More articles by
Yacov Ben Efrat
Stuck with Bibi, stuck with Occupation
“There will be nothing because there is nothing.” That is Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu’s response to the ongoing investigations against him. Well, there will be something because there is something. Gifts received by Bibi Netanyahu and his family were “given” because he demanded them. In addition, the corrupt deal initiated by Netanyahu with Yediot Aharonot’s publisher, Arnon “Noni” Mozes (“you scratch my back and I’ll scratch yours”) is not kosher. But it is doubtful whether there’s enough in the two investigations to topple Netanyahu. Bibi has a firewall not because he lacks opponents (actually there are many within and outside of his party, and the media are not letting him off the hook), but because his opponents see no credible alternative to his rule. Also, his government is stable, the economy is doing well, and security tensions are bearable; as a result, Netanyahu is not getting flack from his base.
Opposition over settlements melted away after Trump tweeted: "With regard to the United Nations, things will look different after January 20th." Netanyahu can rest calmly. Obama wipes away a tear in his farewell address and becomes irrelevant. Trump appoints David Friedman as Washington’s new ambassador to Israel. Friedman dropped a diplomatic bombshell when he said he would do his job "from the American embassy in the eternal capital of Israel… Jerusalem." Presidents who believe in the sanctity of Israel will be serving not only in Washington, but also in Paris where François Fillon is favored to win in the upcoming elections. The common denominator of the trio, Trump-Fillon-Netanyahu, is that they see themselves as Putin’s ally. And all three are Islamophobic. The serving French president, François Hollande, is holding an international conference on the Palestinian issue on Jan 15th. The foreign ministers of 70 countries are participating. Like Obama, Hollande is on his way out, and the conference will be the EU’s swan song on the Palestinian issue.
In the Palestinian arena, Netanyahu has a partner in the form of Mahmoud Abbas (aka Abu Mazen). Despite his age and although he can show few achievements apart from survival, Abbas was recently re-elected head of the Fatah movement. Although the PA (Palestinian Authority) talks about a third intifada and makes noises "against the occupation," this is a diversion from what is really happening in the PA. High on the agenda of the ruling Fatah party is the fate of Muhammad Dahlan. He was the principal topic of the Fatah conference which was held ceremoniously in Ramallah: Dahlan—and not the fact that for the next four years there will be no political negotiations or progress, since Trump promises to torpedo any international condemnation of Israel.
Fatah is busy consolidating its control in the PA, and even finds time to resume its exhausting struggle against Hamas in Gaza. Gaza has gone through a harsh winter. The electricity grid has collapsed and residents have power for only a few hours a day because the fuel is insufficient. Fuel is provided by the PA, and the electric power station is in Hamas' hands. Hamas is not prepared to pay the price for fuel that the PA demands. The PA is demanding that the Electricity Agency be returned to it, while the Gaza Strip is plunged into darkness. While the two rivals trade blows, the Palestinian problem itself remains in darkness. Political power appears to be more important to the PA and Hamas than the desire to shake off occupation.
Changes in global politics only reinforce the belief that the two-state solution has lost its relevance. The alliance between Trump, Putin, Fillon and Netanyahu slams the door on a political settlement. The Arab world is in complete chaos as a result of the brutal struggle between Saudi Arabia and Iran. The electricity crisis in Gaza shows that the Palestinians are far from being able to deal with the problems of an independent state, even if they were to receive it on a silver platter. In addition, Israeli settlements are destroying the territorial contiguity they would need for a state. Fifty years of occupation, the hundreds of thousands of Palestinians who have been imprisoned over those years, the separation barrier, checkpoints, the siege of Gaza, internal and external wars have exhausted the Palestinians. They seem to have resigned themselves to their fate. They are living in the shadow of a corrupt PA that accepts the Israeli occupation as inevitable. In the shadow of the fragmentation of Gaza and the West Bank, they are at the mercy of donor countries and Israel.
The vast majority of Palestinians have stopped believing in a Palestinian state, and according to election results in Israel, most Israelis don’t believe in it either. Apparently, the underlying assumption of both peoples is that a Palestinian state is no longer on the agenda. This doesn’t stop most Israeli leaders in the coalition (apart from Naftali Bennett) and the opposition from clinging to the "two state" solution, each side using it according to its own interest. For Abbas, a future Palestinian state is an excuse that justifies the “temporary” Palestinian Authority. On Israel’s side, the “temporay” nature of the Palestinian autonomy allows the Israeli right to cultivate its dream of Greater Israel.
Thus, when Education Minister Naftali Bennett calls on his government to annex Ma'ale Adumim as a first step in annexing "Area C," it is Defense Minister Avigdor Lieberman who dubs the proposal "a folly that undercuts the settlement enterprise." Lieberman proposes concentrating on construction in the settlement blocs, knowing that the new US government will turn a blind eye. Publicly Netanyahu is committed to his Bar Ilan pledge of two states for two peoples, which was a concession to President Obama. But Obama is busy preparing his retirement, and Netanyahu is busy with his affairs [retirement and affairs derive from the same root in Hebrew]. In other words, the two-state paradigm helps to preserve the status quo: it prevents the annexing of Area C (so as not to undermine the PA) but, at the same time, it does not prevent expansion of the settlements and the tightening of Israel’s grip on the territories.
So where is the Zionist Left? They grasp the idea of a Palestinian state as a lifesaver, fearing a bi-national state. Helped by the expulsion of most Palestinians in 1948, the Zionist Left was able to establish a state that could claim to be Jewish and democratic. They adhered to that principle until ’67, when Israel captured the West Bank and Gaza, imposing military rule on the residents. Within ten years, the Right took over and focused on expanding the Jewishness of the state at the cost of its democratic character. Fifty years after the Occupation, the Zionist Left yearns to return to power to do what Rabin and Barak failed to do, that is, separate at last from the Palestinians.
Today it is not possible to turn back the clock, especially after the missing of so many opportunities—a miss that was already evident in the Oslo Accords, which strengthened the rightwing hold on the government. The Zionist Left, as well as the Right, fear the Palestinians, and they do not see them as partners for coexistence. Therefore, the desire to remain a Jewish and democratic state plays into the hands of the Right. It transforms fear into hate, using Gaza as an example to prove that a Palestinian state constitutes a danger to the security of Israel.
Outgoing US Secretary of State John Kerry recently preached against Israel's becoming an apartheid state; seventy foreign ministers now gather in Paris to save Israel from losing its democratic character; the Zionist Left is tormented by the “regulation” law (that would legalize West Bank settlements built on private Palestinian land) and are determined to bring down the Netanyahu’s government at every chance. And Bibi, meanwhile, is doing his thing: smoking expensive cigars, drinking fine champagne, and laughing at everyone. "There will be nothing," he says, even when there is something, "The Left can relax." Bibi is not going to annex Area "C" even if Trump lets him, because he understands that his future is linked to Abbas’ future. Both continue to hold onto the lie of the two-state solution because it guarantees their power for years to come.
Both in the PA and in Israel, if an honest and brave opposition is not established to expose this lie and offer an alternative policy of equality and coexistence between the Mediterranean and the Jordan, Bibi and the Occupation will be with us for many years to come.
- Translated from the Hebrew by Robert Goldman