The prime minister published a video accusing the Palestinians — and the world — of ethnic cleansing for opposing Israeli settlements. Not so fast.
Almost as if for sport, Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu released an English video on Friday. It is just two minutes long but packed with chatter-rich material: the Palestinians are guilty of ethnic cleansing. The world is complicit. Nobody stands up for the Jewish victims of this crime except for Netanyahu. Therefore, settlements are no obstacle to peace.
These are grave charges. Why describe Netanyahu’s video as a game? It’s not his smirking self-righteousness. Rather, the clip is the latest in a growing list of “oh no he didn’t!” statements, spit out with Trump-like regularity (though Bibi has nothing on Trump’s pace). The trajectory is now familiar: Netanyahu says something offensive, incendiary, or almost entirely inaccurate. Headlines and commentary rage (mea culpa), while right-wing Israeli audiences laud his sass. He kicks down emerging political threats by proving his singular role in promoting “our” side on the global stage. Only Netanyahu speaks Israeli, and in such beautiful English!
It is a double karate-chop. Netanyahu cleans up on the right, but he also paralyzes the left. The idea that settlements are sandbox-dotted Disneylands of peace and that Palestinians are committing ethnic cleansing while choking under violent martial law for two and a half generations is crazy-making. One has to choose between arguing the truth or losing one’s mind for stating what is “in front of your nose” again and again.
Netanyahu also managed to pack nails in for the far-left. The charge that Palestinian longing for a state equals ethnic cleansing while the Jewish Israeli government demolishes Palestinian homes, stifles livelihood, tears families apart, backs theft of private land, and makes all travel a nightmare unless it’s to leave for good – is a trap. It is an obscene invitation for the more outraged among us to give Israel’s behavior a name, so that the right can crow about left-wing extremism. I won’t play, but I will give readers credit for being able to know that Israel makes regular Palestinian people miserable every day, whatever anyone calls it.
That’s three points to his one-man Bibi team for galvanizing the right, flummoxing the center-left, and possibly provoking the outspoken left. A fourth is scored by wild obfuscation of reality inside Israel today. Netanyahu says:
…No one would seriously claim that the nearly two million Arabs living inside Israel – that they’re an obstacle to peace. That’s because they aren’t. On the contrary. Israel’s diversity shows its openness and readiness for peace.”
On the last Thursday of August, Israeli children returned to school, in a four-way segregated education system – seculars, religious, ultra-orthodox and Arabs. Arabs and Jews will never meet, other than in the tiny handful of determined independent schools; one of them was torched under Netanyahu’s term. Nor does Netanyahu recall in the video that Arab parties have never held executive power in Israel, and that last election day he personally expressed his resentment that they vote at all. Or that about a quarter-million of them are residents of East Jerusalem, not citizens,with no national voting rights to begin with. In other words, Arabs in Israel are not an obstacle to peace as long as their children don’t touch Jewish children, and their adults sacrifice civic equality to Jewish dominance in the land.
In Alexandr Solzhenitsyn’s Nobel acceptance speech in 1970, he observed:
[violence] cannot continue to exist without descending into a fog of lies, clothing them in sweet talk… it demands from its subjects only an oath of allegiance to falsehood, only complicity in falsehood.”
Pardon me if I refrain, to quote Phil Ochs. Here are some truths that Netanyahu forgot to include.
First, Israel has made the settlements into an obstacle for peace. In the name of settlements, Israel has built an extraordinarily elaborate, opaque and permanent military regime to rule the territory and its majority population of Palestinian civilians, while the minority of Jews live normal lives under civil law. Israel insists it can no longer dismantle settlements following Gaza; Israel actively expands them at Palestinian expense.
Second, accusing an enemy in a conflict of existential destruction is often a justification for extreme escalation. One need only recall how charges of genocide in the former Yugoslavia or Rwanda rallied people to civil war, or to actually commit genocide.
Third, if anyone could have advanced a two-state final status accord, which Netanyahu professes to accept, it’s him. He enjoys nearly unprecedented electoral support and represents the largest ideological bloc in Israel – the right. For his whole time in office since 2009, a majority of Israelis have supported the two-state solution, though lately the numbers are edging south.
That’s why settlements are actually not the main obstacle at present. Netanyahu is. He certainly did not create the situation, nor is he the only obstacle. But he is the leader of the country that holds the cards. He has a proven tendency to lie. The idea that he supports a two-state solution is one of them.