Bouncer in Jerusalem

By Sam Bahour – The West Bank

Though hawkish Benjamin Netanyahu came in second in Israel’s last elections, he was tapped by Israel’s president to form a new government. With his coalition now in place, he is off and running. But where is he running to? Netanyahu is no newcomer to Israeli politics. He has even been prime minister before, at a rather pivotal point in history. He led the government from 1996 to 1999 when a Jewish extremist assassinated Yitzhak Rabin for signing a peace agreement with the Palestinians.

Many see Netanyahu as culpable in the collapse of the Oslo Peace Accords, since he had rejected them from the outset. Some even found Netanyahu culpable in Rabin’s death by inciting public fears that the peace process left Israel at risk. This time around, post-Oslo, he is making history again by joining forces with another Israeli party leader who did well in Israel’s latest elections, Moldova-born Avigdor Lieberman, Israel’s David Duke.

Lieberman has many problems with the Palestinians of the occupied territory, but is most conspicuously known for his desire to offload the Palestinians still residing inside Israel (one-fifth of Israel’s citizenry, albeit third-or fourth-class). In the pure Jewish state of Lieberman’s fantasy, these people contribute no added value whatever.

This is the man who will be the lynchpin of Netanyahu’s coalition.

For anyone yearning for an Israeli government with the courage and the will to end Israel’s 41-year military occupation of Palestinians, the long-anticipated appointment of Lieberman to Minister of Foreign Affairs leaves much to be desired. The former nightclub bouncer is referred to, only half in jest, by an Israeli friend of mine as “Doberman.”

For western onlookers, it was undoubtedly odd that the top vote-getter, Tzipi Livni, was marginalized in favor of the runner-up, said to be in a stronger position to form a governing coalition.

Livni rather quickly conceded, opting to join the opposition. She made a smart move as much of the world repudiates Israel’s dangerous drift to the right. Livni, at best, would have been a mere fig leaf for an extremist government. For Palestinians, meantime, none of the political acrobatics means much. Livni’s entire political history is just as violent toward Palestinians as Netanyahu’s, despite her peace-lexicon façade.

Palestinians find themselves in a familiar posture, waiting – or more like Waiting for Godot. I daresay even Beckett would have balked at this one. Palestinians have been dispossessed, occupied and brutalized year in, year out since 1948 by an Israel that continues to talk peace while waging war. The roster of political players changes, but Israeli intransigence remains.

One thing Palestinians are not waiting for is some enlightened Israeli prime minister who will step forward and end their misery; they’ve already seen all kinds: from Israel’s first prime minister, Polish-born David Ben-Gurion, who candidly said "We must expel the Arabs and take their places"; to Israel’s first woman prime minister, Ukrainian-born Golda Meir, acclaimed for her infamous remark that "There is no such thing as Palestinians"; to Israel’s first native-born prime minister Yitzhak Rabin who, during the first intifada, ordered his military to "break the [Palestinian demonstrators’] bones" and then went on several years later to sign the historic Oslo peace agreement—which was inordinately date-driven—only to announce a few days after signing it that there are no sacred dates. Palestinians have also been around the track once before with Netanyahu’s overly-sleek, propaganda-driven personality.

Now Netanyahu seems to have a new gambit: diverting our attention from the ever-more-entrenched military occupation of the West Bank and Gaza Strip with an "economy first" approach to peace.

The message, today, is clearer than ever before: Israel’s new government will let the occupied Palestinians live, but just barely, and in a political headlock. Netanyahu and Lieberman evidently forget one revealing chapter in their own history, a lesson accidentally taught, and at great cost to all, by Prime Minister Ariel Sharon: There cannot be peace and security until Israel ends its occupation.

For true negotiations to begin, the Israelis must remove the boot of military occupation from the necks of Palestinians. Then and only then can these two Semitic cousins sit down and carve out a model for peaceful co-existence.  If international law was respected, the framework for a final resolution to this pestering conflict is already on the books by way of dozens of UN resolutions dating back to 1947; however, today, the final number of states to emerge from peace negotiations is less important than making sure the Palestinian people survive to enjoy a post-conflict reality.

We are left with the central axiom Israeli prime ministers love to deny: There is no military solution to this conflict. Israel has proved beyond a reasonable doubt that it cannot win by relentless military force, and the Palestinians – against all odds – refuse to lose the quest for their freedom and equal rights. One more campaign to cover up Israel’s continuing occupation and the attendant war crimes only sets the stage for more death, more destruction, and more fruitless waiting. The world must act rationally today to salvage what remains to be salvaged. President Obama has better roles to play than a 21st century Godot.

– Sam Bahour is a Palestinian-American businessman from Youngstown, Ohio who lives in the occupied West Bank and is co-editor of "Homeland: Oral History of Palestine and Palestinians." He contributed this article to Contact him at:

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