Inconvenient Truths For Netanyahu

The American ambassador to Israel and the secretary-general of the United Nations have both issued no-nonsense warnings regarding the pitfalls of Israel’s occupation of the West Bank.

Call them inconvenient truths.

To no one’s surprise, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has responded harshly to their collective words of wisdom, thereby confirming the widely-held assumption that his right-wing government has no genuine/sincere interest in trying to resolve Israel’s dangerous conflict with the Palestinians by means of an equitable two-state solution.

Daniel Shapiro, the U.S. envoy to Israel, angered Netanyahu by saying that Israel’s network of settlements in the West Bank raise “honest questions” about its “long-term intentions” in the West Bank. The United States, he noted, is “concerned and perplexed” by Israeli policy.

As he put it, “This government and previous Israeli governments have repeatedly expressed support for a negotiated settlement that would involve mutual recognition and separation. Yet separation will become more and more difficult” should Israel continue to expand its settlements.

Shapiro added that the absence of peace negotiations is a risky proposition for Israel because it accelerates the movement toward a binational solution, which would spell finis to the Zionist dream of a democratic Jewish state.

Let’s not forget the context here. Shapiro is the representative of Israel’s best friend and sole superpower ally and benefactor.

This is of no importance to Netanyahu. Calling Shapiro’s observations “unacceptable and incorrect,” he claimed incorrectly that the Palestinian Authority is responsible for “the diplomatic freeze” and “refuses” to resume peace negotiations, which were broken off nearly two years ago after nine months of fruitless on-again, off-again discussions.

Netanyahu’s critique is so way off the mark.

First, Shapiro was right to point out that Israel’s expansion of settlements is at odds with its yearning for peace. Israel cannot have peace and settlements. It’s a contradiction in terms, unless Israel is willing to engage in land swaps with the Palestinians. Shapiro was also right to suggest that a binational fate awaits Israel if it continues along its self-destructive path. A few days ago, Israel’s West Bank policy was starkly laid out by a member of Netanyahu’s cabinet, Education Minister Naftali Bennett, who said the Palestinians can forget about statehood. Say this much for Bennett: He was telling the unvarnished truth.

Second, the Palestinian Authority is not solely to blame for the current diplomatic impasse. Israel is at fault too because Netanyahu and his ministers are unwilling to pay the price for peace — a withdrawal from the West Bank. And it’s disengenuous on Netanyahu’s part to assert that the Palestinian Authority has no desire to restart talks. Its president, Mahmoud Abbas, is, in fact, ready for a grand compromise, as he has said over and over again.

United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon waded into the debate by warning that Palestinian “frustration is growing under the weight of a half of century of occupation and the paralysis of the peace process.”

While condemning the latest wave of attacks against Israeli civilians and soldiers in the West Bank, he correctly said that Israeli “facts on the ground in the occupied West Bank are steadily chipping away the viability of a Palestinian state and the ability of Palestinian people to live in dignity.”

Ban was merely stating the obvious, a narrative the international community has embraced but which Israel, in its myopia, rejects. Naturally, Netanyahu rebuked Ban. “The words of the UN secretary-general,” he declared piously, “give a tailwind to terrorism.”

This is patently rubbish. Israel’s nearly 49-year occupation of the West Bank is a prime cause for the current unrest, which has claimed the lives of two dozen Israelis and 130 Palestinians. But let’s be real. The occupation is not the only reason for Palestinian violence and terrorism. Far too many Palestinians, particularly those who agree with the views of Hamas and Islamic Jihad, have never accepted Israel’s existence and are committed to its destruction.

Yet there should be no doubt that the corrosive occupation, buttressed by a web of settlements designed to break up the geographic contiguity of a future Palestinian state, sows anger, rage and hatred in the hearts of Palestinians.

Does Netanyahu not understand their grievances and aspirations? Though he has said that Israel should do everything in its power to preempt the possibility of a binational state, he is laying the foundation for one. He is digging Israel’s grave as a Jewish state.

His vision is disputed by, among others, Shelly Yachimovich, the former Labor Party leader and current Knesset member. She has urged the Israeli government to reopen negotiations with Abbas, a secular and pragmatic leader. If Netanyahu insists on marginalizing and demonizing him, Israel will face far less palatable Palestinian leaders in the years to come.

Yachimovich is also sharply critical of Isaac Herzog, her successor and the opposition leader. The Labor Party, she said recently, must offer a clear alternative to Netanyahu’s dead-end policies. Regrettably, Herzog may not be qualified to do so. Of late, Herzog has claimed that the two-state solution is no longer a “realistic option in the near future.” As an alternative, he has suggested a unilateral physical separation from the Palestinians as quickly as possible.

Unilateral withdrawals do not work, as Israel’s unilateral pullouts from Lebanon in 2000 and the Gaza Strip in 2005 amply illustrate. So why is Herzog flogging a discredited policy? It’s mystifying and so disappointing.

Herzog should be working for a phased Israeli withdrawal from the West Bank following direct talks with the Palestinian Authority. But if he throws up his hands in despair and gives up on a negotiated two-state solution, Israel will take the consequences and will be the ultimate loser.

About the Author
Sheldon Kirshner is a journalist in Toronto. He writes at his online journal,