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Why Netanyahu can’t just wish Palestine away: Analysis of a failed policy

Instead of earnestly pursuing peace, consecutive Israeli governments have attempted three policies: separating the Palestinians, erasing borders and boundaries, and attempting to change the world’s perception of reality. All three have failed.

Since Benjamin Netanyahu began his second term as prime minister in 2009, he has resisted reaching a two-state solution but he also claims not to want a single state, with or without a Jewish hegemony. Nobody seems to be willing to simply ask the prime minister: what do you intend for Israel and the Palestinians in five or 10 years from now?

In lieu of a vision, Netanyahu has aggressively pursued three policies: separation between Gaza and the West Bank (and within), the merging of Israel and the West Bank, and messaging the rightness of both — hasbara.

Although these policies are all ostensibly means to some elusive end, they have been implemented with zeal as if they are ends in themselves. Yet all three have failed.

Separation — FAILED

Dozens of Palestinians wait to climb over the separation wall near Qalandiya checkpoint, June 26, 2015. (photo: Oren Ziv/Activestills.org)

Dozens of Palestinians wait to climb over the separation wall near Qalandiya checkpoint, June 26, 2015. (photo: Oren Ziv/Activestills.org)

Israel has long pursued the physical, political, economic, cultural and religious separation between Gaza and the West Bank. The hope was that Israelis, the international community and no less important, Palestinians themselves, would view these societies as different entities, requiring different political solutions. The idea of a cohesive Palestinian state was supposed to dissolve.

It didn’t start with Netanyahu; physical movement restrictions between the regions from the early 1990s were compounded by Ariel Sharon’s partial withdrawal from Gaza in 2005. The latter created a sense of victory for Hamas and touched off the political rift that paralyzes Palestinian politics to this day. Israelis increasingly view this chopped up society as unsuited to statehood.

But nobody else does. Some Palestinians envision the 1967 territories, others yearn for the whole land (just as Israel loves to generate maps showing the whole land for itself). Under no Palestinian scenario does Palestine not include Gaza.

The international community didn’t read the memo either. In the recent UN report investigating Protective Edge, the commission of inquiry treated the two parts as a contiguous political whole. It acknowledges that Hamas controls Gaza internally but views the latter as part of the state that has acceded to international treaties on human rights. Which is lucky for Israel, because it meant the UN commission of inquiry held Hamas accountable to international human rights law – and for violations of it.

Israel also nurtures separation within the West Bank. Flying checkpoints shift around arbitrarily; the separation wall cuts people off, and settlement activity is designed with separation in mind. The “E-1” region would bisect the West Bank laterally, though not much has happened there yet. Recent activity elsewhere includes a new settlement (with private foreign funding and elaborate efforts at deception) that further connects the settlements south of Jerusalem to Hebron, bisecting the region vertically. Filling the land between the isolated settlement-city of Ariel and the Green line is a new neighborhood now morphing into its own town.

Yet these efforts haven’t dented the desire for Palestinian statehood; they simply make it increasingly impossible to achieve in the old forms. The result is Palestinian rage due to the growing gap between expectation and reality, and increasing awareness of Israel’s policies among international observers. The fact that the West Bank separation (and encroachment) efforts are incremental, small and technical fools no one — except Israelis.

Merger — FAILED

Expansion and building of new settlement units of Beit Arye continues on the lands of the West Bank village of Abud, near Ramallah, September 13, 2013. (photo: Ahmad Al-Bazz/Activestills.org) All Israeli settlements built in occupied Palestinian territory are illegal under international law.

A view of construction of new housing units in the settlement of Beit Arye on the lands of the West Bank village of Abud, near Ramallah, September 13, 2013. (photo: Ahmad Al-Bazz/Activestills.org)

Alongside efforts at separation between Palestinian people and land, Israel works hard to erase lines between its sovereign territory and the West Bank.

The 2011 anti-boycott law allows civil suits against those who call for boycott against any area “under Israel’s control.” Some slick language advisor probably recommended using that term rather than “occupied territories,” hoping listeners will forget that in those areas stateless people have been living under military law for nearly five decades, while Israeli citizens live normally.

No Palestinian can forget that. The White House hasn’t either. An item in the U.S. Trade Bill passed last week would oblige the U.S. to actively discourage boycott efforts of “Israeli-controlled territories.” The administration ultimately supported the bill, but not before voicing a ringing slapdown against the conflation of sovereign Israel with the areas under military occupation.

Perceptions are indeed changing, but in the opposite direction. Chemi Shalev of Haaretz wrote: “The attempt to blur the boundary lines between sovereign Israel and the settlements in the territories ended up emphasizing them.” In other words, the more Israel tries to create facts in the future, the more people know about the present. The myth that Israel “gave back land in the Oslo years,” has been replaced by widespread understanding that Israel controls both the West Bank and has effective control, as the UN report clarifies, over Gaza.

Further, as a result, the international community blurs the lines in one direction: Israel’s resposibility for the lives and human rights of Palestinians. The slow-dawning international realization that occupying powers are responsible for the rights of the occupied population under international law means that Palestinian demands for civil, political, and human rights fall on open ears.

Messaging — FAILED

Bystanders at the 50th annual Israel Day parade on 5th Avenue in New York City, June 1, 2014. (Photo by Lev Radi/Shutterstock.com)

Bystanders at the 50th annual Israel Day parade on 5th Avenue in New York City, June 1, 2014. (Photo by Lev Radi/Shutterstock.com)

Israel’s third policy is to disguise the first two in words unfettered by reality. This yields contradictions and plain weirdness.

One example is the common response to charges of apartheid these days.  It is in these very moments that Israeli messagers (as distinguished from regular “messengers”) re-discover the Green Line.

Israel becomes the only democracy in the Middle East. A land where Arabs can vote and be elected and Arab parliamentarians are free to say mean things about Zionism. So the culture and education ministers are on a rampage against an Arab theater, and the law allows housing discrimination — no country is perfect.

At these moments, there is no West Bank and Gaza at all. The 1967 borders of Israel become perfectly defensible, when they are defending against apartheid.

This week, the absurdities around messaging reached new heights when a survey was released showing massive partisan gaps in support for Israel in the U.S., Israel’s warmest audience. Democrats are losing sympathy and patience, while Republicans toe to the party line — theirs and Israel’s. The survey was conducted by Frank Luntz, messager extraordinaire for The Israel Project. His task at TIP for years and untold sums? To find the sharpest language to change minds. His findings? Israel’s image has reached a new low among U.S. political elites. His solution? More messaging.

Some say Israel is start-up nation of brilliant minds. Judging by the failure of his three main policies on the most towering issue in Israeli and Palestinian life, Netanyahu is not one of them.

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    COMMENTS

    1. Pedro X

      Has separation failed when there is a different government in Gaza than there is in Ramallah? Has separation failed when the PA and Israel coordinate actions against Hamas? Has separation failed when Palestinians in the West Bank enjoy a higher income than most Arabs in the Arab world, while Gazans are mired in poverty? Has separation failed when Palestinians in the West Bank have freedom to import and export and do business in Israel?

      Is Israel pursuing merger or just exercising its rights in the unsettled territories? From about 12,000 Jews living in Judea, Samaria and the eastern portion of Jerusalem in 1978, the Jewish population now tops 600,000 and will continue to grown by natural growth. Israel continues to solidify its rights in Judea and Samaria.

      As far as messaging goes, more than 5 times as many Americans support Israel as support Palestinians. Israel’s message is that it is a free and democratic society in which there is gender equality, freedom of religion, freedom of speech, freedom of sexual preference and equal rights for all its citizens.

      Reply to Comment
      • Bruce Gould

        “Has separation failed when Palestinians in the West Bank have freedom to import and export and do business in Israel?”

        This is nonsense; all goods coming into or leaving the West Bank are subject to Israeli control, and they aren’t nice about it. See “Who Profits?”: http://www.whoprofits.org

        W.B. Palestinians do not have freedom of movement.

        Reply to Comment
      • Ben

        @Pedro X: Your post is an excellent example of just what Dahlia Scheindlin is talking about:

        “One example is the common response to charges of apartheid these days. It is in these very moments that Israeli messagers (as distinguished from regular “messengers”) re-discover the Green Line. It is in these very moments that Israeli messagers (as distinguished from regular “messengers”) re-discover the Green Line.

        Reply to Comment
    2. Ben

      “The slow-dawning international realization that occupying powers are responsible for the rights of the occupied population under international law means that Palestinian demands for civil, political, and human rights fall on open ears.”

      The only way to appeal to most Israelis in regards to Palestine is by appeal to their sense of self preservation. Appeals to justice or humanity simply don’t resonate. For the Palestinians, in other words, the way to achieve an independent state is to appear to give up on trying to get one. Only when the Palestinians determinedly pursue One State–which is the only thing Israelis fear and loathe more than Two States–and as the slide to One State inexorably progresses–and it will, as the failures of separation, merger and messaging described above continue–will the Israelis en masse begin to recognize that the status quo cannot go on indefinitely. That is, as pointed out by Amir Tibon and Grant Rumley in Foreign Affairs, the Palestinians will have to reach for something the Israelis hold even more dear than the West Bank: control over Israel itself as a Jewish state. Only then will the Israelis begin to see Two States as their least-bad option.

      Reply to Comment
    3. bar

      This article gets it wrong from the very start: Israeli governments have offered the Palestinians peace and statehood three times in the past 15 years. In addition, Netanyahu accepted with reservations Obama’s deal last year. In all 4 of those instances it were the Palestinians who rejected the deals.

      Those are indisputable facts. Now write an article about that. As for “wishing away” anything, that is clearly the Palestinian strategy. Unable to conquer Israel militarily and without allies in the Arab world who can do it, the Palestinians are left to wait it out indefinitely both because they get global funding and, more to the point, because they believe the minute they finalize a deal, their dream of overtaking Israel comes to an end.

      Peace activists – real peace activists, not anti-Israel activists – would be wise to apply global pressure upon the Palestinians to make peace and compromise with Israel.

      Reply to Comment
      • Gustav

        Excellent post, Bar. All your points are spot on.

        1. Various Israeli governments already offered peace terms which the Palestinian Arabs ignored at best, or violently rejected at worst.

        2. The Palestinian Arabs did not accept Israel’s offers because they know that if they do, then they in effect have to give up on their idea of eliminating the nation state of the Jewish people and the idea of replacing it with the 23rd Arab Muslim state.

        3. The Palestinian Arabs have been able to do what they do because no effective pressure is being applied on them to compromise. To the contrary, the international community is subsidising them and their so called struggle which they would not need if they would have accepted Israel’s past peace offers.

        4. The so called peace activists should be called anti Israel activists instead. Why? Because after every Israeli peace offer they come out in force and offer apolgetics why the offer is never ever good enough but they are reluctant to acknowledge the real reasons why the offers are ALWAYS unacceptabe to the Palestinian Arabs. It is unacceptable to them because the Arabs really want a full RIGHT OF RETURN DEMAND which of course Israel just could not, cannot and will NEVER offer because it would be tantamount to national suicide for us!

        Reply to Comment
        • Gustav

          The Palestinian Arabs and their allies, the anti Israel activists are trying to put Israel into an impossible choice…

          They say to Israel, accept our demand for an UNLIMITED RIGHT OF RETURN DEMAND or…

          …we will force you to accept the ONE STATE SOLUTION by blackmailing, you and the world into accepting our description of the status quo as apartheid.

          They know that the idea of apartheid is anathema to most of the world and to most of Israelis too. So they hope that eventually we would allow ourselves to be pressured into either the one state solution or the unlimited right of return both of which are suicide options for us. So the Palestinian Arabs and their supporters convinced themselves that either way, they are onto a winner. But of course, they are NOT. They are not onto a winner because we will never commit national suicide.

          …and so it goes. That’s why we have the status quo. That’s why we have a stalemate. If they would be up against any other adversary than us, they would not be able to get away with this tactic because they would be the ones who would be thinking that it is national suicide for them to be as unreasonable as they are!

          Reply to Comment