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Nobody is coming to end the occupation, part two

Israel’s response to the Quartet’s ‘recommendation’ that it halt settlement expansion makes one thing perfectly clear: Netanyahu has fully internalized that nobody is coming to end the occupation.

UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu hold a press conference in Jerusalem on June 28, 2016. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu hold a press conference in Jerusalem on June 28, 2016. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

The Quartet on Friday released a long-awaited report on … well, actually, nobody is really sure what it is about or why it was written. In fact, it’s not really clear what the Quartet is aside from a grouping of countries and international institutions that once upon a time endorsed a peace plan that never got off the ground (George W. Bush’s Roadmap for Peace).

The Quartet report did not say anything new. It simply repeated the same condemnations we’ve heard for over a decade — condemnations of settlements and settlement construction, violence, incitement to violence, and the need for both sides to take steps to “advance[e] the two-state solution on the ground.”

Equally predictable were the reactions the report drew from Israeli and Palestinian leaders alike. Neither side was particularly thrilled, primarily because the report’s authors, quite understandably, focused on their respective unflattering sides.

Rinse and repeat

So what is the point of spending months crafting a 3,500-word document that regurgitates the same things everyone has been saying for the past decade?

The U.S. State Department offered the following lackluster explanation. “These are legitimate recommendations that we believe are valid and still believe can help – if enacted, if adopted, if pursued – get closer to a two-state solution,” spokesperson John Kirby said.

What were the recommendations? In short: both sides should de-escalate tensions and reduce violence; Israeli should cease settlement activity and permit Palestinian development in the West Bank; Israel should lift its siege on Gaza; and the Palestinians should establish a single government that controls both the West Bank and Gaza.

“That many of those recommendations – most of them – are ones that we have made in the past or we have talked about before – not just us, but other members of the Quartet – I think should come as no surprise to anyone,” Kirby added.

That is a dangerous situation. By repeating the same tired “recommendations” ad nauseum for over a decade, and without laying out any consequences or next steps, the conglomerate of world powers known as the Quartet is broadcasting a depressingly clear message —nobody is coming to end the occupation.

That’s not news, of course. (See my identically titled article from late last year.) But the effect such messages have on the Israeli government is significant and could be seen almost immediately in the intransigent and bull-headed response issued by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s bureau.

Settlements? What’s wrong with settlements?

Settlement construction in Gilo, January 21, 2010. (Photo: Activestills.org)

File photo of construction in the Israeli settlement of Gilo, West Bank. (Photo: Activestills.org)

While appearing quite satisfied with the condemnations of Palestinian violence, the prime minister was incensed by the Quartet’s descriptions of Israeli settlements as obstacles to peace and its call to immediately cease settlement activity.

“It is troubling that the Quartet appears to have adopted the position that the presence of Jews living in the West Bank somehow prevents reaching a two-state solution. The presence of nearly 1.8 million Arabs in Israel isn’t a barrier to peace; it is a testament to our pluralism and commitment to equality,” the Israeli Prime Minister’s Office said in a statement Friday.

There are two astounding things about this paragraph. The first is the way that Netanyahu feigns surprise at the fact that the Quartet “appears to have adopted the position” that settlements are an obstacle to peace.

Phase one of the now-14-year-old Roadmap for Peace, the very raison d’être of the Quartet, prominently features a demand that Israel “freeze all settlement activity (including natural growth of settlements).” There is certainly nothing new about it, and definitely surprising about it coming from the Quartet.

With liberty and justice for all

Israeli border policemen detain a Palestinian man at a checkpoint in Beit Enoon, near the West Bank city of Hebron, April 04, 2016. (Wisam Hashlamoun/FLASH90)

Israeli border policemen detain a Palestinian man at a West Bank checkpoint, April 04, 2016. (Wisam Hashlamoun/FLASH90) Jewish Israeli settlers in the West Bank are subject to civilian Israeli law with all of its protections, while Palestinians are subject to Israeli military law.

But the truly troubling part is the way Netanyahu tries to draw a parallel between settlers living alongside an occupied population under a military regime, and an ethno-religious minority living within a self-styled democratic state that guarantees equality for all its citizens.

Let’s be clear. There would be nothing wrong with Jews living in the West Bank if they were subject to a local, democratically elected government that is democratically accountable to all of its subjects — Palestinian and Jewish alike. There would be nothing wrong with Jews living in the West Bank if they acquired land through normal, civil procedures open to all legal residents and not by foreign military decree.

There would be nothing wrong with Jews living in the West Bank if there was no occupation, if there were not dual legal systems for Jews and Palestinians, or if the local Palestinian authorities had any jurisdiction over them. There would be no problem with Jews living in the West Bank if they lived there on the basis of a legal status (residency or citizenship) bestowed upon them by a Palestinian government.

But that is not the case. Jews living in the West Bank are not equals to their Palestinian neighbors, they have not been granted any legal status by a Palestinian or local government, they did not take control of the land they live on with the consent of Palestinian authorities, and they are not subject to the same laws and authorities as their Palestinian neighbors.

Israeli soldiers escort Jewish settlers as they tour the Old City of the occupied West Bank city of Hebron, June 4, 2016. The Israel army has enforced segregation in the city for over two decades, restricting residents’ movement according to their religion. (Wisam Hashlamoun/FLASH90)

Israeli soldiers escort Jewish settlers as they tour the Old City of the occupied West Bank city of Hebron, June 4, 2016. The Israel army has enforced segregation in the city for over two decades, restricting residents’ movement according to their religion. (Wisam Hashlamoun/FLASH90)

Palestinian citizens and residents of Israel, on the other hand, hold legal citizenship and residency status bestowed upon them by Israeli authorities. They are subject to the same laws as Jewish Israelis, and with some notable exceptions, have almost all of the same rights. (None of that is meant to downplay the systemic discrimination and discriminatory laws faced by non-Jews in Israel, all of which makes their lives vastly different from their Jewish compatriots.)

If by invoking Israel’s “pluralism and commitment to equality” Netanyahu had been indicating his government’s intention to extend that pluralism and equality to the Palestinians it rules under a military occupation regime in the West Bank, that might have been a welcome step. Especially if one is a proponent of a single, democratic state for Jews and Palestinians.

But Israel is not interested in Palestinians, it is only interested in their land. No Israeli government has ever intended for Jewish settlers in the West Bank, let alone the land on which they live, to be a part of a Palestinian state. Quite the contrary, the point of the settlements is to carve land out of a Palestinian state, or even worse, to prevent one from ever coming into existence.

By feigned outrage at the proposition that “the presence of Jews” is an obstacle to peace, Netanyahu is actually doing something far more sinister. He is suggesting that there is something anti-Semitic about opposing settlements. This is particularly worrying, although not surprising, considering increasingly frequent attempts to equate anti-Semitism with legitimate criticisms of Israeli policy and political ideology (Zionism).

That level of intransigence is an indication that Netanyahu heard the Quartet’s “nobody is coming to end the occupation” message loud and clear.

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    1. i_like_ike52

      It seems the world is finally developing a more realistic outlook on the conflict with the Palestinians. For decades, people have been saying that the solution “that everyone knows the terms of” is a complete Israeli withdrawal to the pre-1967 lines, including Israel dividing Jerusalem and handing the Jewish holy places in Jerusalem to de-facto Palestinian control (Olmert tried to dress it up as “international control, but in practice it would mean the Palestinians would control the sites), in return for the Palestinians giving up full implementation of the “right of return” of the Palestinian refugees and settling for monetary compensation. Were Abbas to agree to these terms, NO Israeli gov’t, including this one would be able to reject it. The whole world would accuse Israel of turning down peace. The problem is that the Palestinians completely reject such terms. Arafat told Clinton he would be assassinated if he were agree to this. Clinton and Obama worked overtime to try to push this type of agreement, but failed.
      So now, more than 20 years after Oslo, the world is finally coming to admit that there is no diplomatic solution. Most people in the world now realize that the Israeli/Palestinian conflict is just another one of those unresolvable crises in the world, like Kashmir or Cyprus. Most people in the world really don’t care about the Palestinians, the settlements an the associated buzz-words connected with the conflict. No one on the outside is going to impose any sort of “solution” and “lawfare” against Israel is a mere nuisance. This Quartet reports seems to have come to this understanding.
      The job now, is as A B Yehoshua, a true-believer in the old “Peace process”, wrote recently in Ha’aretz is to IMPROVE THE SITUATION ON THE GROUND and improve the lives of both Palestinians and Israelis and stop wasting effort on fruitless diplomatic initiatives.

      Reply to Comment
      • Ben

        Let me summarize and translate what I take away from this. I’ll just run it through my handy dandy Hasbara-to-Plain English software: Ike’s recipe is to combine a fictional account of what Palestinians have ever been offered with an ‘analysis’ that runs like this: Oh goody, the world doesn’t care all that much (but if it did they’d be anti-Semites–I got it covered either way) so we can get away with some bad stuff while no one is looking and you can all go stuff it. And for you tender minded progressives, don’t worry your pretty little heads about it dears, it’s just a little ‘unresolvable matter’ which we’ll take care of, go save the whales, we’re busy with family ‘business.’ La langue de gangsters.

        Reply to Comment
        • i_like_ike52

          Interesting how Netanyahu is conducting his grand tour of Africa, the first for an Israeli PM after several decades. Tanzania announces the opening of diplomatic relations with Israel, the President of Somalia, a Muslim country, met Netanyahu, Netanyahu has become a regular visitor to Moscow, the Greeks, lone hostile to Israel have greatly warmed relations, Turkey restores relations with Israel, Israel has expanding trade with China and India and Vietnam and other countries in Eastern Europe and Asia that it didn’t have relations with in previous years.
          I told you, the world doesn’t care about it.

          Reply to Comment