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Bibi's hand is "outstretched," alright

For all those who think Netanyahu’s offer of negotiations “without preconditions” is fair, who think Abbas is the intransigent one for insisting first on a settlement freeze and agreement to the ‘67 borders with land swaps, who think Bibi is sincere about being ready for the two-state solution, today’s news should have a clarifying effect.

Taking a page from Nixon (“If the president does it, that means it’s not illegal!”) Netanyahu instructed Justice Minister Ya’acov Ne’eman, a religious ultra-nationalist, to come up with a legal way for Israel to keep even the radical hilltop settlement outposts built on land that Israel itself recognizes as being owned by Palestinians.

Understand: This is an Israeli leader who wants the world to think he’s ready to make “painful concessions” and uproot established settlements, and now he’s saying that even these wildcat outposts built on known private Palestinian land -outposts that Israel has pledged to dismantle since 2003, outposts that the Supreme Court has ordered destroyed time and again – even these he wants to keep.

What prompted this move was last month’s demolition of a few outpost bungalows, leading the settlers and their allies in the Knesset and cabinet to fear that there might be more to come – that the government might actually, for the first time, make at least a start at keeping its word to the Americans, at obeying the Supreme Court and knocking down more than a token few outpost homes.

So 40 MKs and cabinet ministers sent a letter to Netanyahu telling him to find a way “to stop the destruction,” as Knesset majority leader Ze’ev Elkin put it. The cabinet minister from the national religious “Jewish Home” party threatened to resign. Israel Radio reported that Netanyahu’s aides say the prime minister is giving the right-wingers’ appeal “great attention.”

As Ha’aretz reports, the government already in February went back on previous Israeli commitments by deciding to let outposts built on “state land” remain where they are. The term “state land” is one of the great examples of occupation propaganda: It refers to any land in the West Bank (or, previously, Gaza) that Palestinian individuals could not prove belongs to them – prove, that is, to the satisfaction of Israeli legal authorities. Failing such proof, the land became “state land” – the State of Israel’s land. It sounds like “from time immemorial,” and makes the conquest of the West Bank (and, previously, Gaza) seem all legal and proper.

But now the Netanyahu government is going further – it wants to keep the outposts built on land that Israel can’t even get away with calling state land, on land where Palestinian proof of private ownership is so incontrovertible that Israeli authorities can’t credibly deny it. Such proof didn’t stop the settlers from building on this land with the state’s collusion, of course, but the escape hatch was that the matter was before the Supreme Court, that illegal construction would not be allowed to stand, that Israel, as our leaders love to say, is a nation of laws.

What does this government say now? “Israel’s policy regarding construction in Judea and Samaria has not changed,” the Prime Minister’s Office told Ha’aretz.

Netanyahu’s hand is “outstretched,” alright – not in peace, but for more Palestinian land. And Mahmoud Abbas is supposed to put his nation’s future on the line in negotiations – without preconditions, without commitments, without time limits – with such an Israeli leader and government?

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    COMMENTS

    1. Richard Witty

      Its likely presented more as a diplomatic threat.

      “Look what will happen to you if you DON’T deal with us on our terms”.

      The important question is whether there will be any consequences to Netanyahu’s policies and actions.

      Will this excess suggest to one European power to vote in favor of the Palestinian petition, that would otherwise vote no?

      Will this excess cause one of Israel’s immediate neighbors that are currently in a state of stressed treaty (Egypt and Jordan) to renounce the treaty?

      Will this excess cause one US Congressperson to shift from ignorantly accepting Israeli positions, to wondering and then critiquing and then opposing?

      Will this excess cause one knesset member to shift their perspective?

      Will this excess cause ten thousand Israeli voters to shift their electoral preferences, and urge a vote of no confidence in the likud/israel beitanhu administration?

      Reply to Comment
    2. Kubrikon

      Abbas hasn’t exactly given anyone in Israel a reason to restrain Bibi or the settlers. I hope Abbas had a good September.

      Reply to Comment
    3. B

      Kubrikon could not be more wrong. Abbas has given every reason for Israel to restrain the settlers. Larry, you should be writing for the New York or LA Times or similar publication. With your native American English and your American roots and your ability to give the real inside dope on what is really going on in the Holy Land, a column by you in such a paper would give most Americans what they have never ever been exposed to: the straight dope about “the Situation.” What a difference that would make! It would be the cleverest move for one of these papers to hire you as their Tel Aviv/Jerusalem Correspondent.

      Reply to Comment
    4. RichardNYC

      @LARRY
      This kind of argument appears a lot in Haaretz – the major problem with it is the assumption that Bibi’s intransigence should get Abbas or other Palestinians off the hook. Just because Bibi shows bad faith doesn’t mean we can trust the PA. Are we supposed to forget about Palestinians’ delusional expects about right of return? Its possible for both parties to be insincere-enough at the same time for either’s lack of credibility to torpedo any major progress, even if the other side was operating in good faith.

      Reply to Comment
    5. RichardNYC

      @LARRY
      I don’t understand why we keep trying the “concessions first” approach here when its obvious that making demands of Israeli leaders backfires completely, a la Obama’s settlement freeze fiasco. If you measure good faith in terms of up-front Israeli concessions, you’re making it impossible for Israel to demonstrate good faith – stirring the national religious beehive and then asking for honey. I’m starting to think people who insist on this aren’t taking the evidence seriously. Would the Shalit deal have happened if Hamas demanded public Israeli commitments to release terrorists in advance? That’s just not how deals work. Once the prize is on the table, as a result of SECRET negotiations, the national religious nutcases have a WEAKER argument. When there’s nothing to gain, and only settlements to lose, they are politically STRONGER. And anyway, if I were a Palestinian in the West Bank, I would be more worried if Bibi was planning a unilateral withdrawal and annexing the major bloc and Jerusalem, because that is a conceivably permanent set of borders.

      Reply to Comment