+972 Magazine » Noam Sheizaf http://972mag.com Independent commentary and news from Israel & Palestine Mon, 22 Dec 2014 19:59:04 +0000 en-US hourly 1 http://wordpress.org/?v=3.8 The hand that holds the status quo together http://972mag.com/the-hand-that-holds-the-status-quo-together/100270/ http://972mag.com/the-hand-that-holds-the-status-quo-together/100270/#comments Fri, 19 Dec 2014 14:10:10 +0000 http://972mag.com/?p=100270 The Palestinians put forward a Security Council resolution calling for the end of the occupation by 2017. The Obama administration, which has supported essentially every Israeli policy toward the Palestinians, has promised to use its veto power.

The Kingdom of Jordan on Wednesday submitted a resolution draft to the United Nation Security Council, which calls for the establishing of a Palestinian state as well as a deadline for the occupation: 2017, two years from now. The proposal, which could be voted on at any time, was drafted by the Palestinian Authority in the aim of breaking the diplomatic impasse in efforts to establish a Palestinian state.

According to reports, should the Obama administration vetoe the resolution, the Palestinians will join dozens of international agencies, including perhaps the International Criminal Court – a move that may allow the court to hear future charges against Israeli officials.

The United States opposes the Palestinian motion. The Israeli media reported yesterday that Secretary of State Kerry informed Prime Minister Netanyahu and the Palestinian Authority that the U.S. will veto the resolution should it come to a vote. It seems that the Americans also object to a more modest resolution proposed by the French government. The French proposal is said to put forward several parameters for a final-status agreement, setting a two-year deadline for negotiations.

The idea of a deadline on the occupation is required to solve an inherent problem with the diplomatic process: it depends entirely on the Israeli will to make concessions. There is simply no incentive for any Israeli leadership (not just Netanyahu’s) to move forward, certainly not at a time when Israel enjoys relative calm and prosperity, as it has over the past decade. The negotiations are not balanced: one side is holding all the cards while the other depends on its good will; one side is in a state of emergency, and the other can ignore the issue altogether; one side gains international credit by merely agreeing to talk, while the other side of the deal — a Palestinian state — is only promised in the very distance future, if at all.

U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Susan Rice. (UN Photo/JC McIlwaine)

U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Susan Rice. (UN Photo/JC McIlwaine)

Millions of Palestinians have been living under military rule in the West Bank and siege in Gaza for almost 50 years. The lack of any form of Palestinian sovereignty directly affects millions more who are stuck in refugee camps and cannot be helped by their own people, even during a crisis like the Syrian civil war. It has been half a century since the 1967 war, and the Israeli government still has not made up its mind whether to leave the territories it captured and allow Palestinians their independence, or grant them full civil rights. Or perhaps it seems like the government has made up its mind to keep the land but not give the rights, thus treating the Palestinians as prisoners. The expiration date on this state of affairs is long overdue. In this context, allowing another two years for completing an agreed-upon process to end the occupation actually seems like a generous offer.

The problem is that the U.S. agrees with Israel on an entirely different framing of the problem: not how or when Israel should end the occupation, but whether it should do so at all, and under which hypothetical circumstances. For the two countries, the talks are a process through which Israelis need to be convinced that the Palestinians have rights, too.

In recent years I have attended and sometimes even spoken on various panels and forums on American policy vis-a-vis the conflict, including its failure to facilitate a peace deal between Israelis and Palestinians. In such forums one always get a sense of helplessness coming from the American side. What more can America do, people ask, to end the occupation? How can peace be so elusive? What went wrong with “the process?”

But in order to keep raising those questions, one must ignore reality. In truth it is the United States that holds everything together right now. When people think about American support for Israel they imagine the military aid and Iron Dome. But in fact, American administrations – every one of them – have created the diplomatic and political environment in which Jerusalem can carry out its policies. And when the chips are down, it is the American administration that shields Israel from the inevitable consequences of its policies, allowing Israeli leaders to make decisions that are not only immoral, but also carry disastrous consequences for all parties involved.

This is true for almost every step of the way. The United States boycotted the Fourth Geneva Convention Conference taking place this week, mainly because Israel does not accept the interpretation of its settlement activities as a violation of Article 49 in the treaty; the United States is vetoing Security Council resolutions on the occupation – even resolutions that are deliberately drafted using the State Department’s texts on settlements. And when Israel ran out of artillery shells during its latest war in Gaza, the U.S. opened its emergency bunkers in Israel to resupply the IDF. In short, one cannot think of any part of Israeli policy toward the Palestinians – the so-called status quo – that does not depend on the active support and participation of the United States.

This cooperation is a bit inconvenient for the administration at times, especially when it is trying to get the support of other Arab countries for its Middle East wars – and this is precsiely where the personal rift between the governments serves both sides. Obama and Kerry are able to distance themselves from the active role they are taking in aiding Israeli policies, and Netanyahu can score some points with its base for “standing up” to the U.S. But when things matter – like they do now in the Security Council or last summer in Gaza (and the war was all about maintaining the status quo) – the U.S. and Bibi are almost exactly on the same page.

Unlike UN resolutions, which Israel has learned to ignore, Security Council measures are binding, and can have very serious implications on states (just take a look at Russia or Iran). That’s why the Palestinians are trying to get the international community involved in a way that would require Israel to think about how to end the occupation, rather than whether to do it in the first place. But without American approval, nothing can move forward at the UNSC. When you look for the thing that is holding the status quo together, the American ambassador’s voting record at the UN is a good place to start.

Amid Gaza war IDF buys ammunition from U.S. stock in Israel
Israel’s UN ambassador puts another nail in the two-state coffin

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Bennett is not the problem http://972mag.com/bennett-is-not-the-problem/99777/ http://972mag.com/bennett-is-not-the-problem/99777/#comments Tue, 09 Dec 2014 17:31:45 +0000 http://972mag.com/?p=99777 American administrations have a tendency to blame the ‘radical’ settlers for torpedoing peace missions. The real problem, however, is with the ‘moderates’ who are complicit in maintaining the status quo. 

There is a lot of talk in some circles about Naftali Bennett’s appearance at the Saban Forum last weekend (video below). Bennett, who heads the Jewish Home party and is the star of the Israeli Right, took to the stage with former special envoy to the peace process Martin Indyk. Bennett essentially declared that Israeli will never accept the two-state solution, that there will be no more “land for peace” and that he has the Israeli public behind him. “How many more missiles need to fall on Ashkelon until you wake up?” he asked Indyk, who remained mostly speechless. Bennett shared a clip of the event on his Facebook page.

Bennett, with his overtly confrontational attitude, is clearly the new boogeyman in the eyes of the Obama administration. According to mainstream thinking, if he ends up being appointed the next defense minister, the peace process will be as good as dead. This is a mistake: there is no hope for peace with Bennett, but this is not where the real problem lies.

American administrations have a tendency to divide societies into “good guys” and “bad guys,” or “moderates” and “radicals.” Moderates, they believe, are the ones you can do business with, and thus are the political forces worth cultivating.  The Israeli case is no different: there is a non-stop effort to decipher whether or not certain politicians – specifically rising stars and potential leaders – are “moderates.” The settlers are always the radicals, while Labor leaders are the moderates as long as they show some interest in the Palestinian issue. Liberman was a radical; now he is a potential moderate. Netanyahu was the exact opposite; there was a moment when he had the ability to become a moderate, but is now considered a hopeless case.

While amusing, this game misses the point entirely. Besides a lot of wishful thinking, it betrays a simple misunderstanding of Israeli politics. What political leaders think or say is not as important as the balance of interests and the environment that shape their behavior.

The heart of the matter is this: the common denominator that allows coalitions in Israel to exist is an agreement on the status quo with regards to the occupation, or at least an agreement with a certain version of the status quo (*).

By “common denominator” I mean that Netanyahu, Lapid, Livni, Liberman and Bennett have different, often conflicting ideas on the way Israel should approach the Palestinian issue. However, they can all live with the status quo. Although they may want something else, they can still agree to maintain the current trends on the ground.

This is what allows these politicians (and the forces they represent) to sit together in the same government. They conduct a tug of war over some nuances – the rate of settlement construction, the “illegal” outposts, whether or not to talk to Abbas – but they never stray too far from the status quo, since doing so will make it impossible to share power. In fact, the status quo is so important that the government is ready to go to war in order to maintain it. This is exactly what Israel has been doing since the Second Intifada.

Despite the rhetoric, Bennett can live with the status quo just as Livni can. This is precisely why they sat together in this last government, just as Ehud Barak sat with the settlers in the previous one. When international actors scratch their heads wondering why peace missions fail again and again they shouldn’t be looking at the settlers, who were never even close to constituting a majority in Israeli society. Instead, they should be looking at their “moderate” friends, whose common ground with the Right is the basis for the status quo.

And here’s the punch: even in the case of an election upset that would see the emergence of a center-left coalition, it will likely need to be based on an unspoken agreement on some version of the status quo. This is the only way that Liberman, Kahlon, Lapid, Livni and Herzog can sit in the same coalition.

Electing “the right politicians” will never be enough for an Israeli government – any Israeli government – to make to real change. For real change to occur, the circumstances under which all politicians operate need to shift as well. In other words, the only way this can happen is if major forces in Israeli society decide they cannot live with the status quo any longer (most likely because the price they would pay for doing so is simply too great).

It is not enough that these politicians would rather see the occupation end; ending the occupation needs to be the new common denominator for their political approach. As long as we are engaged in the “moderates” vs. “radicals” conversation, we are simply not going to get there.


(*) A note on terminology: the term “status quo” is misleading. I use it to describe the political arrangements and the most important procedures Israel implements on the ground. However there is nothing static in the reality they create, as the last year clearly demonstrated.

‘Anyone but Bibi’ isn’t the point: Pre-election postulations
Israel’s elections: A referendum on Netanyahu

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Pundits’ consensus: Netanyahu is vulnerable http://972mag.com/pundits-consensus-netanyahu-is-vulnerable/99709/ http://972mag.com/pundits-consensus-netanyahu-is-vulnerable/99709/#comments Sun, 07 Dec 2014 20:56:01 +0000 http://972mag.com/?p=99709 Are we nearing the end of King Bibi’s reign? Much of that depends on his allies, his rivals and the determination of international actors to address the disastrous trends on the ground.

In 2009 and 2013 it was easy to call who the next prime minister would be a month before the polls opened in Israel. Netanyahu underperformed in 2013, when his bloc of right-wing and ultra-Orthodox parties ended up winning 61 of the Knesset’s 120 seats, the minimum number that could prevent any other politician from forming a government. But he did win, as most people expected.

Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu (photo: Yotam Ronen / Activestills.org)

Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu (photo: Yotam Ronen / Activestills.org)

Things are far from being that clear this time. The right is still polling over 60, but there are indications that Foreign Minister Avigdor Liberman may defect from the right, and together with Tzipi Livni, Labor’s Isaac Herzog, Yair Lapid and former Likud minister Moshe Kahlon (who will head a new party), form a centrist government that would send Bibi back home.

Nearly every political pundit in Israel was mulling these options over the weekend. Nahum Barnea in Yedioth Ahronoth, Ben Caspit in Ma’ariv, Channel 2 news. In Haaretz, columnist Uri Misgav already predicted that Isaac Herzog will be Israel’s next prime minister (way too early, I believe). Only among the pages of Sheldon Adelson Yisrael Hayom Netyanyahu is still the sun, the planets and everything around them. This is how Haaretz’s Anshel Pfeffer summed it up:


Rumors abounded that Netanyahu might try to have the ultra-Orthodox parties enter his government and prevent the elections, only to be torpedoed by Liberman. In a press release earlier today, the foreign minister made it clear that he will not be part of such a coalition, and that we are indeed heading for elections. This only added to the speculations that Liberman also senses the end of King Bibi’s reign, and is not ready to save him. Not this time.

How likely is such a scenario? In my view Netanyahu is still a favorite in these elections. But it is also clear that he is vulnerable, even without a strong alternative that can unite the opposition, the way Rabin was to Yitzhak Shamir in 92 or Barak was to Netanyahu in 99. The elections are about Netanyahu, not about the alternative.

In fact, even the primaries in the Likud are beginning to look like a serious hurdle for Netanyahu, rather than the formality everyone expected them to be. A poll in Ma’ariv found that former Interior Minister Gideon Sa’ar (Likud), is polling better than Bibi among the general public. Sa’ar is yet to announce his candidacy, but if he does, there will be many Likud members who may be tempted to see him as the future of the party, while viewing Bibi as a man of the past. They might be right: I think that Sa’ar is a stronger candidate for the right than Netanyahu is.

My only note of reservation is not about the likelihood that Netanyahu surges in the polls – the best he can hope for is a narrow victory, like his three previous ones – but in the misplaced expectations regarding his departure. Netanyahu led an awful government – as bad as I can remember. But in many ways he and his coalition were both a product of an era and of the circumstances in which Israeli leaders operate: absolutely no accountability for the occupation and the human rights abuses that come with it; when even diplomatic consequences of Israeli actions are not quite felt.

If Bibi does fall, much will depend on the identity of the person who takes his place, as well as the coalition he or she assembles. Even more important, however, is the behavior of international actors and their determination to address the disastrous trends on the ground. Politicians avoid making difficult or revolutionary decisions when they can, and so will the next Israeli prime minister, whatever his or her name will be (Mairav Zonszein has more on this).

Israel’s elections: A referendum on Netanyahu
‘Anyone but Bibi’ isn’t the point: Pre-election postulations
Moshe Kahlon for prime minister of Israel

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Israel’s elections: A referendum on Netanyahu http://972mag.com/israels-elections-another-referendum-on-netanyahu/99532/ http://972mag.com/israels-elections-another-referendum-on-netanyahu/99532/#comments Tue, 02 Dec 2014 17:44:15 +0000 http://972mag.com/?p=99532 The coalition is falling apart, and the Knesset is likely to agree on early elections soon. Current polls suggest we are heading toward a fourth Netanyahu government, which will be even more right wing than the current one.

Binyamin Netanyahu and Avigdor Lieberman thank their supporters at the Likud-Yisrael Beitenu headquarters, January 23 2013 (photo: Yotam Ronen / Activestills)

Binyamin Netanyahu and Avigdor Lieberman n election night 2013. Netanyahu would like to form a new government with his old political partners (photo: Yotam Ronen / Activestills)

Netanyahu’s third government has reached its end. New elections, which seemed likely when the Gaza war ended, are practically inevitable at this point. UPDATE: The Knesset’s parties agreed to hold the elections on March 17, 2015.

The two central pillars of the government – Netanyahu’s Likud party and Finance Minister Yair Lapid’s Yesh Atid (comprising 18 and 19 seats, respectively, out of the Knesset’s 120) –  are not able to cooperate with each other any longer, with bad blood running especially high between the two politicians. Growing disputes led to Netanyahu firing both Yair Lapid and Tzipi Livni from his government on Tuesday evening.

Theoretically an alternative coalition can emerge without elections. In recent days both Lapid and Netanyahu have tried to gain the support of Shas and United Torah Judaism (UTJ), the two ultra-Orthodox parties. With that support, either one of them could have gathered the necessary 61 votes to become prime minister. But the ultra-Orthodox parties refused both Bibi and Lapid, believing that they will have better leverage after the elections, even if they end up winning fewer seats than in the current Knesset. Unless the ultra-Orthodox change their mind soon, the government will not have a majority in the Knesset and new elections will become inevitable.

Netanyahu will likely not resign, since the risk of seeing Lapid or Herzog assemble an alternative coalition is too great. Instead the Knesset will likely pass a quick bill on early elections – the way it does every time a government is about to fall. Netanyahu would like to have as short a campaign as possible – the common wisdom is that long election cycles hurt incumbent prime ministers running for reelection.

Netanyahu will run as the head of the Likud party. Avigdor Lieberman will run independently with his Yisrael Beitenu party (last election he combined his list with Bibi’s). Naftali Bennett will lead the Jewish Home party, though whether the extreme-right National Home faction splits from Jewish Home is yet to be seen. Tzipi Livni will seek to merge her Hatnua party – which is sinking in the polls – with either Labor or Lapid’s Yesh Atid party. There are even talks of a joint center-left bloc, though this is not likely to happen.

Former Likud minister Moshe Kahlon (who is polling well, between 8-12 seats) will lead a new centrist party. The Palestinian parties – United Arab List and Balad – will run on the same list, due to the raising of the Knesset threshold. The Arab-Jewish Hadash party may join them as well.

The unexpected element

If Operation Protective Edge was a war over maintaining the status quo, these will be the elections of the status quo. Put another way: these elections are akin to a referendum on Netanyahu and his signature policy, which is all about maintaining the current trends on the ground. Nobody can pretend any longer that Netanyahu is about to negotiate a peace deal or evacuate settlements. The prime minister attacked Mahmoud Abbas so vehemently in recent weeks that even if he were to suddenly cut a deal with Abbas, it would be impossible to sell it to the public.

There won’t be any new Bibi. Only the old Bibi, older. Netanyahu is closer than ever to Naftali Bennett and the settlers. As relations between Israel’s Palestinian citizens and Jews deteriorated over recent months, Netanyahu only fanned the flames, refrained from condemning attacks on Palestinians and threatened to expel protesters or revoke the citizenship of family members of terror suspects. This hardline approach reflects Netanyahu’s ideology as well as his political calculus.

Unlike other Likud leaders (Sharon being the prime example), Bibi is not looking for votes from the center. His strategy is more about rallying the base. Netanyahu won his 1996 upset against Shimon Peres by mobilizing a collation of forces: the settlers; lower-income, mostly Mizrahi Jews; much of the Russian vote; the ultra-Orthodox and the hawkish revisionists that dominated Likud in those days. The Israeli Right has seen a change of guard – the Likud’s revisionists were demoted and the national-religious (mostly settlers) are now in the driver’s seat – but the coalition around them remains mostly intact. Those same forces handed Bibi his recent victories in 2009 and 2013. All three victories were narrow: he won 50.5 percent of the vote in 1996; his coalition won 65 and 61 Knesset seats in 2009 and 2013, respectively. Never a landslide, but always enough. This is what Bibi will be aiming for this time as well.

The problem with the current government is that it didn’t comprise of Bibi’s regular coalition, since Bennett and Lapid forced him to leave the ultra-Orthodox out. This was the source of the instability: Bibi leading a government while drawing his political support elsewhere. Now he is running in order to return things back to normal: securing a majority of 61 votes or more for his coalition, while squeezing in a centrist party or two in order to balance the hard right and use them as a diplomatic buffer, the way Barak and Livni were used in Bibi’s two previous governments.

Polls suggest that Netanyahu will get what he wants. The center-left parties are not polling anywhere close to 60 votes, which is the minimum required to disrupt the prime minister’s plan. Furthermore there is a split between the centrist parties (Kadima, Livni, Yesh Atid, Labor and Kahlon) and the leftist parties (Meretz, Hadash and the Palestinian parties) which prevents them from operating as an effective political bloc.

Right now the most likely outcome is a shift of around 8-10 seats from Livni and Lapid to Kahlon, and another 2-4 seats to Meretz and Bennett. This will actually leave Netanyahu in a better position after the elections, as the right-wing bloc will slightly grow, and he will have easier time inviting Kahlon to the coalition than he did with Lapid or Livni. Kahlon was always rather hawkish in his views, though he is currently trying not to highlight this fact.

Having said that, there is always something unexpected in elections, especially in the fragmented Israeli system. Bibi’s next term is far from guaranteed, and there is always the option of a major upset, or of someone (Lieberman?) defecting from the right simply in order to get rid of Netanyahu. The likely scenario, however, is another term with Netanyahu. The Israeli public – or more accurately, the Jewish-Israeli public – is not likely to change course on its own, and the circumstances that would force such a change are not here yet.

Top 10 reasons Israel should be going to early elections
War is the new system of governance (and five other Gaza takeaways)

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Israel’s UN ambassador puts another nail in the two-state coffin http://972mag.com/israels-ambassador-to-the-un-puts-another-nail-in-the-two-state-coffin/99201/ http://972mag.com/israels-ambassador-to-the-un-puts-another-nail-in-the-two-state-coffin/99201/#comments Tue, 25 Nov 2014 15:51:02 +0000 http://972mag.com/?p=99201 ‘Imagine the type of state [Palestinian] society would produce. Does the Middle East really need another terror-ocracy?’ Prosor said in a speech on Monday.

In recent years Israeli government officials have learned that rejecting the rights of Palestinians should always go hand-in-hand with a verbal commitment to the creation of a Palestinian state. But the consensus in Israel is moving toward the right, and Israeli officials are more explicit than ever in their rejection of Palestinian statehood or any form of equal rights for Palestinians, for that matter.

Since his appointment, Defense Minister Moshe Ya’alon has made it clear that regardless of any political solution, the Israeli army should have the freedom to operate within the Palestinian territory. Prime Minister Netanyahu insists that Israel maintain control over the Jordan Valley for an indefinite period of time. Neither demand leaves much in the way of a sovereign Palestinian state, with Ya’alon even admitting as much in a recent interview, in which he said that this “state” will actually be an “autonomy,” regardless of how people choose to call it.

Another such acknowledgement came Monday in a speech by Israel’s Ambassador to the UN Ron Prosor. Prosor attacked the European parliaments who are voting on the recognition of Palestine, dismissing the Palestinian issue as less important than the plight of other nations. After blaming Palestinians for celebrating and supporting terror, he rejected the mere idea of handing them their independence. Here’s the money quote:

Imagine the type of state [Palestinian] society would produce. Does the Middle East really need another terror-ocracy? Some members of the international community are aiding and abetting its creation.

Other nuggets include:

“Of the 300 million Arabs in the Middle East and North Africa, less than half a percent are truly free – and they are all citizens of Israel”.

“Israel learned the hard way that listening to the international community can bring about devastating consequences.”

And so on. You can read the rest here. The text is full of manipulations. Prosor claims Israel didn’t listen to the international community when it decided to withdraw from Gaza. In reality it was a unilateral move initiated as an alternative to the two-state solution promoted by the international community.

The speech, however, does capture the current mood in Israel. The two-state solution is simply not on the table anymore, nor is the idea of giving Palestinians their rights within Israel. For Ya’alon or Prosor, and certainly for Netanyahu, the status quo – keeping millions under a military regime without rights – is the solution. The world simply needs to accept it.

Ya’alon: I am not looking for a solution, I am looking for a way to manage the conflict
The occupation will last forever, Netanyahu clarifies
Replacing the peace process with a civil rights struggle

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Welcome to Netanyahu’s ‘resolution’ to the conflict http://972mag.com/welcome-to-netanyahus-resolution-to-the-conflict/98940/ http://972mag.com/welcome-to-netanyahus-resolution-to-the-conflict/98940/#comments Tue, 18 Nov 2014 13:51:49 +0000 http://972mag.com/?p=98940 Netanyahu, Bennett and Lieberman all promised Israelis quiet and prosperity without having to end the occupation. This is what we got instead.

Israeli emergency personnel remove victims’ bodies from the Jerusalem synagogue where two Palestinians killed four worshippers and seriously wounded seven others. (Photo by Oren Ziv/Activestills.org)

Israeli emergency personnel remove victims’ bodies from the Jerusalem synagogue where two Palestinians killed four worshippers and seriously wounded seven others, November 18, 2014. (Photo by Oren Ziv/Activestills.org)

Following this morning’s horrifying terror attack, it’s not so difficult to imagine how Naftali Bennett, Avigdor Liberman or Benjamin Netanyahu might describe the current government if they weren’t its leaders. You can almost see them showing up at the scene of the attack and screaming into the microphones denouncing the “wicked government,” recalling every last pogrom in Jewish history.

But no dice. Netanyahu has been prime minister for five years now and Liberman and the settlers, his partners in it. This is all taking place on their watch. If they think that Mahmoud Abbas is the problem — as their public statements declared this morning — then they should deal with him. We all know that’s not going to happen. This government needs Abbas much more than the Palestinians need him. The Palestinian leader has a dual role: he maintains quiet in the West Bank, and is also the punching bag the Israeli Right uses to explain away its reverberating failures.

Netanyahu promised Israelis prosperity and quiet without having to solve the Palestinian conflict. That has been his promise since the 1990s. To Netanyahu, terrorism is just card we’ve been dealt, and only military force can resolve it. There is no problem with continuing to build in the settlements, including inside the Palestinian neighborhoods of Jerusalem, because there is no connection between the settlements and the actions of the Palestinians. That’s what Netanyahu has been saying for decades already — both to the world and to Israelis. There’s no reason to give Palestinians their rights because that endangers Israel: they can make due with “economic peace.” It’s okay to discriminate and legislate against Israel’s Arab citizens. Hell, they should be saying thank you that we even let them live here; things are much worse in every other country in the Middle East. The government is here to serve the Jews, and the Jews only. And if we continue to act this way, aggressively and determinedly, we’ll enjoy stability, security and economic prosperity. That’s Netanyahu’s theory, and the Israeli public bought it because the price was so low and the payoff sky high. We’re not responsible for anything that happens and we don’t have to make any compromises on anything.

Read also: This is Netanyahu’s final status solution

At this point any reasonable person should realize what nonsense Bibi has been selling. In recent years Netanyahu has benefited from mere coincidence: Palestinians were tired from the intifada; Abbas decided to try the diplomatic track; the Arab world imploded; and Israel’s high-tech economy was booming. It seems as if Netanyahu has been delivering, but none of those things had anything to do with him. It was all an illusion, an ongoing deception. Since this June we have woken up to the true meaning of Netanyahu’s vision, in which Israel rules over 6 million Palestinians — Israeli citizens, East Jerusalem residents, the subjects of military rule in the West Bank and those besieged in Gaza — and the only thing he’s offering them is more of the same: the cruel hand of the military law, discrimination, violence, land expropriation, home demolitions, mass arrests and bombs from the sky.

For half a decade Netanyahu and Jerusalem Mayor Nir Barkat have been selling us lies about Israel’s unified and prosperous capital, all while 40 percent of its residents live in impoverished neighborhoods and are not represented politically, aren’t given building permits or even full municipal services. Some of those neighborhoods have been shoved eastward into a strange no-man’s land on the other side of the wall, an area into which neither the police nor the municipality dare to venture. At the same time, with the encouragement of the city and under the protection and cover of the police, settlers are being put into the hearts of the Jerusalem’s Arab neighborhoods, and right-wing members of Knesset are marking new targets for their projects — the Temple Mount, Silwan and Mount of Olives. After all that, is anybody really surprised that Palestinians have no trust in the police? That they view the municipality as their enemy?

An Israeli police officer stands outside the Jerusalem synagogue where two Palestinians killed four worshippers and seriously wounded seven others, November 18, 2014. (Photo by Oren Ziv/Activestills.org)

An Israeli police officer stands outside the Jerusalem synagogue where two Palestinians killed four worshippers and seriously wounded seven others, November 18, 2014. (Photo by Oren Ziv/Activestills.org)

Nothing can justify the murder of worshipers in a synagogue. The murders should be condemned, and Jerusalem’s residents, Jews and Arabs alike, deserve absolute personal security. But it’s no time to be sanctimonious: the overall responsibility is the government’s. Netanyahu, Bennett and Liberman’s vision — the same vision that is being put into action with the help of Livni and Lapid’s acquiescence — is one of civil war between Jews and Arabs; a war that sometimes crawls under the carpet and sometimes explodes with violence. Nothing beyond that. Not two states and not one state, not warm peace and not cold peace — simply nothing. Just stricter laws against stone throwers, laws against the “release of terrorists,” laws against the Arabic language, new prisons to hold all of the new arrestees, gradual annexation, and ensuring the Palestinian population remains relegated to a status as second-, third- or fourth-class citizens.

That’s the plan. That’s how they think they’ll quiet can be attained. That’s how they think “the Arabs will learn to accept us,” even though history and all logic prove exactly the opposite. Oppression begets violence, which begets more and harsher oppression, which begets even more terrible violence. “Holding onto the occupied territories will make us a nation of murderers and murder-victims,” read an advertisement by the lefty political movement Matzpen, three months after the Six Day War in which Israel conquered East Jerusalem, the West Bank and Gaza.

There is a simple truth here that needs to be reiterated: it’s entirely possible that a just political resolution with the Palestinians won’t guarantee peace and quiet, certainly not in its first stages. But only in such a deal, and in such a deal alone, lies the potential for a better future.

Instead, we are caught in the implementation phase of the Israeli Right’s political plan — both in Gaza and in Jerusalem. This is what Netanyahu and Bennett’s “solution” looks like. They might blame the PA and the Israeli Left and the High Court and the world for their inability to deliver, but this is their doing. Or more accurately, this is what the beginning of their doing looks like. The rest will be much worse — for Israelis and Palestinians alike.

This article was first published on +972′s Hebrew-language sister site, Local Call. Read it in Hebrew here.

There’s nothing static about the West Bank ‘status quo’
No one left for Bibi to blame – except, of course, Abbas
One- or two-state solution? The answer is both (or neither)

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‘Chickengate:’ In the confrontation between Bibi and Obama, Palestinians are only a sideshow http://972mag.com/chickengate-in-the-confrontation-between-bibi-and-obama-palestinians-are-only-a-sideshow/98178/ http://972mag.com/chickengate-in-the-confrontation-between-bibi-and-obama-palestinians-are-only-a-sideshow/98178/#comments Wed, 29 Oct 2014 22:39:55 +0000 http://972mag.com/?p=98178 The rift between Washington and Jerusalem has to do with the changing American interests in the Middle East and internal Israeli politics, not with an end to the occupation. 

In a story in The Atlantic Tuesday, Jewish-American journalist Jeffrey Goldberg cited a White House official calling Netanyahu “chickenshit,” blaming him for lack of political vision or guts. Relations between Jerusalem and Washington have reached the lowest point he can remember, Goldberg wrote. This was the top story in the Israeli media this morning. Even the pro-Netanyahu, free tabloid Israel Hayom quoted Goldberg.

In his response, Netanyahu maintained the confrontational tone, saying in the Knesset on Wednesday that he was attacked “for defending the State of Israel,” no less (thus hinting that the American administration is doing the opposite). Later, an official statement from the White House rejected the terms used by Goldberg’s sources, which was to be expected. So, what should one make of this?

1. The messenger is important: Goldberg was as pro-Bibi a journalist as one could find among Jewish Democrats. On major policy issues, Goldberg has consistently taken Jerusalem’s side: in 2010, he authored a piece that predicted Israel would attack Iran’s nuclear facilities; he criticized the administration for its public confrontations with Netanyahu and blamed PA President Mahmoud Abbas for failing to recognize Israel “as a Jewish state,” thus aiding the collapse of the Kerry Initiative. Even in his recent piece, Goldberg agrees that the time is not right for the creation of a Palestinian state — which is just what Netanyahu says. So I think Goldberg would be the last person to exaggerate the rift between the Obama Administration and the government in Jerusalem.

In fact, much of Goldberg’s unique professional position has to do with the “special relationship” between the two governments. A piece in a DC magazine once called him a mashgiah, a Hebrew term that, in this context, relates to Goldberg as the gatekeeper for what is legitimate in the Israeli-American political conversation. If Goldberg is (quoting someone) calling Bibi a “chickenshit,” then everyone can call Bibi a chickenshit.

2. This is not about a Palestinian state or an end to the occupation. The administration deserted this cause along with the Kerry mission, and it is now trying to cut its losses. I think the American goal is to contain the Israeli-Palestinian problem, not only because the chances of a breakthrough are slim compared to the political cost, but mainly due to the turmoil in the rest of the Middle East, and the danger that will emerge on new fronts. Things are complicated as they are and Netanyahu is making them much more complicated with his projects in the West Bank and the changes to the status quo in Jerusalem. Jordan’s King Abdullah raised the alarm, and since everybody is currently concerned about the stability of Abdullah’s regime, you can bet that the White House heard his warnings.

Make no mistake, the Obama administration will confront Netanyahu on its immediate interests but I do not see it making serious moves aimed at ending the occupation any time soon. In fact, one might suspect that the United States would like to avoid any change now. I imagine some people in Washington think that a weak Palestinian state will just be another front to defend against the forces of jihad — and who needs that right now?

3. Netanyahu is reconnecting with his base. Bibi leads the weakest coalition he has ever had, completely dependent on each one of his coalition partners. This is the reason Netanyahu has gone back to his political base in recent weeks — the settlers, the far-right and the ultra-Orthodox. The latter are receiving political favors from Bibi recently despite not even being in the coalition. Netanyahu is already thinking about the next government.

It has been said many times that with Netanyahu, these kinds of confrontations are a feature, not a bug. He may lose some votes in the center when he exchanges insults with Washington, but he is gaining on the right. Bibi is working to maintain the same coalition that brought him to power in 1996 — national-religious, ultra-Orthodox, Revisionists (the old Likud elite) and Jews of lower socio-economic background. These groups are far from an absolute majority in Israeli society, but they are enough to give Netanyahu slim victories: 50.5 percent vs. 49.5 percent against Peres in the direct elections of 1996; 65:55 in Knesset seats in 2009, and 61:59 in 2013. Never a landslide, but always enough.

The thing about Netanyahu’s coalitions is that they are made of forces less prone to outside pressure than the secular, upper-middle class that votes against him. With some of them — the settlers, for example — confrontations even work in Netanyahu’s favor. In the absence of a strong challenger from the Left, Bibi is betting that he can rally his base to another narrow win. He may be right.

4. Netanyahu’s opponents are also using the showdown with Washington to their advantage. Finance Minister Yair Lapid refused today to discuss funding projects in the West Bank, stating that he doesn’t remember a government decision to destroy relations with Washington. Lapid might also be sensing imminent elections, although he would like to avoid them, given his disappointing showing in all the recent polls.

In this sense, it is interesting to note that Lapid could theoretically form a government without going to elections. In a recent post, political pundit Raviv Druker speculated about Avigdor Liberman, Tzipi Livni, Labor and Meretz joining Lapid, and together with the tiny Kadima (two seats), forming the necessary bloc of 61 Knesset members that could send Netanyahu home. This is not a very likely scenario, but I think that Netanyahu must be giving it some thought, leading him to shore up his own bloc with the Right.

But any alternative coalition will be as unstable as the current one, and I don’t see any Israeli leader making the necessary steps that could end the occupation. The political interests of an American and Israeli government collided this week, but the Palestinians are just a sideshow here; their right to freedom and dignity is yet to be recognized by any of the actors in this political drama.

How the very concept of human rights has failed Palestinians
Replacing the peace process with a civil rights struggle
A rights-based discourse is the best way to fight dispossession

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How the very concept of human rights has failed Palestinians http://972mag.com/how-the-very-concept-of-human-rights-has-failed-palestinians/97883/ http://972mag.com/how-the-very-concept-of-human-rights-has-failed-palestinians/97883/#comments Mon, 20 Oct 2014 12:53:11 +0000 http://972mag.com/?p=97883 Certain rights should be inalienable — yet Israel refuses to grant them to Palestinians and the world continues to treat the country as a rights-based democracy. What does this absurdity say about human rights as a political tool, and about the powers, entities and institutions that speak in their name?

Human Rights March 2009 (Naama Saar Stavy)

Human Rights March 2009 (Naama Saar Stavy)

Knesset Constitution, Law and Justice Committee chairman MK David Rotem laid out some of his beliefs and world views in an extensive interview with Israeli financial daily Globes a few weeks ago. One of Rotem’s statements – which made the headline of the piece – was that “human rights are [reserved] for people who are citizens of the state.”

Rotem was referring the Israeli High Court of Justice’s decision to strike down, for the second time, an amendment to the “anti-Infiltration Law,” which authorized the prolonged imprisonment of asylum seekers who entered the country illegally. The final word in this legal battle has yet to be said, as Rotem’s committee will soon discuss and advance yet a third version of the law, which in all likelihood will be also be challenged before the High Court.

Yet when it comes to Israel’s decades-long occupation in the West Bank and Gaza, Rotem’s statement captures the entire logic of the system. This logic is tolerated, and often even accepted, by entities and institutions that see themselves as guardians of human rights. In that sense, that fact that a man like Rotem now heads the Israeli parliament’s constitutional committee is more telling than it seems. Human rights here are not a given, but something that are reserved for one category of people and deprived from another.

* * *

Many 20th century scholars, even liberal ones, have expressed doubts about the effectiveness of human rights as a political concept that can be used for advancing freedom and dignity for all human beings.

The fact that these “inalienable” rights were quickly attached to the concept of “national rights” and citizenship is even more troubling. Jewish philosopher Hanna Arendt pondered the fate of the person who is not entitled to citizenship – making it “legal” to strip him of his human rights, too. The result is a “legitimate” form of abuse, which could actually be worse than what preceded the idea of the “inalienable rights.”

This might sound too abstract — until one looks at the Palestinian case. The Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza comprise an indigenous population, and are a people who were uprooted from their homes in 1947-1948, only to be reconquered by Israel 19 years later. Neither group has Israeli citizenship — or any citizenship for that matter. They don’t even have the legal status of “permanent residents,” as do Palestinians of East Jerusalem. They are the subjects of a military regime.

Israeli soldiers blindfold and arrest a young Palestinian man in Hebron. (photo: Activestills.org)

Israeli soldiers blindfold and arrest a young Palestinian man in Hebron. (photo: Activestills.org)

Under the military regime, Palestinians can have their private property destroyed or confiscated at the discretion of the military commander (and in most cases don’t even have the right to appeal such decisions); their freedom to travel outside the West Bank, and sometimes even within it, depends on special permits given by the military commander; they cannot build without the approval of the military commander, thousands can be deported from their homes with the stroke of a commander’s pen; every political assembly or protest can be deemed illegal unless it was given the permission of the military commander, and; they can be imprisoned, tortured or even killed without trial or due process.

Naturally, when it comes to the decisions of the military commander, Palestinians have no say and no mechanisms for accountability. The army and the Defense Ministry, the sovereign in the West Bank, rule as they see fit. In other words, every Palestinian in the Occupied Palestinian Territories, regardless of their actions, has had his or her civil rights and many of their human rights revoked.

* * *

There is something misleading about the term “occupation” because, in theory, it represents a temporary state of affairs. And while it is true that the international legal system allows the temporary revocation of some rights of an occupied population, Israel’s occupation is permanent. It might not have been this way in the late 1960s, when it wasn’t clear what was in store for the territories Israel captured in the Six Day War. But once the Israeli government started settling its own population in the occupied territory — and even more so, once it began arguing before its own court that such settlements are within its rights — this debate regarding the transience of the occupation should have ended.

People tend to confuse “permanent” with “eternal.” The Israeli occupation is not eternal — no institution is — but it is as permanent as can be in this world. It’s already lasted longer than the post-WWII Soviet bloc, for example. Israel itself stopped treating the OPT as occupied, now viewing them as territories held by Israel under a different status than the rest of the state. Therefore, the act of revoking the rights of an entire category of people is also permanent.

This is something that, in theory, can’t been reconciled with the idea of human rights. How could we deny the inalienable rights? Yet the very same political entities that speak in the name of rights have come to tolerate, accept, and even cooperate and support holding of a certain category of people without said rights.

The international community as a whole tends to view the Palestinian issue as a problem of war and peace, or as a diplomatic issue, rather than an issue of rights. Instead of demanding to immediately return the Palestinians their rights (because rights are inalienable and cannot be revoked in the first place), and only then discuss where those rights will be exercised (within the State of Israel or within a new Palestinian state), the rights were forgotten and the debate focused exclusively on the issue of the state. On a side note, this is also where the deep roots of the failure to reach an agreement lie. The heart of the matter was, and still is, being ignored.

The institutions that speak the language of rights are the very ones that sealed the denial of the Palestinians’ rights. The Israeli Supreme Court, for example, will review cases from the OPT, but it will not uphold Israel’s basic laws (the closest thing the country has to a constitution) in the West Bank and Gaza. The High Court rejects or refuses to hear most petitions from Palestinians, and when it does, it usually approves all the major policies of the occupation – from the confiscation of land, to the transfer of prisoners, to deportations, to imprisonment without trial (“administrative detention”), to torture and targeted assassinations. The court has set certain guidelines and limits on those measures, but the underlying notion that Palestinians have no rights — and can therefore be treated differently than Israeli citizens — has never been questioned.

Once the court accepted this logic it went on to its mini-constitutional revolution of the 1990s, which won it the label of an activist institution. This too was all about rights — but these were the rights of the privileged class: citizens.

Onward, to the world: the United States, which endowed upon the world the very idea of inalienable rights, is preventing the Palestinians from taking their case to international courts. The Palestinians are regarded by all American administrations as people who need to pass various thresholds and litmus tests if they are ever to win back their (inalienable) rights. So far, they haven’t passed those tests — so their current legal status has become the normal state of affairs, while Palestinians’ efforts to challenge it are regarded as “unilateral” acts which need to be punished.

The European Union views its normative power on human rights issues as one of its sources of pride. Some see it as the essence or the EU’s legitimacy. The 1995 trade agreement between the EU and Israel even includes a clause in this spirit:

Relations between the Parties, as well as all the provisions of the Agreement itself, shall be based on respect for human rights and democratic principles, which guides their internal and international policy and constitutes an essential element of this Agreement.

Yet the EU never attempted to reconcile these words with the existence of a population living without rights in the West Bank and Gaza. And when it did, instead of questioning the entire agreement, the EU duplicated the Israeli distinction between the “regions of rights” and the “regions of no-rights,” by moving to exclude the West Bank from the agreement. I support the EU policies regarding the settlements, but we should keep in mind that they don’t address the issue of rights; they only allow the EU to feel less complicit in their abuse.

We can go on with these examples (how about the American Jewish community – considered the most liberal in the States – and its ongoing refusal to view the Palestinian issue as a problem of rights?), but the bottom line should be clear by now: human rights are not “inalienable,” but are rather seen as something that can be revoked by a sovereign power.

In fact, as Israel denies the rights of millions of people, it is still considered to be a rights-based democracy, and therefore a natural partner and ally to the liberal West. In other words, it is the rights-based discourse itself that has allowed Israel to revoke the rights of an entire class of people and get away with it. Maintaining the rights of some made it possible to take away the rights of others; exactly as Arendt, Giorgio Agamben and others warned could happen.

Needless to say, Israel is not a rights-based democracy, if this idea has any meaning. As I argued here a few weeks back, it’s time the Palestinian issue became a conversation about rights rather than diplomatic solutions. Until then, the failure to address the occupation as such casts a long shadow on the very concept of rights as a political and philosophical tool for bettering the human condition.

Replacing the peace process with a civil rights struggle
A rights-based discourse is the best way to fight dispossession

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Defense Minister Ya’alon: I am not looking for a solution, I am looking for a way to manage the conflict http://972mag.com/defense-minister-yaalon-i-am-not-looking-for-a-solution-i-am-looking-for-a-way-to-manage-the-conflict/97761/ http://972mag.com/defense-minister-yaalon-i-am-not-looking-for-a-solution-i-am-looking-for-a-way-to-manage-the-conflict/97761/#comments Thu, 16 Oct 2014 13:24:03 +0000 http://972mag.com/?p=97761 Moshe Ya’alon is telling it like it is: What you see now in the West Bank and Gaza is Israel’s solution. 

Defense Minister Moshe Ya'alon looks over Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's shoulder at a military exercise, (Photo by Kobi Gideon / GPO)

Defense Minister Moshe Ya’alon looks over Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s shoulder at a military exercise. Ya’alon is the closest minister to Netanyahu since the Gaza war (Photo by Kobi Gideon / GPO)

Israeli Defense Minister Moshe Ya’alon gave a few holiday interviews to the Israeli media. Ya’alon, who has been Netanyahu’s closest partner in the coalition since the Gaza war, was fairly open when he spoke about the Palestinian issue, and a couple of his answers were especially telling.

When asked by the pro-Netanyahu paper Yisrael Hayom whether he sees in Palestinian president Mahmoud Abbas a partner for peace, Ya’alon not only rejected the idea, but went on to dismiss the mere notion of “solving” the Palestinian issue. In short, Ya’alon thinks that maintaining control over the Palestinians is in Israel’s national interest, which no “solution” can or should compromise on.

I believe this is the view of most of the Israeli establishment right now. But Ya’alon, as Secretary Kerry learned last year, has a habit of saying what others around him are thinking.

I am not looking for a solution, I am looking for a way to manage the conflict and the maintain relations in a way that works for our interests. We need to free ourselves of the notion that everything boils down to only one option called a [Palestinian] state. As far as I am concerned let them call it the Palestinian Empire. I don’t care. It is an autonomy if it is ultimately a demilitarized territory. That is not a status quo, it is the establishment of a modus vivendi that is tolerable and serves our interests.”

What is interesting in the above quote is the light it sheds on the idea of a Palestinian state: Netanyahu and his government were willing to sign onto something that would be called a state (they can call it the Palestinian Empire for all Ya’alon cares), but never an independent state, the way the world understand this term. So even if the Kerry process would have ended with an agreement, it could not have ended the occupation. And nothing the Palestinians say or do can change that.

Regarding Gaza, Ya’alon has the same idea – maintaining the conflict:

“We withdrew from Gaza. The Gazans chose Hamas, which in turn chose to manufacture rockets instead of exporting strawberries, and for that they are paying a price. It is probably not a permanent and stable solution, but it is important to talk about ‘crisis management’ in regard to Gaza as well as Judea and Samaria [West Bank - N.S.] in such a way that will serve our interests.

I highly recommend checking out Larry Derfner’s feature on the Israeli establishment’s view post-Gaza. I think Ya’alon pretty much confirmed everything in it. As I wrote here before, the Gaza war was part of Israel’s strategy of maintaining the status quo. This is Netanyahu and Ya’alon’s solution.

War is the new system of governance (and five other Gaza takeaways)
There’s nothing static about the West Bank ‘status quo’

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Ex-Israeli ministers, MKs, academics to British MPs: Support Palestinian statehood http://972mag.com/ex-israeli-ministers-mks-academics-to-british-mps-support-palestinian-statehood/97625/ http://972mag.com/ex-israeli-ministers-mks-academics-to-british-mps-support-palestinian-statehood/97625/#comments Mon, 13 Oct 2014 08:41:37 +0000 http://972mag.com/?p=97625 Meretz leader Zehava Gal-On criticizes Israeli Labor party for opposing the motion: ‘Labor is conducting itself like another foreign office for Netanyahu’s government.’

Hundreds of Israeli public figures, academics, former ministers and Israel Prize laureates (the state’s official civil decoration) signed a public letter calling British MPs to support Palestinians statehood in a symbolic motion set to face a vote in the UK’s parliament on Monday.

Among those who added their names to the letter are Nobel Prize laureate Prof. Daniel Kahneman, former Meretz ministers Ran Cohen and Yossi Sarid, four former MKs (including Naomi Chazan, the former head of the New Israel Fund), six winners of the Israeli Prize and the former attorney-general Michael Ben Yair.

The letter reads:

We, Israelis who worry and care for the well-being of the State of Israel, believe that the long-term existence and security of Israel depends on the long-term existence and security of a Palestinian state. For this reason we the undersigned urge members of the UK parliament to vote in favour of the motion to be debated on Monday 13th of October, 2014, calling on the British Government to recognize the state of Palestine alongside the State of Israel.

The motion caused a controversy within the British Labour party, with two dozen MPs demanding to add an amendment conditioning the recognition of Palestine on the conclusion of direct negotiations between Israel and the Palestinian Authority (thus stripping the motion of its meaning). The chairman of the Israeli Labor party, MK Hilik Bar, also called on the British MPs to oppose the motion. Bar was criticized by members of the dovish Meretz party.

“One cannot say that Netanyahu won’t promote a diplomatic initiative, but then, when the world tries to lead a UN motion, help Netanyahu torpedo it. Labor is conducting itself like another foreign office for Netanyahu’s government,” said Meretz party leader Zehava Gal-On.

Labour MPs: Vote yes on Palestinian statehood

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