Netanyahu’s Hedonism: From Occupation to Annexation
The UN Security Council rejected a statement by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu that the Golan Heights would always remain under Israeli sovereignty.
Israel captured the Golan Heights from Syria during the Six Day War in 1967. In 1981, an Israeli law was extended to the occupied region, thereby annexing it. However, the international community does not recognize the annexation. “The members recall Resolution 497 [which] decided that the Israeli decision to impose its laws, jurisdiction and administration in the occupied Syrian Golan Heights is null and void and without international legal effect,” the council said on Tuesday.
The rising violence here is shaking the already uneasy coexistence between Jews and non-Jews inside Israel’s borders. There are approximately 1.5 million Palestinian and Arab citizens of Israel — other than the Palestinians of East Jerusalem and the West Bank. Theoretically, these Arab Israelis have identical rights to Jewish Israelis. But practically, they say, the Israeli government treats them as second-class citizens, allocating them fewer resources and restricting the mobility of their communities while prioritizing Jewish Israelis.
In recent weeks at least four local school boards moved to expel or restrict Palestinian workers from being in the school during class hours. While most initiatives were prompted by parents, orders were given by administrators to fire or change the working hours of Arab employees. In one case a fund was set up to hire a Jewish worker instead. Other campaigns targeted Arab employees who posted political Facebook statuses seen as anti-Israeli and insisting they be fired. The tensions are so high that Palestinians say Israelis have become too quick on the trigger to shoot unarmed Palestinians or people suspected to be Palestinians. At least three Jewish Israelis have been attacked, at least one fatally, by other Jewish Israelis who believed they were Palestinian attackers.
Arab-Israeli leaders are careful to say they oppose violence. But to many Jews their words feel hollow. On Wednesday, in a Knesset shouting match, Zeev Elkin, a minister from the Likud party, denounced an Arab member, Ahmad Tibi, telling him: “You and your comrades are responsible for the blood spilled both of Jews and Arabs.” These were unfortunate words but an honest expression of the way many Jews in Israel feel today.
A responsible Arab leadership would consider these feelings and remember that the Arab community has a stake in coexistence, in Israel’s success, and in partnership with the Jewish majority. They may also be wise to remember that provoking a tense majority could have grave consequences, first and foremost, for the minority population.
Netanyahu also made an effort to bolster his status among the ultra-Orthodox electorate. Right at the time the report was released, he met with ultra-Orthodox journalists in his home, promising them that he would invite the ultra-Orthodox parties to join his next coalition and even that he would revoke the sanctions imposed for violating the Israel Defence Forces draft law, which were introduced at the Yesh Atid Party’s request. Netanyahu’s apparently successful last minute appeals were aimed at Israelis who still believe national security trumps all other considerations. Furthermore, he made it clear that if he returned to office he would never establish a Palestinian state. “I think that anyone who is going to establish a Palestinian state today and evacuate lands is giving attack grounds to radical Islam against the state of Israel,” he warned. “There is a real threat here that a left-wing government will join the international community and follow its orders.”
Notorious Role of Israel’s Ultra Nationalism
The Israeli “Right”, as demonstrated by a scary coalition of right-wing nationalists, ultranationalists and religious zealots, deserves all the bad press it has garnered since its formation in May 2016.
But none of this should come as a shock, as the “Right” in Israel has never been anything but a coalition of demagogues catering to the lowest common denominator in society. As unlikable as Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is, he is, in fact, a fair representation of the worst that Israel has to offer, which, over the years, has morphed to represent a mainstream thinking.
But Israel has not always been ruled by right-wingers. The likes of current Justice Minister, Ayelet Shaked, who has made a habit of calls for extermination and genocide of Palestinians, are relatively newcomers to Israel’s political tussle. In previous Knesset, the likes of her would have been assigned to a neglected seat in the back of the Knesset along with other lunatics who often mouthed profanities and incessantly called for killing all Gentiles. Tellingly, she is now one of the main centrepieces in Netanyahu’s menacing coalition.
For its part, the Israeli government now faces a dilemma. On the one hand, it does not want to escalate the situation, but on the other hand, it might want to show Hamas that a civilian bus bombing crosses the line. The decision about whether and how to retaliate will largely depend on two considerations.
First, images of the burned bus have raised memories of the wave of bombings that occurred after the second intifada had broken out in 2000. So the public might want to see the government react firmly. At the same time, however, public pressure for a harsh response has probably been limited by the fact that bus blast on 21 April 2016 did not result in fatalities, and that few political figures have criticized Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu for his reaction so far.
Second, it is still not clear how close this West Bank cell was to Hamas officials in Gaza. True, the organization did claim responsibility for the attack on social media, but this does not necessarily mean it was responsible for every aspect of the plot or knew about it in advance. Previously, Hamas established a “West Bank bureau” to oversee operations in that territory.
Hamas Between Radicalism and Pragmatism
Since the beginning of the current wave of violence – which some politicians and analysts have been calling “the third intifada” – Hamas has sought to execute mass-casualty attacks inside Israel in order to exacerbate unrest in the West Bank. Last November in 2015, the Shin Bet arrested a Hamas cell planning on shooting attacks that could have resulted in many casualties. In December of the same year, a Hamas cell of six operatives planned to kidnap Israelis in a manner similar to the capture and murder of three teenagers in summer 2014, but they were arrested by the Shin Bet before executing their plans. That same month, the Israeli police, military, and Shin Bet worked together to arrest twenty-five members of a massive Hamas cell that intended to carry out suicide bombings in Israel. And in May 2016, Palestinian security forces arrested another Hamas cell that had planned on shootings and kidnappings. In addition, the IDF stated that at least four explosive labs have been discovered during the recent wave of violence.
Hamas’s radical agenda has effectively changed over the last decade, moving towards political strategy. Over the 2000s, Hamas has indeed become a major player in Palestinian politics. It implemented a strategy of attracting Palestinian people, which paid off at the 2006 elections.
Hamas has reduced its traditional discourse on the destruction of Israel and the establishment of an Islamic state, preferring instead a political stance of persistence to resist against Israel. Hamas has even seemed increasingly ready to accept a long-term ceasefire with Israel. Several declarations have hinted at the recognition of Israel within the 1967 frontiers.
Nevertheless this change is mainly strategic and pragmatic. Indeed, Hamas’s new discourse has been partially prompted by external factors: Palestinian public opinion and Israeli pressure. Opting for a political strategy was thus a means toward remaining influential in Palestine. Moreover, it appears that Hamas’s leaders have not reached a consensus on this moderate strategy. Some hardliners within Hamas are impeding the negotiations for a ceasefire. In addition, Hamas is facing pressure from more radical groups in Gaza that are trying to prevent the organization from following a peaceful path.
Israel’s Current Unpopular Approach
The second view, represented by Naftali Bennett and his Jewish Home party and the right of Likud, rejects in principle the two-state solution, and giving up Jewish sovereignty over the ‘Land of Israel’. Proponents of this view seem to be committed to entrenching Israel’s position in the West Bank through settlement expansion and even annexation of some or all of the West Bank.
Another proposal to change the diplomatic status quo is for Israel to immediately recognise the State of Palestine, creating a new basis for negotiations between the two states on the final status issues. This proposal currently has much less public support or interest than separation. Although some Israeli public figures signed a letter to British MPs in October 2014 supporting the proposal to recognise Palestine, none were active political players. However, in a policy paper launched in the summer of 2015, Israeli Labour party Secretary General Hilik Bar backed Israeli recognition of Palestine.
The fears of the two sides are often summarised by saying that Israelis fear that a permanent agreement will become temporary and the Palestinians fear a temporary agreement will become permanent.
Israeli Doctrine of Regional Approach
Though the interest in warming ties with Sunni Arab states spans the political divide in Israel, there are different views of how this relates to the Palestinians. Netanyahu has suggested that improved relations with Sunni Arab states could facilitate progress on the Palestinian issue. However, the centre-left argues that Israel’s unclear position on the Palestinian issue places limits on any deepening ties with Sunni Arab states. A common cry, led by Yesh Atid party leader and former finance minister Yair Lapid, and shared by Zionist Union, is that Israel should clarify its position by formally responding to the 2002 Arab Peace Initiative (API) and promoting a regional peace conference. The Israeli Peace Initiative, an organisation led by Yuval Rabin, son of Yitzhak Rabin, has promoted support for this approach. More than 100 ex-IDF generals and other security officers signed an open letter in November 2014 with the same intention.
The Confederation Model?
Another more promising idea, sometimes proposed but not yet seriously investigated, would be to broaden the two-state solution to include Jordan — in which upwards of four million Palestinians now reside. This arrangement would encompass contiguous territories inhabited by 90 per cent of Palestinians. In a three-state confederation of Israel, Palestine, and Jordan, borders would be recognized but permeable. Palestinians would have the dignity and self-determination that they have been struggling to achieve in a framework that could replace hatred and mistrust with an opportunity for cooperation and friendship. Israel would not be forced back behind an insecure hermetic boundary 16 kilometres wide at its narrowest. Moreover, confederation would not be a complete novelty. It would reunite the peoples who inhabit the area that the British first designated as the unified territory of Palestine following the collapse of the Ottoman Empire in 1918. At first blush, this proposal may seem naïve and impractical, if only because it would make the Jordanian regime a third party to what is already a complicated two-dimensional puzzle. This third party formally disengaged from the Palestinian struggle in 1988, after the outbreak of the Palestinian intifada, which persuaded King Hussein that the Palestinian people “had elected the PLO”.
There are other well-recognized obstacles to any sort of pacification. Perhaps the greatest is that, as the Israeli analyst Asher Susser puts it in his excellent book, Israel, Jordan, and Palestine: the Two-State Imperative, Palestinians are preoccupied with “the 1948 file” (the rights of Palestinian refugees and resident Palestinians in Israel), whereas Israelis focus on the “1967 file” (the issues of Israel’s borders and the final status of the city of Jerusalem). Nonetheless, updating the vision of what the end game may look like, in light of present realities, enables two-state proponents to fight back against those who claim that the two-state agenda is dead.
Why a Two State Solution Is Inevitable
In recent years, after so many failed efforts, the Israeli centre-left has struggled against a tide of public apathy with respect to resolving the Palestinian issue. A majority of the Israeli public (57 per cent according to the Israel Democracy Institute’s December 2015 ‘Peace Index’ survey) remains in favour of a two-state solution since they value having a Jewish majority over holding onto all the historic Land of Israel (with its large Palestinian population). However, they assume that no viable agreement is possible since there is no credible Palestinian partner, and associate previous territorial concessions to the Palestinians – whether under Oslo or through the 2005 disengagement – with increased violence against Israelis. This has made centre-left parties wary of making “peace” a centrepiece of their manifestos. Can a fresh Israeli approach, or an old idea whose time has come, offer a viable Israeli policy alternative? For most Israelis it seems there is nothing, which has not been tried. John Kerry’s big push to secure a framework agreement collapsed in April 2014. It was the third official attempt to broker a negotiated, bilateral final status agreement to fail, after the Barak-Arafat talks in 2000-2001 and the Olmert-Abbas talks of 2007-2008. Meanwhile, the unilateral route to separation pursued by Ariel Sharon in 2005 led to Hamas controlling the Gaza Strip, which desperately attempted to fire rockets at every city in Israel. It is here that the EU fostered a soft approach in this regard.
The foreign ministers said preserving the option of a two-state solution was a high priority, while settlement construction “seriously threatens the two-state solution”.
“The EU and its Member States reaffirm their commitment to ensure continued, full and effective implementation of existing EU legislation applicable to settlement products,” the ministers said in the statement.
“The EU expresses its commitment to ensure that all agreements between the State of Israel and the EU must unequivocally and explicitly indicate their inapplicability to the territories occupied by Israel in 1967.”
For all the difficulties the two-state solution presents, there is no conceivable alternative that presents a realistic prospect of reconciling Israeli and Palestinian aspirations. A better response to the challenging situation on the ground is to reassert that there is no viable alternative to a two-state solution; to express support for all practical steps that advance in that direction; and to be open to creative solutions which can enable the two-state model to adapt in the face of changing demographic, political and strategic realities.
The on-going exclusionary strategy fostered by Israeli and Palestinian leaders, consisting of hiding interests under the table and negotiating based on positions, has resulted in a categorical failure of the Israeli-Palestinian peace process. Clearly, a new approach to and movement toward peace is needed. It is not only an issue of getting to the table. It is an issue of getting negotiators at the track one level to engage in meaningful exchanges with and to be accountable to their constituents.
The Model for Inclusive Peace supports a comprehensive process that begins well before formal negotiations. It leverages conflict resolution tools and techniques such as open space forums and consensus-building processes and accounts for technological advances that can facilitate a process to engage both direct and indirect stakeholders in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
And yet the inevitable truth is that a bold and dynamic peace discourse needs to be revived by forward-looking thinkers in the PLO’s camp. Such a bold and dynamic peace discourse has to be initiated by the Israeli civil society led by sane elements in Knesset, whose echo of peace and humanitarian norms has always been suppressed by the policies of the ultranationalist elements in both Likud and Labour Israeli governments.
Nevertheless, as long as the political expediencies seem to dominate the legitimacy of international law, and as long as the unjust legacies of the powerful seem to exploit the weaker, the dream of “peaceful coexistence” between Israelis and the Palestinians cannot see the light of the day.