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Netanyahu is right: Settlements aren't the biggest obstacle to peace

The prime minister published a video accusing the Palestinians — and the world — of ethnic cleansing for opposing Israeli settlements. Not so fast.

Prime Minister Netanyahu addresses Israel's Arab citizens, urging them to take a larger role in Israeli society. (YouTube screenshot)

Prime Minister Netanyahu gives a YouTube address (Screenshot).

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.

I couldn’t manage it, so I’m fortunate that Jeremy Ben-Ami and Matt Duss doggedly remind readers of the policy facts – 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.

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    1. Baladi Akka 1948

      The main obstacle to peace is Zionism, the fact that people from all over the world can move to historical Palestine just because they’re Jews.

      Reply to Comment
    2. Ben

      Kudos to Dahlia Scheindlin for nailing it with respect to the games Bibi plays.
      Israelis are way over-impressed, by the way, with Netanyahu’s English. Big deal. To native English speakers he just sounds slick, like a con artist selling snake oil; no one is impressed. Give us an Israeli with a thick Hebrew accent who sounds halfway genuine and authentic anytime. Netanyahu, like Trump, is the quintessential con artist. Trust me, no one in the US or the UK is dazzled by his English. It just makes him look all the more slippery and conniving. The English is a trick for home consumption. Something like “wow, Bibi gives good hasbara.” Not.

      Reply to Comment
    3. AJew

      Yet what Netanyahu says is spot on.

      Isreal has two million Arab citizens. Yes it has.

      The Arabs want no Jewish cotizens in a future Palestinian state. True.

      And again. The West Bank always had a Jewish population barring during the 18 years of Jordanian rule after 1948 when all Jews were killed kicked out by the Arabs. And Abbas now wants to perpetrate that Judenrein status of the West Bank by claiming that Jews living in the West Bank are an obstacle to peace. The only lie there is Abbas’s not Netanyahu’s.

      Reply to Comment
    4. Ben

      AJew, it’s always wise to read the article before commenting. This one was made for you.

      Reply to Comment
    5. AJew

      I read it and I found it flawed.

      How come? This is how come:

      What would the writer of this article say if Netanyahu would declare Israel unviable if it’s up to two million Arab citizens remain as citizens of Israel. She would call him a racist. Yet she is perfectly comfortable with Abbas’s claim that Palestine is not viable with 500,000 Jewish citizens.

      How is that with inconsistency, or shall we say bias?

      Reply to Comment
    6. David



      For your edification: A grand total of 1,500 Jewish civilians and soldiers were captured in East Jerusalem/the Old City in 1948. As requested, the Jewish women and children were sent to Israeli occupied West Jerusalem. Jewish male civilians and soldiers were returned to Israel following the signing of the 1949 armistice agreement between Israel and Jordan.

      To quote UN representative Pablo de Azcarate, who was in the Old City at the time: “[Major al-Tal, commander of Jordanian forces acted] “with great affability and without a single word or gesture that could have humiliated or offended the defeated leaders in any way.”

      Among the civilians captured in the Old City’s Jewish Quarter were Rabbi Mordechai Weingarten and his daughter Rivka. They were frightened at first, but as Rivka later recalled: “I must say that the Jordanian soldiers behaved wonderfully well. I will never forget what my own eyes saw…. The first thing the soldiers did was to give us all cold water to drink. They gave out bananas to the children and cigarettes to the [Jewish] soldiers. I also saw them carrying old men and women in their arms to help reach Zion Gate.” (For the record: In 1948, only one-half of one percent of the land comprising East Jerusalem/the Old City was owned by Jews. The remainder was owned by Muslims and Christians)

      BTW, during March and early May 1948, before Israel was declared a state, 60,000 Palestinians were expelled from occupied West Jerusalem by Jewish forces. They were just part of the 400,000 Palestinians who were driven out of their native land in the five plus months between passage of the Partition Plan and the declaration of the state of Israel on 14 May, effective 15 May, e.g., 60,000 from Haifa, 75,000 from Jaffa in late April and early May. An additional 400,000 Palestinians were dispossessed and expelled by the end of 1948 and well over 500 of their towns and villages were bulldozed by the IDF, including churches, mosques and cemeteries.

      Reply to Comment
    7. AJew

      Thanks for your selective account of history David. You forgot to mention the cold blooded execution of the defenders of Gush Etzion (they were POWs with their hands tied behind their backs). The executioners were Arab Palestinian irregulars and Jordanian soldiers were looking on while it was happening without intervening.

      But let’s just ignore that. Let’s just talk about expulsions. The facts speak for themselves. You can malign Israel about expulsions yet you can’t deny that Israel has nearly two million Arab citizens. How many Jewish citizens remained in the West Bank after the Jordanian conquest? Answer: Zero. How many Jews are there in Arab countries? There were nearly a million before 1948 now there are nearly zero. That’s the second side of the story which pro Arab leftists and Arabs conveniently ignore. I should say selectively.

      I won’t be responding to any more posts. Too many one sided biased people around.

      Reply to Comment
    8. Lewis from Afula

      The author is correct. The settlements are not the biggest obstacle to peace.

      Palestinianism is the biggest and sole obstacle to peace. An evil ideology, KGB-funded, conjured up by an ugly unshaven Egyptian in the late 1960s.

      Reply to Comment
    9. i_like_ike52

      Sorry, but there were also thousands OF Jews expelled from Hevron, Gaza, Shechem and other places on what is now called the West Bank and Gaza Strip before or during the 1948 War.
      The Arabs announced their attack on the new state of Israel would be a genocidal jihad that would be comparable to the Mongol massacres or the Crusades, in Azzam Pasha’s words. The Arabs decided the terms of the war in 1948 by proclaiming a jihad which was designed to eradicate the Jewish yishuv. That set the terms of the war.
      Your claim that Israel just up and decided for no reasons to fight a DEFENSIVE war which lead to the flight of the Palestinian refugees is untrue.

      Reply to Comment
    10. Ben

      “The Arabs decided the terms of the war in 1948”

      Reality of course is much more complicated and we can quote Ben Gurion himself in several places to contradict you. This is just one:

      “Regarding the Galilee, Mr. [Moshe] Sharett already told you that about 100,000 Arabs still now live in the pocket of Galilee. Let us assume that a war breaks out. Then we will be able to cleanse the entire area of Central Galilee, including all its refugees, in one stroke. In this context let me mention some mediators who offered to give us the Galilee without war. What they meant was the populated Galilee. They didn’t offer us the empty Galilee, which we could have only by means of a war. Therefore if a war is extended to cover the whole of Palestine, our greatest gain will be the Galilee. It is because without any special military effort which might imperil other fronts, only by using the troops already assigned for the task, we could accomplish our aim of cleansing the Galilee.”

      Reply to Comment
    11. Duh

      Ike, Zionist figures made a few notable threats themselves.

      “In the first excitement I wanted to write to Eulenberg [German count who acted as intermediary between Herzl and Kaiser Wilhelm] and make proposals in case it was true. Germany would have to welcome a Jewish settlement in Cyprus with delight. We would rally on Cyprus and one day go over to Eretz Israel and take it by force, as it was taken from us long ago.”
      [Complete Herzl Diary vol. III p. 1023, 6 Jan. 1901]

      Herzl was in discussion with the Germans about a protectorate in Palestine (Detailed in Germany, Turkey and Zionism pp 61-81). Had any Palestinians been aware of this at the time they most certainly would have taken it as threatening. Especially given German rule over Southwest Africa.

      Reply to Comment
    12. i_like-ike52

      “Let us assume war breaks out”. The Arabs started the war when they proclaimed a genocidal jihad against the Jewish yishuv. The Arabs are responsible for the Palestinian refugees and they are going to have to solve the problem themselves.

      Reply to Comment
    13. Duh

      The Yishuv was responsible for the Palestinian refugee crisis because that’s how they constructed a Jewish state out of Palestine.

      Reply to Comment
    14. AJew

      Israel is also responsible for volcano eruptions, earthquakes, tsunamis and all things bad in this world. According to some people at least.

      And the Arabs are responsible for nothing bad that ever happens. Go figure.

      Reply to Comment
    15. Duh

      I don’t discount the possibility that the Arabs might be responsible for something bad. It’s just that they aren’t responsible for Zionism.

      Reply to Comment
    16. AJew

      But are the Arabs responsible for Arabism?

      Reply to Comment
    17. Average American

      Milekowsky, I mean Netanyahu, is a politician. He’s not aiming his video at Jews, they already agree with him. He’s aiming it at the outside world. I’m convinced that’s how he and his country view it – there’s Us and then there’s The Outside World, Us and Those Other Creatures. It’s a mental condition, nurtured and trained and ingrained. That training is the obstacle, the long deep entrenchment in Zionism is the obstacle. Fueled by incessant regurgitation of knee-jerk holocaust references and hints as though anyone Out Here cares anymore. Never forget Zionism is an expansionist ideology, a lebensraum ideology, a race-specific ideology. What we see now happening in the West Bank and Golan and Gaza is what they want to do throughout a big chunk of the Middle East they call Eretz Israel.

      Reply to Comment
    18. AJew

      Shall we do a little comparison between Zionism and Arabism and expulsions?

      Under Zionism, there are nearly 2 million Arab citizens of Israel. How could that be if there would have been a true policy of expulsion?

      Contrast that to Arabism:

      Under Arabism, there are virtually no Jews living in Arab countries where before 1948, nearly 1 million Jews lived.

      Under Arabism, there were no Jews living in the West Bank, when Arabs ruled it between 1948 and 1967 and where Jews lived for thousands of years.

      Thanks to Arabism, the the Arabs insist that they won’t sign a peace deal with Israel unless Jews ethnically clean 500,000 Jews from the West Bank.

      Arabism is about Jew free Arab lands and at the same time incessantly complaining about what Jews do to them. Yep, that is a true example of the “Them” and “Us” mentality.

      Reply to Comment
    19. Duh

      AJew, the Zionists had conspired from the early 1900s to make themselves the majority in Palestine. That was accomplished by the 1948 Haganah offensives. Zionism remains an ethnic cleansing ideology because they entered the scene with a vested interest in just such an outcome.

      Reply to Comment
    20. AJew

      The facts speak for themselves, but don’t let the facts mug you, Duh.

      Israel has nearly 2 million Arab citizens yet Israel is guilty of expulsion policies?

      There used to be 1 million Jews in Arab countries but today Arab countries are virtually Jew free and those who profess Arabism insist to implement the same policy in the West Bank before they say peace would be possible. It is obvious though that they don’t believe in making a peace deal so long as a Jewish country exists.

      Reply to Comment
    21. Eliza

      Netanyahu would do better to speak in Hebrew – at least English speakers couldn’t understand him and thus may be inclined to give him the benefit of the doubt.

      If Israelis think that Netanyahu scores hasbara points with English speakers by virtue of the fact that he does speak English, then I’d say Zionism is addling their brains. Best to keep him hidden in Israel.

      Reply to Comment
    22. druid55

      They truly decided to leave. They, and every Arab with property, lost under Nasser’s nationalism. They could’ve stayed like most of the Arbs stayed.

      Reply to Comment
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