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Netanyahu won. Here’s how to beat him

By accepting that the two-state solution will just have to wait until Israel is ready to accept it, the White House has effectively conceded to Netanyahu’s strategy: declare support for two states — in theory — while continuing to deny Palestinians their most basic rights and liberties.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu meets with U.S. President Barack Obama in the White House, November 9, 2015. (Haim Zach / GPO)

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu meets with U.S. President Barack Obama in the White House, November 9, 2015. (Haim Zach / GPO)

Benjamin Netanyahu’s strategy for defeating the prospect of Palestinian statehood has always been to stall. Sure, he introduced a few tactical roadblocks along the way like “security zones” and demanding recognition of Israel as a Jewish state, but the wider strategy has always been to feign engagement until momentum swings back in his favor.

The strategy has worked pretty well so far, largely because the formulation for peace on the table and the process established for reaching it was, it now appears, doomed to fail. Israel’s current crop of leaders will never agree to the creation of a truly sovereign Palestinian state or a just resolution to the refugee problem, two issues on which no Palestinian leadership will ever compromise.

All Netanyahu has had to do is appear like he is willing to try but never actually budge too far, blame domestic political considerations and geopolitical turmoil for his hesitance to go out on a limb, and declare that despite his best intentions there is no partner for peace. Or maybe the timing is off. Or maybe ISIS. Or Iran.

For years the prime minister has been fairly open about his opposition to Palestinian statehood, it’s just that he has learned to use dog whistle terms to talk about it, and even then generally only in Hebrew. For instance, early last summer, before the Gaza war, Netanyahu said in a rare question-and-answer portion of a press conference that “there cannot be a situation, under any agreement, in which we relinquish security control of the territory west of the River Jordan.”  The prime minister’s bravado went right over the heads of most of the media at the time.

During the 2015 election campaign, Netanyahu hinted at and then said explicitly, albeit reluctantly and only in Hebrew, that a Palestinian state will not be born on his watch. The world noticed that time but only because elections were in full swing, and the prime minister was eventually forced to roll back his statement. He does support Palestinian statehood in principle, Netanyahu clarified once his victory was sealed and electoral concerns were no longer, it’s just that “under the present circumstances … the implementation of that vision is not relevant right now.”

In other words, the prime minister supports the two-state solution in principle but not in practice.

Benjamin Netanyahu gives a victory speech on election night, March 18, 2015. (Photo: +972 Magazine)

Benjamin Netanyahu gives a victory speech on election night, March 18, 2015. (Photo: +972 Magazine)

The White House at the time responded with some of the harshest rhetoric we have seen toward Israeli intransigence in years. The United States will be forced to “reevaluate its approach” to the peace process, the Obama administration told anybody who would listen in the weeks following Netanyahu’s reelection in March.

Now, we are finally getting a glimpse of exactly what that means. In a series of briefings, conference calls and interviews with reporters in the days leading up to Netanyahu’s visit to Washington this week, senior administration officials said they have accepted that the two-state solution is not a near-term possibility in practice, and that in lieu of progress it expects Netanyahu to take concrete steps toward ensuring it remains the only option on the table in principle.

In other words, the White House has adopted, or at least accepted, the Netanyahu approach to (not) resolving the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

That’s how Netanyahu won. Here’s how he can be defeated.

A Palestinian protester uses a stop sign as a shield during clashes with Israeli troops in Bethlehem, West Bank, October 23, 2015. (Anne Paq/Activestills.org)

A Palestinian protester uses a stop sign as a shield during clashes with Israeli troops in Bethlehem, West Bank, October 23, 2015. (Anne Paq/Activestills.org)

The United States’s historical approach to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is in many ways at odds with its own values. Whereas American political thought is generally centered on the idea of individual rights and liberties, when it comes to Israel every U.S. administration has prioritized national rights at the expense of the individual.

There is a logic to that way of thinking, especially when considering the historical context of the Holocaust and the need for a Jewish homeland to safeguard against future collective threats. That logic also casts aside the inherent injustice of a state that belongs to only one of the two ethno-religious groups that comprise its citizens.

Under the current worldview propagated by the White House, preserving Israel as a “Jewish and democratic state” is more important than ensuring that all Israelis and Palestinians: have equal rights and due process, access to equal opportunity, basic civil liberties like free speech and movement, and the right to choose and hold accountable one’s rulers.

One way to reconcile these seemingly diametric needs is to reevaluate the very conceptions responsible for rendering the two-state solution as the only acceptable resolution. By prioritizing individual civil liberties and rights over national self-determination, thereby redefining the problems any peace process aims to resolve, new formulations for reaching a resolution will reveal themselves.

Instead of first defining the framework of a resolution and then forcing each side to compromise their respective needs in order to contort themselves into its confines, the United States — or another world power — would be wise to first establish the fundamental needs and basic rights of everyone directly affected by the conflict, the occupation and the peace process itself. Or in other words, start treating the occupation and the violence it perpetuates as a civil rights issue and not a nationalist or diplomatic affair.

Israeli Border Police officers man a checkpoint for Palestinians leaving the East Jerusalem neighborhood of Issawiya, October 15, 2015. (Oren Ziv/Activestills.org)

Israeli Border Police officers man a checkpoint for Palestinians leaving the East Jerusalem neighborhood of Issawiya, October 15, 2015. (Oren Ziv/Activestills.org)

Doing so could open up new paths for resolving the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, in any number of political entities or configurations that can truly meet the needs and respect the rights of everyone involved — including by continuing to act as a safe haven for the Jewish people.

A one-state outcome “is filled with greater risks for Israel as a Jewish state and a democracy,” senior Obama advisor Ben Rhodes told Haaretz’s Barak Ravid this past week. That is true: a one-state outcome is full of risks, for everyone involved.

But the two-state solution was supposed to end the occupation, guarantee security for Israel and realize national self-determination and sovereignty for the Palestinians. It has failed to do so. All the the two-state process has succeeded in achieving is the creation of a framework for systematically denying basic rights and liberties to half of the population living under Israeli control, all while failing to provide security for anybody.

Perpetuating a status quo of inequality and injustice so that the vision of a two-state solution can survive is one of the worst outcomes President Obama leave as his legacy. Doing so would hand a huge victory to Netanyahu, who has built a very successful career by standing in the way of a just resolution to the conflict. Even worse, it leaves Palestinians under foreign military occupation and abandons both sides as they nervously await the next explosion of violence. Luckily, it’s not the only way.

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    1. Yeah, Right

      The obvious way to “beat” Israel (and it’s not just Bibi, he’s just being too thuggish to hide it) is to change tack completely.

      Argue that at its core this is a LEGAL question ie does Israel have a “right” to demand that occupied territory be ceded to it? Do Palestinians have “rights” or do they just have “aspirations”?

      Those are, indeed, questions of international LAW, and therefore are properly addressed by an International Court.

      So the USA should do this: admit that bilateral negotiations will never get anywhere precisely because the two sides can’t even agree on the legal basis of their respective “rights” and, therefore, that issue needs to be solved first.

      So take that to the ICJ, and let those judges decide who has “rights” on their side, and who merely has “might” on their side.

      Israel will object, of course, but that’s because Israel knows it doesn’t have a LEGAL case. It only has “wants” and “needs” but, then again, they probably want a pony too.

      Reply to Comment
      • Gustav

        Ok scumbags. What’s the excuse for the latest atrocity against the French? Are they occupying Arab lands?

        Wanna talk about that for achange?

        Reply to Comment
    2. Eliza

      Surely when Obama says that the minimum requirement of the US is that Netanyahu takes steps to ensure that the only option on the table is the 2SS, he is really saying that the US expects Israel to curtail its expansion into the W/B?

      Once the illusion of the 2SS is gone, it leaves the US unprotected in the diplomatic sense. Whilst there is even a possibility of a 2SS resolution, the US can continue its military aid to Israel – and Israel can continue to be the US aircraft carrier in the ME. Israel is part of its ME framework. If the illusion of the 2SS is gone, then it makes it that much harder for the US to justify its alliance with Israel.

      Saying all that, the absence of US brokered peace talks is not a loss. These peace fakery talks merely added some gloss to the illusion of a 2SS. Managing the status quo is not an easy task for either the US or Israel.

      And why think that its Netanyahu’s victory? He has not substantively changed Israeli policy, aims or behaviour in relation to the Palestinians. He is merely either just a tad more honest or stupid in his comments. The consistency of purpose re gaining control and presumably eventual formal sovereignty over as much of the W/B (with the least amount of non-Jews attached) cannot be doubted. All Israeli governments since 67 have behaved in a similar fashion. The victory, if victory it is, belongs to Zionism.

      Why think that the US conducts its foreign policy according to values? It has a close co-operative relationship with Saudi Arabia.

      I just think that Obama understands that politics is always the art of the possible. If US interests are advanced or maintained by throwing the Palestinians under the bus, then even if its done with some regret, well so be it. But the same will apply to Israel. If it becomes in the strategic interests of the US to throw Israel under the bus, then under the bus it will go – again there may be some regrets. But’s that’s all.

      Until and unless Israel believes that it is its interests to come to a just resolution of its conflict with the Palestinian people, there will be no resolution. Yes, the status quo cannot be maintained indefinitely but who is to know whether the status quo will broken by a just resolution or by increased violence and eventual transfer or even slaughter. Or do you think that Israel is not capable of the mass slaughter of Palestinians if the circumstances are deemed right?

      Reply to Comment
      • Gustav

        The fakery comes from your side of politics, Eliza dear.

        So tell us please, why have your Arabs attacked French civilians? Is it because France occupies Arab lands?

        I am making a point here deary. We are up against the same attitude. Arab violence against us started way before there was occupation. In fact, the occupation is a CONSEQUENE of the violence NOT it’s cause. This is a cultural thing. When Arabs are upset, innocent people die. And Arabs allow themselves to be upset very easily even when right is not on their side.

        Why did your Arabs reject the two state solution in 1947? Because they deluded themselves into thinkng that ALL the land from the river to the sea is THEIRS and THEIRS alone. That is called supremacism.

        Reply to Comment
    3. Ben

      You knew it was coming. It appears that there are those who will try–in what is at bottom racist hate speech–to exploit the atrocity of Daesh on French soil as much as they can to try to blur the grossly obvious difference between Daesh and the Palestinians, between France and Israel. Predictable rants about “the Arabs,” “your Arabs,” “whenever you have Arabs,” etc. As someone here, I think named ‘Sigh’, put it, the use of “we” and “they” and “your” is a telling habit. The hard, deep rightist sees Jewish Israelis as an organic, hive-like “we” and sees the Palestinians — whether citizens of Israel, “permanent residents” of East Jerusalem (whom Netanyahu now threatens with transfer, and by extension puts a racially defined 20-25% of his own citizens on notice that their rights are subject to the whims of Jewish Israelis–see Yehudit Oppenheimer’s article) or occupied citizens of the West Bank — sees them all as a hive-like”Arab” “they.” It’s a near-fascist conceptualization. Like Netanyahu and others they are predictably seeking to bait people on this, not even waiting a few hours to do so.

      Reply to Comment
      • Gustav

        Daesh and Hamas are different, blah, blah, blah….

        … Syria is different and Iraq is different and Lebanon is different and Libya is different, all Arab countries …

        France and Israel are different, Russia and Israel are different, Israel and America are different, Blah blah blah.

        Really, Benny? Then I ask you again, why are Arabs attacking countries like France, Russia, America and other countries which don’t occupy Arab lands?

        You can run from this question, Benny, but you can’t hide. Only persistence works with hardened propagandists like you. That is why I promise you that I won’t let up till either you answer this question (by answer, I don’t mean waffle and sidetracking) or shut the f@&k up. Your choice Benny.

        Reply to Comment
        • Ben

          “Arabs” are not attacking countries like France, Russia, America. Da’esh and Al Qaeda are. If someone here said “The Jews burned the Dawabshe family alive,” you would rightly accuse them of demagoguery and anti-Semitism. So why do you feel entitled to a free pass for demagoguery and anti-Arabism?

          Reply to Comment
          • Gustav

            A significant section of the Arab people are involved in a war against infidels and non believers. You wanna deny that? Go ahead and deny it. But your denial does not make self evident facts go away.

            By the same token, a significant number of the Jewish people, in particular, the Jews of Israel have been involved in 100 year war that the Palestinian Arabs initiated against us in order to terminate the Jewish state in the Middle East. In that war, some of us, sometimes go overboard and do inexcusable things. More often than not, this happens after Palestinian Arabs do equally inexcusable things to us. That is war. So you are most welcome to say that the Jewish people are in a war with the Palestinian Arab people. But to claim that in that war, all the Jewish people perpetrate the same inexcusable acts as the one against the Dawabshe family is a lie.

            Now back to the the terrorist act that just happened in France, remind me again, what is the excuse for it? And what is the excuse for the terrorism against the Russian airliner? And the Bali bombing? And the Madrid bombing? And the London bombing? And 9/11? And the beheadings? And the 8000 Israelis who were murdered OR maimed during the second Intifada because Arafat did not like Ehud Barak’s PEACE OFFER!?

            See Benny? It is a matter of scale. And also a matter of cause and effect. In terms of scale, if one compares the number of times that Jews perpetrate acts like the one against the Dawabshe family, to the number of times that Palestinian Arabs and other Arabs do equally atrocious and even worse acts, it is clear that the Arabs are the champions of committing such vile cowardly acts.

            In terms of cause and effect too. Much as you like to ignore who started the violence and the perpetration of such acts, you cannot ignore it. You cannot claim that the Arabs, including your Palestinian Arabs commit such acts because Jews and other infidels RESPOND to their campaign of terror. Such a stance is simply not logical. It is only logical in Lah Lah land or in BENNY-WORLD!

            Reply to Comment
          • Gustav

            I find Benny’s holier than thou transformation most interesting.

            He called us Israelis (yes he specifically refers to Israelis) as, narcissists, land thieves, unembarassable, racists and all sort of other “endearments”.

            Yet the moment that I dare to question why Arabs are murdering innocent civilians in many other countries other than Israel as well, suddenly he turns all self righteous on me. What a hypocrite!

            Reply to Comment
          • Ben

            “…the Arab people…”
            Same old demagoguery and racism.
            “…this is war…”
            Same old evasion and excuse making for the occupation.
            “…what is the excuse is for terrorism…”
            Same old straw man.
            “… the number of times that Jews perpetrate acts…”
            Same old surgical removal of the daily acts of the occupation.
            “…who started the violence…”
            Same old revisionist history.
            “…narcissists…unembarassable…”
            Same old blaming the messenger.
            “…the moment that I dare to question why Arabs are murdering innocent civilians…”
            Same old non sequitur.

            Reply to Comment
          • Gustav

            Poor old Benny is getting very scrappy and incoherent. He must be rattled.

            The gist of his above post is denial. He denies everything bad that the Arabs are guilty of. Yes I said Arabs, Benny. Much as you abuse Israelis and generalize about us.

            So I hope you won’t object if when I talk to you specifically, I’ll stoop down to your own lowly standards, you racist little scum.

            See what effect your rhetoric has on people, Benny? Even a mild mannered person like me reacts in an agressive way.

            You are a polarizer Benny. I suspect that’s why your paymasters let you loose on this site. They don’t want to see constructive discussions about this conflict. They want to turn everything to it’s lowest common denominator and to cartoonish discussions.

            Are you proud for doing such a good job in achieving that Benny? Enjoy while you can because the backlash is coming. The day of reckoning will arrive. Prepare for it Benny-leh. People like you will be made to face the music!

            Reply to Comment
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