Thursday, June 18, 2009
The clog in Peace's wheel called Netanyahu
The clog in Peace's wheel called Netanyahu
AJV states that it “recognizes the powerful role of U.S. policy in the region and believes that the United States’ unconditional support of Israeli government policy is profoundly harmful to the cause of peace with justice. We will work to promote a U.S. policy that is consistent with international law and human rights. We will work to combat the myth of American Jewish consensus in support of Israeli government policy.”~~Another Jewish Voice
"You must be celebrating,” the interviewer from a popular radio station told me after Netanyahu’s speech. “After all, he is accepting the plan which you proposed 42 years ago!” (Actually it was 60 years ago, but who is counting?)
The front page of Haaretz carried an article by Gideon Levy, in which he wrote that “the courageous call of Uri Avnery and his friends four decades ago is now being echoed, though feebly, from end to end (of the Israeli political spectrum).”
I would be lying if I denied feeling a brief glow of satisfaction, but it faded quickly. This was no “historic” speech, not even a “great” speech. It was a clever speech.
It contained some sanctimonious verbiage to appease Barack Obama, followed right away by the opposite, to pacify the Israeli extreme right. Not much more.
* * *
NETANYAHU DECLARED that “our hand is extended for peace.”
In my ears, that rang a bell: in the 1956 Sinai war, a member of my editorial staff was attached to the brigade that conquered Sharm-al-Sheikh. Since he had grown up in Egypt, he interviewed the senior captured Egyptian officer, a colonel. “Every time David Ben-Gurion announced that his hand was stretched out for peace,” the Egyptian told him, “we were put on high alert.”
And indeed, that was Ben-Gurion’s method. Before every provocation he would declare that “our hands are extended for peace”, adding conditions that he knew were totally unacceptable to the other side. Thus an ideal situation (for him) was created: The world saw Israel as a peace-loving country, while the Arabs looked like serial peace-killers. Our secret weapon is the Arab refusal, it used to be joked in Jerusalem at the time.
This week, Netanyahu wheeled out the same old trick.
* * *
I DO NOT underrate, of course, the significance of the chief of the Likud uttering the two words: “Palestinian state”.
Words carry political weight. Once released into the world, they have a life of their own. Unlike dogs, they cannot be called back.
In a popular Israeli love song, the boy asks the girl: “When you say no, what do you mean?” One could well ask: When Netanyahu says yes, what does he mean?
But even if the words “Palestinian state” passed his lips only under duress, and when Netanyahu has no intention at all of turning them into reality, it is still important that the head of the government and the chief of the Likud was compelled to utter them. The idea of the Palestinian state has now become a part of the national consensus, and only a handful of ultra-rightists reject it directly. But this is only the beginning. The main struggle will be about turning the idea into reality.
* * *
THE ENTIRE speech was addressed to one single person: Barack Obama. It was not designed to appeal to the Palestinians. It was quite clear that the Palestinians are only the passive object of a discussion between the President of the USA and the Prime Minister of Israel. Except in some tired old clichés, Netanyahu spoke about them, not to them.
He is ready, so he says, to conduct negotiations with the “Palestinian community”, and that, of course, “without preconditions”. Meaning: without Palestinian preconditions. On Netanyahu’s part, there are plenty of preconditions, every one of which is designed to make certain that no Palestinian, no Arab and indeed no Muslim will agree to enter negotiations.
Condition 1: The Arabs have to recognize Israel as “the nation-state of the Jewish people” (and not just “a Jewish state”, as many in the media erroneously reported.) As Hosny Mubarak has already answered: No Arab will accept this, because it would mean that 1.5 million Arab citizens of Israel are cut off from the state, and because it would deny in advance the Right of Return of the Palestinian refugees - the main bargaining chip of the Arab side.
It should be remembered that when the United Nations resolved in 1947 to partition Palestine between a “Jewish state” and an “Arab state”, they did not mean to define the character of the states. They were just stating facts: there are two mutually hostile populations in the country, and therefore the country has to be divided between them. (Anyhow, 40% of the population of the “Jewish” state was to consist of Arabs.)
Condition 2: The Palestinian Authority must first of all establish its rule over the Gaza Strip. How? After all, the Israeli government prevents travel between the West Bank and the Gaza Strip, and no Palestinian force can pass from one to the other. And the solution of the problem by establishing a Palestinian unity government is also ruled out: Netanyahu flatly declared that there would be no negotiations with a Palestinian leadership that includes “terrorists who want to annihilate us” – his way of referring to Hamas.
Condition 3: The Palestinian state will be demilitarized. This is not a new idea. All peace plans that have been put forward up to now speak about security arrangements that would protect Israel from Palestinian attacks and Palestine from Israeli attacks. But that is not what Netanyahu has in mind: he did not speak about mutuality, but about domination. Israel would control the air space and the border crossings of the Palestinian state, turning it into a kind of giant Gaza Strip. Also, Netanyahu’s style was deliberately overbearing and humiliating: he obviously hopes that the word ‘demilitarized” would be enough to get the Palestinians to say “no”.
Condition 4: Undivided Jerusalem will remain under Israeli rule. This was not proposed as an opening gambit for negotiations but presented as a final decision. That by itself ensures that no Palestinian, nor any Arab or even any Muslim, could accept the proposal.
In the Oslo Agreement, Israel undertook to negotiate about the future of Jerusalem. It is an accepted legal rule that if one undertakes to negotiate, one accepts to do so bona fide, on the basis of give and take. Therefore, all peace plans provide that East Jerusalem - wholly or partly – will be returned to Arab rule.
Condition 5: Between Israel and the Palestinian state there will be “defensible borders”. These are code-words for extensive annexations by Israel. Their meaning: no return to the 1967 borders, not even with a swap of territory that would allow for some of the large settlements to be joined to Israel. In order to create “defensible borders”, a major part of the occupied Palestinian territories (which altogether make up just 22% of pre-1948 Palestine) will be absorbed into Israel.
Condition 6: The refugee problem will be solved “outside the territory of Israel”. Meaning: not a single refugee will be allowed to return. True, all realistic people agree that there can be no return of millions of refugees. According to the Arab peace initiative, the solution must be “mutually agreed” – which means that Israel has to agree to any solution. The assumption is that the two parties will agree on the return of a symbolic number. This is a highly charged and sensitive matter, which must be treated with prudence and the utmost sensitivity. Netanyahu does the opposite: his provocative statement, devoid of all empathy, is clearly designed to bring about an automatic refusal.
Condition 7: No settlement freeze. The “normal life” of the settlers will continue. Meaning: the building activity for the “natural increase” will go on. This illustrates the saying of Michael Tarazy, a legal advisor to the PLO: “We are negotiating about sharing a pizza, and in the meantime Israel is eating it.”
All this was in the speech. No less interesting is what was not in it. For example, the words: Road Map. Annapolis. Palestine. The Arab peace plan. Occupation. Palestinian Sovereignty. Opening of the Gaza Strip border crossings. Golan Heights. And, even more important: there was not a hint of respect for the enemy who must be turned into a friend, in the words of the ancient Jewish saying.
By Uri Avnery
Uri Avnery is an Israeli writer and peace activist with Gush Shalom.