By Mikail Jubran
Over the past few months it has become disturbingly clear that Israel’s Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has neither a clear vision for Israel’s future nor any meaningful diplomatic strategy he can implement.
It appears that the international community sits and watches as Israel’s government perpetuates a militaristic, racist, neo-colonialist policy. Yet, some members of Israel’s polity have finally realized that Israel no longer has the privilege of sitting around and doing nothing. They have seen that Netanyahu has enveloped himself within a web of arduous ideological and political constraints. Now he may be seeking to extricate himself from these shackles.
When he arrives in the United States in the coming weeks, Netanyahu may just effect a public relations coup if he is granted the opportunity to address a joint session of the U.S. Congress from whose podium he will hatch Israel’s latest scheme for Israeli-Palestinian peace. Such an opportunity certainly underscores the power of the pro-Israeli Congressional clique and the notorious Israeli lobby AIPAC. Bibi knows quite well that being able to address the U.S. Congress is one of the greatest media coups one can achieve.
We may ask, what is up Netanyahu’s sleeve? Is he attempting to reshuffle the cards in a losing game? On the face of it, it may appear to be one serious gamble – or a very distasteful farce.
Netanyahu is definitely showing that he is able to manipulate a political situation to his favor, precisely because he comprehends the all-important truism of international relations – domestic politics matter. He is also quite aware of the increasing pressure and international isolation engulfing Israel, particularly the continuing distrust of European leaders, who doubt Netanyahu’s seriousness about moving the peace process forward. International observers also fully understand that Netanyahu has only been able to hold his right-wing government together and maintain his constituency’s loyalties by delaying any meaningful negotiations.
Therefore, by coming to the U.S. to formally announce and elucidate his new scheme, he will have the ears of the American people and most of all America’s Jewry. What better platform to initiate a new political twist to a stagnant landscape. Many analysts, including myself, are not blind to the fact that Bibi’s plan is designed to fend off further international pressure – to gain just enough time before having to come up with another excuse to defer peace negotiations with the Palestinians. What he really wants is to deflect international pressure onto the Palestinian Authority, because he knows that the Palestinians would reject his scheme outright.
If it is Netanyahu’s intent to formally propose the setting up of a Palestinian state with provisional borders – giving the Palestinians barely half of the West Bank – the world knows that they will not fall for such a trick. Such a proposal only means putting off indefinitely any discussion of the core issues of the conflict. The true rationale behind Netanyahu’s scheme is an attempt to halt the unilateral initiatives of the Palestinian Authority. He has made this no secret and his back channel maneuverings – dispatching his top advisor to Washington, his recent meetings with U.S. envoys Dennis Ross and Fred Hoff, as well as with U.S. Republican Congressmen – further prove that Netanyahu realizes that the extant political impasse is working against Israel.
Israel’s increasing international isolation has been underscored by the April 13 declaration of the United Nations that the Palestinians are indeed ready for statehood, a move which could cause Netanyahu’s tabling of any new plan to misfire badly. Such a boost to Palestinian efforts certainly merits an opportunity for Palestinian Prime Minister Salaam Fayyad to also make a request to President Obama to address the U.S. Congress himself so he can expound the true Palestinian position to the American people – an idea whose time has finally arrived. Utilizing such a forum, Fayyad could expose Netanyahu’s empty scheme for what it really is – an uninhibited land grab.
We do know that Netanyahu’s scheme would not address the issue of the dismantling of settlements or new construction, and keeps the fact of demarcated borders a festering wound. It maintains the Jordan Valley under Israeli sovereignty and avoids the contentious matter of East Jerusalem and its environs. It offers no reduction of Israel’s occupation what-so-ever. What the plan does amount to is only meaningless public relations; a self-centered approach to thwart the further internationalization of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Netanyahu is attempting to show the world that Israel is ready for concessions, which are actually insignificant, and place the blame for the failure of the peace process on the Palestinians if they reject them. It’s just another Israeli tactic designed to “blame the victims.”
It is only so obvious that Israel’s Prime Minister suffers from acute “tunnel vision.” He is frightened of looking straight ahead and peeking into the future. Netanyahu functions within the domain of talk and no action. He is the type of man who can make promises and hope that his words can maintain the status quo. He is shifting to an offensive mien because of the shakiness of his political foundation. Netanyahu is only creating a detachment from reality for himself. The tables may be turning on him and this is reflected by several acute political realities currently evolving within Israeli society and recently outlined in the Israeli newspaper Haaretz.
1. Changes within Israel’s political landscape – Israeli society is swinging to the right; the political and economic elite of Israel is steeped in corruption.
2. Cracks inside the Israel’s right wing political leadership – escalation of overt extremism by the settler movement and West Bank rabbis.
3. Mounting international isolation of the Israeli state – Israel is more being seen internationally as a “permanent occupier”.
4. Dissension within Israel’s Diplomatic Corps – numerous Israeli diplomats are complaining that the Netanyahu-Lieberman stance and actions have become indefensible and more than half of them disagree with their government.
5. The Invisibility of the Territories – the geographic and emotional distance of the West Bank has further eroded among Jewish settlers, undermining the settler movement’s efforts to establish new outposts in the West Bank.
6. Backlash against the Israeli extreme right – radical pro-settler protests are now targeting Jewish Israelis and are mounting with anger; a push-back against the radical right “Jews-only housing” campaign has prompted Jewish and Arab Israelis to band together in anti-racism counter protests.
7. Israel’s snubbing of America Jews – Israel has in effect been boycotting portions of the Jewish community in the U.S., who truly desire a democratic Israel actively working towards a future alongside a Palestinian state. Many claim that Israel is pandering to AIPAC, thus alienating a sizeable segment of American Jews – that Israel has lost its soul.
As the Palestinians approach their “White September”, to coin a phrase by the Israeli journalist Aluf Benn, more Israelis, and especially Netanyahu, fear that the conditions that led to revolutions in Egypt and Tunisia are now ripe in East Jerusalem. Israel will not be able to stop the slide. Netanyahu feels that he has to throw the World’s leaders a carrot in order to restore his credibility and get their support if another Palestinian uprising erupts – and to prevent his rightist coalition from collapsing. Above all, Netanyahu feels that he must act to counter the Palestinian political war to delegitimize Israel. Until now he has been unable to wage a “counteroffensive” against unilateral Palestinian efforts to declare their state.
Israel’s Defense Minister Ehud Barak’s recent warning of a “diplomatic tsunami” that will strike Israel in the fall has indeed shaken its Prime Minister. By attempting to breathe new life into his predecessor’s ideas and dress them with a different face, Netanyahu hopes to restore his popularity. New talk of transferring additional territory to the PA smacks of desperation, but he desperately needs a way out of the impasse that chains him. Netanyahu’s overt policy of tying Israeli security with the settlements, and thereby justifying further expropriation of Palestinian land, along with the continual Judaization of East Jerusalem is a worn out pretense swimming against the tide of the Middle East’s geopolitical transformation.
Yes, indeed, Bibi’s new plan does appear to be an old dance with a new spin. However, the stage lights are now beginning to dim upon him – and that light is fading fast.
– Mikail Jubran is Palestinian pro-reformist advocate and a specialist on Palestinian political affairs in Ramallah, Palestine. He served as the Director of Communications with the Palestine Liberation Organization’s mission in Washington, DC from 1988-1993, and now divides his residence between Ramallah and Washington, DC, where he is a consultant to law firms in matters of Diplomatic and Consular Law as embodied in the Vienna Convention.