Israel’s Two-Sided Coin

By Joharah Baker

For Palestinians, it is hard to figure out what all the commotion is about. True, newly sworn in Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is clearly not the most sympathetic person to the Palestinians’ plight. Neither is his foreign minister Avigdor Lieberman nor is the overwhelming majority of his cabinet. It is undeniable that Israel’s new government is one of the country’s most right wing governments yet. So, to the outside world, even the United States, this is ringing alarm bells, pushing panic buttons everywhere.

Except, that is, among the Palestinians. Benjamin Netanyahu or Tzipi Livni or Ehud Barak. What’s the difference? A few slogans and watery pledges to work for peace? Photo-ops with Palestinian leaders, cordial handshakes that hide deceitful agendas? Perhaps one has to be right smack in the middle of things to realize that Israel’s governments over the years have all basically towed the same line, albeit with a few tweaks and revisions here and there. But for those less versed, Netanyahu and Lieberman’s straightforward frankness is something completely new.

It is not like these two are shy about their true feelings. It was literally hours after the new government was sworn in by Israeli President Shimon Peres on March 31 that Mr. Lieberman began dropping his infinite pearls of wisdom. The Annapolis Conference understandings of November 2007 were, according to the Russian immigrant, invalid. “There is one document that obligates us – and that’s not the Annapolis conference,” he said, referring rather to the Roadmap for Peace, outlined and adopted by the government in 2003.

For some odd reason, everyone was up on arms over that statement. Kadima leader Tzipi Livni, who won the elections by a hair but failed to form a coalition, opined that Lieberman had wiped away all of Israel’s diplomatic efforts in the course of 20 seconds. The United States, must have taken the comment as a personal slight given that Annapolis was held on their turf and under their auspices. But they hardly had time let it sink in before having to deal with someone else, the big chief.

Likud leader and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is no stranger to Israeli politics or to right wing policies. During his stint as prime minister in 1996, Netanyahu ordered the opening of the tunnel that now runs underneath the Aqsa Mosque, sparking fury and condemnation among Palestinians, Arabs and Muslims. The riots that ensured cost several dozens of Palestinian lives and gave Netanyahu the excuse he needed not to push forth with the Oslo Accords, signed by his predecessor and thrown begrudgingly in his lap. Meanwhile, settlements continued to grow exponentially and the Palestinian state was no closer than that it is today.

Like 13 years ago, Netanyahu does not mince words. He is not a fan of the two state solution, or any political solution with the Palestinians, really. He would rather appease them with economic enticements, allowing them to “rule themselves” , that condescending phrase carried over from colonialist times that is based on a the racist notion that the party granting self-rule is more qualified to draw out the perimeters of the others capabilities because of their superior status.

This, as previously mentioned, has raised red flags in Washington, Europe and the world over. The US Administration, the EU and of course the Palestinians all insist that Netanyahu must adhere to the two-state solution or there is no chance for advancing peace efforts.

In a twisted and roundabout way, Netanyahu and Lieberman’s staunch stances could actually be to the Palestinians’ benefit. Not of course, in terms of measures on the ground. In that sense, the people of the West Bank and Gaza have a bleak future ahead of them and should expect anything and everything from the new Israeli prime minister. Diplomatically, however, this might finally shift the negative light away from them. Instead of the Palestinians always being the “non-partner” for peace, maybe the world will see Israel in a different light now.

This is already happening at some levels. According to the Israeli press, the Obama administration is bracing itself for a confrontation with Netanyahu’s government over the latter’s lack of endorsement of the two-state solution. President Obama is scheduled to visit the region in June to meet with Israeli and Palestinian leaders as part of his philosophy of inclusion and engagement, especially with the Muslim world. In that sense, Netanyahu’s policies clash violently with the new American leader but it remains to be seen how the political rendezvous will play out.

Most importantly, however, is what is happening on the ground. In this context, Palestinians sadly realize that even if Livni, or Barak for that matter had won the elections instead, nothing much will change. Was it not these two plus then-Prime Minister Ehud Olmert – the Israeli troika – that ordered Operation Cast Lead – the offensive that many are now calling a war crime? Did Olmert not invade Lebanon, claiming scores of Lebanese civilian lives? How about the facts on the actual ground? Olmert was supposedly committed to Annapolis, the Roadmap and Oslo before that. All of these agreements and understandings demanded a halt to settlement expansion and a ban on unilateral measures that might alter the final status of Jerusalem. However, what we saw under Olmert (and frankly those before him), was an escalated rate in settlement growth, the continued construction of the E-1 plan in Jerusalem that even the Americans cringed at, and the continued construction of the separation wall, which for all purposes is drawing a unilateral and extremely lopsided de facto border between Israel and the Palestinians.

In short, the two-state solution, which the Americans, the Palestinians, the Europeans and just about everyone in between is desperately clinging to, was no closer under Olmert, Barak or Livni than it will be under Netanyahu. That is because Israeli policies towards the Palestinians, whether left or right, have an ultimate and unwavering goal, which is Zionist and therefore non-conciliatory in its nature. That is, to maintain as much land with as little Palestinians to possible to deal with. This is not compatible with the notion of a viable, independent and sovereign Palestine alongside Israel. This is essentially why so many efforts to realize this goal have failed in the past. Commitments have not only been violated by the Palestinians, like so many would like to believe. They have been systematically violated by all the Israeli governments who signed them too, under the hackneyed guise of Israel’s security and national interests.

The inherent problem with the international community is that they fail to oblige Israel to enforce the one commitment that will make all the difference. If Israel is forced to end its illegal occupation of the West Bank, Gaza Strip and east Jerusalem, perhaps then there could be talk of a two-state solution. In the meantime, however, Netanyahu and Lieberman will continue their straight talk, uninhibited by what the world has to say. Because really, they know that their predecessors held up the same torch for Israel that they do. The only difference is that these two don’t conceal the flame.

– Joharah Baker is a Writer for the Media and Information Program at the Palestinian Initiative for the Promotion of Global Dialogue and Democracy (MIFTAH). She can be contacted at mip@miftah.org. (Published in MIFTAH – www.miftah.org)

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