense. The result has been, however, when a cycle of acute violence erupts, for the United States to demand that the Palestinians stop their attacks, pledge not to engage in any more violence, and reign in on their radical groups. The Palestinian Authority, as did formerly the P.L.O. worked with the west and even the Israeli’s to gain a measure of tranquility so the peace process could proceed. Only when the Israeli response becomes nearly an international embarrassment, as in Lebanon, does the United States deign to intervene.
What has emerged, over time and the endless cycles of violence and retribution, is that the radicals have become ever more empowered because whatever level of trust established is quickly assaulted by the endless violence. Both sides blame the other until the origins of conflict are lost in the dusty memories of time or clothed in increasingly religious garments. Both sides entrench like the battlements on the Western Front a hundred years ago.
Nowhere is the evidence of this mentality so stark as with the wall currently being constructed around the State of Israel. With the completion of this monument to failure, the Jewish State will become at last secure within the walls of it’s own creation. The Warsaw Ghetto will have been successfully recreated on the banks of the Mediterranean another inescapable legacy, or so it seems.
(1). Washington Post Evening Edition, March 16, 2015, article by William Booth dateline Jerusalem.