Benjamin Netanyahu, who’s rarely at a loss for words, has come up with a new cynical twist on Israel’s nearly 50-year occupation of the West Bank. In a video message posted on his Facebook page on September 9, the Israeli prime minister rashly equated the removal of Jewish settlers from the West Bank with the spectre of ethnic cleansing.
Netanyahu, whose aggressive settlement policy blatantly belies his mild endorsement of a two-state solution to resolve the Arab-Israeli conflict, said: “Since when is bigotry a foundation for peace?”
In his latest attempt to justify and normalize Israel’s occupation, which the international community justly deems illegal and an impediment to peace, Netanyahu threw a red herring into the mix. He was plainly counting on the misguided hope that his loaded language will ease pressure on Israel to cede territory to the Palestinians within the framework of a peace agreement.
Netanyahu fears that the United States may yet support a United Nations resolution which could weaken Israel’s hold on the West Bank. And Netanyahu remains concerned by France’s efforts to break the diplomatic logjam with a plan that Israel would consider objectionable as well.
By way of undercutting such possible initiatives, Netanyahu resorted to lurid and misleading rhetoric. As he said on his Facebook page, “At this moment, Jewish school children in Judea and Samaria are playing in sandboxes with their friends. Does their presence make peace impossible? I don’t think so.”
Sadly, Netanyahu was obviously engaging in a self-serving public relations exercise, which is his usual modus operandi
Let’s be clear on this important issue.
Jews should be allowed to live in the West Bank if Israel and the Palestinians resolve their deep-seated differences and agree on the formation of a Palestinian state. After all, Jews have profound historical and religious attachments to the land, contrary to the claims of some Palestinian propagandists. And if Muslim and Christian Arabs can live freely in Israel as citizens, why shouldn’t Jews have the same right in a sovereign and independent Palestine?
In theory, the rights that Arabs enjoy in Israel should be extended to Jews in the West Bank. But there is a crucial difference here. Jews live in the West Bank by force. The Jewish presence is completely dependent on Israeli military power and the barrel of a gun. In Area C, where the Jewish population is concentrated, the Israeli army protects settlers and settlements and maintains the status quo, which is inimical to a two-state solution.
It’s highly doubtful whether the vast majority of Jewish settlers would wish to remain in the West Bank should Israel withdraw. The reason is clear. They would be unwilling to live under the uncertainties of Palestinian rule. Their repatriation to Israel could by no means be described as ethnic cleansing, as Netanyahu wrongly claims.
When Israel withdrew from the Sinai Peninsula after signing a historic peace treaty with Egypt, Jewish settlements were dismantled and their residents repatriated to Israel and the Gaza Strip. Significantly enough, their repatriation was not characterized as ethnic cleansing by anyone but extreme Jewish right-wingers. Not even Menachem Begin, the then Israeli prime minister, saw fit to use Netanyahu’s misleading expression.
One can only conclude that Netanyahu was dabbling in irresponsible and politically-motivated fear-mongering when he explicitly linked the flight of Jewish settlers from the West Bank to ethnic cleansing.
As Elizabeth Trudeau, a U.S. State Department spokesperson, correctly put it, “We obviously strongly disagree with the characterization that those who oppose settlement activity or view it as an obstacle to peace are somehow calling for ethnic cleansing of Jews from the West Bank. We believe that using that type of terminology is inappropriate and unhelpful.”