PM says he opposes evacuating areas which lie outside the main settlement blocs but which are 'important to the Jewish people.'
Finance Minister Yuval Steinitz during a visit to the Tomb of the Patriarchs in Hebron. Photo by Gil Cohen Magen
by Barak Ravid Haaretz 6 January 2014
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu told his Likud Knesset faction on Monday that he opposes evacuating settlements like Hebron and Beit El, which are outside the major settlement blocs but are “important to the Jewish people,” MKs present at the meeting said.
He also said he has “no solution” for how to prevent Israel from becoming a binational state while also ensuring that a Palestinian state won’t become a base for Iran or Al-Qaida.
According to three MKs who attended Monday’s faction meeting at the Knesset, Netanyahu raised the Israeli-Palestinian issue at his own initiative. He began by teasing MK Tzipi Hotovely – who routinely asks him at every such meeting about the negotiations now being conducted under the auspices of U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry – for not having raised the issue yet. He then launched into a survey of Kerry’s effort to broker a framework agreement for Israeli-Palestinian peace.
During this survey, he sent conflicting messages that made it clear how much pressure he is under and how much he is agonizing over what response to give the Americans.
“Kerry is trying to formulate an American paper that will reflects the American position,” Netanyahu said, as quoted by two MKs present at the meeting. “Both sides will be able to comment on it, but not necessarily by consenting. Yet even this paper is hard to achieve right now.”
Netanyahu stressed that he has not discussed evacuating settlements during the talks. Asked “So what’s left to talk about?” by MK Moshe Feiglin, Netanyahu replied, “There’s a lot of territory that isn’t settled.”
“We won’t concede the places others conceded in the past,” the prime minister added, citing Hebron and Beit El as examples of places that are outside the settlement blocs but are nevertheless important to the Jewish people.
Netanyahu stressed at some length that the main problem in the Middle East isn’t the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, but Iran and the Muslim Brotherhood. Leaders of several Arab states agree with him on this point, he added.
After temporarily turning the floor over to Defense Minister Moshe Ya’alon, who gave a monologue of his own making the same point, Netanyahu took the floor again to say that the conflict is about the Palestinians’ unwillingness to recognize Israel as a Jewish state. But even if the Palestinians were to accede to this demand, he added, the conflict wouldn’t end.
“Even if there is some minimal commitment to recognize the Jewish state, there’s still no guarantee that the incitement against us would change,” Netanyahu said. “We saw what happened when we closed our eyes and evacuated settlements. We need a foothold in the territory, plus security arrangements that will ensure that the territory won’t be handed over to hostile elements.”
At this point, Netanyahu suddenly switched to presenting the other side of the coin.
“The reason why we’re willing to reach this agreement isn’t because we’re denying our history, but because there are two million Palestinians and the question is what we do with them,” he said. “There’s a problem that the Palestinians are there, and I have no intention of removing them. It’s impractical and inappropriate. I don’t want a binational state, and I don’t want them as either citizens or subjects. On the other hand, I don’t want another Iranian state or Al-Qaida state. Currently, we have no solution.”
During the meeting, Netanyahu was asked about the possibility that an agreement with the Palestinians could include an exchange of populations and territory – something Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman has advocated repeatedly, most recently just this week. “That’s the foreign minister’s position, but not the American position,” Netanyahu replied.
(NB: Note the racist language of the PM, the mention of Palestinians is that they are an irritant 'problem'. Hebron is the hotbed of the most extreme racist and virulent settlers, protected by the IDF, causing a nighmare for Palestinian Hebronites. They should be top of the list together with the most extreme settlements like Yizhar, and Beit El who are constantlay terrorising and stealing land from surrounding villages, who should be immediately evacuated. Ed.)
Netanyahu’s secret peace plan: Do nothing
It’s not true that the prime minister has no solution to the so-called Palestinian problem. There’s plenty of posturing, sloganeering and self-delusion.
I don’t believe that John Kerry’s mission will accomplish anything other than finally proving that the United States is unable to be an honest broker in the Israel-Palestine dispute and should drop the charade. Even if the secretary of state forces Benjamin Netanyahu and Mahmoud Abbas into a framework agreement, it will be a sham, a short-lived sop to American power rather than a sign of true intent on the part of either leader.
Nevertheless, in compelling the Israeli government to confront issues that it would much rather avoid, Kerry’s persistence has done some good. As the mission comes down to the wire, Israel has been forced into ridiculous posturing and inane sloganeering that only highlight just how hidebound the country really is, how stuck we are in 100 years of lies, bombast and self-delusion without the slightest idea of how to move forward.
Netanyahu’s statement to the Likud Knesset faction on Sunday that he has “no solution” to the so-called Palestinian problem was an astounding admission. Almost 68 years after the founding of the state, 46 years after the occupation of the West Bank and 18 years after Netanyahu first became prime minister, Israel still has no clue about how to handle the Palestinian issue. Astounding, but not exactly surprising.
What have we been doing all that time? What have all the air miles logged by American mediators been for if we haven’t even been able to come up with a plan? What about the thousands of lives wasted, the families destroyed, the billions of dollars expended on the military? Surely, given all that time, effort and money, intelligent people would have come up with something. A teeny-weeny plan even?
The reality, of course, is that Israel does have a solution. It’s just that it’s difficult to talk about it with a straight face. Israel’s solution, ever since the time of Yitzhak Shamir, if not long before, is to do nothing. That’s the solution: not-so-benign neglect. Or, to put a more positive spin on it, to play for time. To hope that, given enough time, something will happen that will get us out of this mess.
Perhaps the Palestinians will decide on their own volition to get up and leave. And, if they don’t decide that, perhaps hedging them in with settlements, stealing their land and making their lives miserable will persuade them to do so. Maybe the West will suffer mass amnesia and leave us alone, maybe a nifty little earthquake will demolish the mosques on the Temple Mount or some deadly bacterium will only target Palestinians. Anything can happen – and we intend to be in possession of the land when it does
Don’t get me wrong, we’re not talking about vague hopes. It’s a concrete approach. Messianic settlers and die-hard annexationists are absolutely certain that deliverance will come. They just don’t know exactly when or what form it will take. Give us one more generation, they say, or two at the most. It’s going to happen.
The government’s job therefore is to buy time, to appear sane, rational and accommodating, while never giving an inch. To negotiate as much as possible – negotiations waste a lot of time – without ever reaching a solution. In the meantime, the settlements, landgrabs and oppression continue. God can be relied on to do what’s necessary when he’s good and ready, but there’s no reason not to help him along a bit.
Kerry has been a pain in the ass. Normally, we manage to repulse peace missions long before they get as far as Kerry has. Now, playing for time means rolling out all the old canards and shibboleths, the naked clichés, that might have worked once but are simply embarrassing in this day and age. Things like “Israel needs the Jordan Valley for strategic depth,” or “we can’t negotiate while the other side incites,” or “Beit El and Hebron are important to the Jewish people.”
This is crude, emotional and untrue stuff that might have worked in the ‘70s but is really showing its age in 2014. The tragedy is that military strength and Holocaust guilt were such effective palliatives, we never bothered to look for any other solution. It just never seemed necessary. And of course, there was always time – lots of time.
Roy Isacowitz is a journalist and writer living in Tel Aviv.