A gale of international disapproval, far from softening Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s hardline stance towards Palestinians is having the opposite effect. It reminds me of one of Aesop’s fables. The wind and the sun were in dispute as to which was stronger. They noticed a traveller wearing a cloak. Whichever of us can force the man to remove his cloak is the winner, they decided. The wind blew hard but the man wrapped his garment more tightly around him. When the sun shone brightly, he took it off.
Netanyahu has a siege mentality. He has lived his life in survival mode premised on Jews as eternal victims, which is why in almost all of his major speeches he refers to the Holocaust. Israel is a nuclear-armed country with the most powerful army in the region and is under the protection of the superpower. His attempts to paint Jews as victims are cynical; they are nothing more than a pretext to perpetuate Israel’s brutal occupation of the West Bank and East Jerusalem citing the Palestinians as an existential threat.
But like the wind in the fable, the more that Israel uses its might to subdue a people under occupation, the harder they fight for freedom. Treat them with respect, permit them to live independently in their own state without military checkpoints, hostile colonists and perpetual fear that their homes and orchards could be expropriated, a peaceful radiance would illuminate the entire region. This is common sense, not rocket science, but, unfortunately, a warhorse like Netanyahu is more comfortable with aggression than reconciliation, more used to managing the status quo than taking a chance on peace.
Israel’s far right are doing Israelis a grave disservice. Their nationalistic fervour, determination to expand Jewish colonies and prevent Palestinians from worshipping in Islam’s third holiest mosque Al Aqsa are grist for militants’ mill. Israel’s arrogant behaviour, its onslaughts on Gaza and the fact that it no longer bothers even to pay lip service to the peace process, is killing the one thing that has kept the Palestinian people strong against all odds — hope. When talks fail and hope dies, their only recourse is to accept subjugation or fight it tooth and nail.
Until recently, Netanyahu felt free to act with impunity in the belief that Israel’s friends would always shield it from the international community’s condemnation. But the days when Israel could do no wrong are coming to an end. On the heels of Sweden’s official recognition of a Palestinian state, Belgium is poised to do likewise. Both the British and French parliaments have voted in favour of such recognition, albeit such votes were non-binding. The UN Human Rights Council has launched a Gaza war inquiry to probe Palestinian accusations that Israel committed war crimes, while a separate team of UN investigators is currently in Gaza to study violations of neutrality on UN installations there. However, the real shocker is this. According to the Israeli daily Ha’aretz, “White House and State Department officials have recently met to discuss the possibility of imposing sanctions on Israel in an effort to stop housing construction projects in eastern Jerusalem.” When State Department spokeswoman, Marie Harf, was asked to confirm this she said she could not comment on “internal” deliberations, which speaks for itself.
Certain US lawmakers are up in arms over the rumour and have written to the White House demanding an explanation. There is no love lost between the US President Barack Obama and Netanyahu, but whether the US leader is prepared for a Congressional firestorm in the run-up to a Republican-dominated Congress with the ability to turn the president into a lame duck is another matter. One might imagine that there has never been a better time for Netanyahu to stay under the radar. In this climate, Israel can do without yet more controversy. But no, he’s come out swinging, introducing a bill in the Knesset — the Nation State bill — to define Israel within the constitution as a Jewish state that accords rights according to the beneficiaries’ Jewish identity. If passed, Palestinians living in Israel, currently de facto second-class citizens, would be hurled to the bottom of the barrel.
Such a racist parliamentary act would run contrary to Israel’s claim to be the only democracy in the Middle East and would certainly inflame Palestinians living in Israel, who make up almost 22 per cent of the population. A number of Jewish organisations outside Israel are openly disapproving. Rabbi Jeffrey Salkin, an author of books on Judaism based in New Jersey, says, “The government of Israel is playing with American Jewish fire. If Israel is perceived as being anti-democratic, many American Jews will walk away, or drift away, or simply, passively, no longer care.”
An editorial in Ha’aretz expresses outrage: “The prime minister has once again proved to be an extreme nationalist willing to sacrifice this country’s basic values in pursuit of a destructive ideology.” Clearly Netanyahu and his ilk have passed their sell-by date, but the mystery is this: why are the Israeli people still keen to buy?
Linda S. Heard is a specialist writer on Middle East affairs. She can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org