Friday, October 3, 2014

Poisoned atmosphere

A Paper Tiger?

Making a quick search on the Hebrew Google for "Netanyahu" + "Holocaust" I found 204,000 results. A search for the same in English turned up no less than 3,940,000  possibilities. Holocaust references keep coming up in the speeches of the Prime Minister of Israel, in many different contexts.

A thought experiment: suppose the State of Israel had had the great misfortune to go through fifty days of war in the course of which 2100 Israelis were killed, including more than five hundred children, and in which whole neighborhoods in Tel Aviv were razed to the ground and hundreds of thousands left homeless. Assuming all of that, would PM Netanyahu have referred to such a horror in his speech at the UN, a month later? An affirmative answer is virtually certain. Would he have used the very strongest terms in talking of it? That, too, seems quite a safe bet. But would the word "Holocaust" have cropped up in Netanyahu's speech, in such a case? On the basis of known facts, there is a high probability for that as well.

In actual reality, with no need hypothetical assumptions, it was Mahmoud Abbas who mounted the podium at the UN General Assembly on behalf of the Palestinian People and made ​​a speech full of anger and bitterness about what his people in Gaza had gone through last summer. So, he spoke not only of murder and war crimes, but of genocide which is, however horrible the death toll was, too big a word.

It was Binyamin Netanyahu who immediately set out for New York to make a furious rebuttal to Abu Mazen’s “speech of lies and incitement". He had come  to the General Assembly to tell the world the truth and nothing but the truth: The Israel Defense Forces are the most moral army in the world bar none; it is the  Palestinians and only them who are guilty of war crimes in Gaza; Hamas is ISIS and ISIS is Hamas and Iran is both Hamas and ISIS, they are all the same, they are all malevolent Muslim extremists and enemies of humanity against whom all-out war should be fought. And since Mahmoud Abbas had established a Government of Reconciliation jointly with Hamas, he is actually also Hamas, which essentially means he is ISIS too, and anyway he is a Holocaust denier and certainly is not a partner. How nice and pleasant not to have a Palestinian partner any more, no one to whom occupied territories have to be given up.

Unlike previous years, in this year’s UN speech, Netanyahu did not bother to include – even as  a lip service - the words "A Palestinian State." But he did utter these words at the meeting with President Obama in Washington two days later, and there he also reiterated his sincere wish and aspiration to achieve peace with the Palestinians. It can be assumed that neither Netanyahu nor Obama took these words very seriously.

Obama was probably considering the meeting with Netanyahu as a piece of nuisance, unavoidable especially in view of the proximity of the critical mid-term Congressional elections – to be gotten through so that he could get back to the very urgent business of the war in Iraq and Syria into which he had very reluctantly entered. But just during that meeting there arrived across the ocean an urgent message from the Peace Now movement in Israel, which is regularly monitoring the fine print of the bureaucratic processes involved in approving construction. Precisely on the eve of the Prime Minister’s visit to the White House, the Jerusalem Municipality promoted the creation of a large new settlement neighborhood at a key position in Palestinian East Jerusalem.

Furthermore, just ahead of the meeting in the White House, dozens of Israeli settlers accompanied by a heavy police escort, invaded dozens of Palestinian homes in the Palestinian neighborhood of Silwan, south of the Jerusalem Old City wall. One of the residents who tried to prevent their entry got beaten up by police who told him "Go to Gaza".

The settlers claimed that they had legally bought the houses from their owners - an assertion which is very difficult to validate, as the alleged sellers have disappeared.

Anyway, Housing Minister Uri Ariel did not really care about the problems of legality. Just at the time when the Prime Minister sat down in the White House, expressing to the President his desire for peace with the Palestinians, his Housing  Minister conducted a visit of his own to the settlers in Silwan, “in order to strengthen and encourage them". With his own hands the Minister affixed a mezuzah to the doorpost of a house which had been a Palestinian residence twenty-four hours earlier, so as to express that it would be a strictly Jewish home henceforward. "Now dozens of new families can come and significantly increase the Israeli grip and sovereignty over the City of David and its environs. Settlement in Jerusalem will continue full force, throughout the city. Abbas had never been a partner and is not a partner now, instead of engaging in the pursuit of peace fantasies we should sustain the settlement effort all over the country. We are ready to immediately offer for sale  thousands of housing units in Jerusalem and in Judea and Samaria, and I expect it would become possible on the PM’s return from his visit to the United States."

Two hours later, the White House spokesperson published a statement of strong condemnation summing up the Israeli Prime Minister's visit:
“Israel’s plan to continue construction in a sensitive area of East Jerusalem is poisoning the atmosphere - not only with the Palestinians, but also with the very Arab governments with which Prime Minister Netanyahu said he wanted to build relations. This leads to serious doubts as to Israel's commitment to peace. I can say that the United States is deeply concerned. Israel might face international condemnation, even from its closest allies, if it proceeds with this massive new housing project in East Jerusalem.”

Veteran commentator Sima Kadmon made some skeptical comments at her column in the weekend Yedioth Ahronoth. "In the beginning of his term, Netanyahu was very apprehensive about a confrontation with Obama and the potential implications of such a conflict on Israel-US relations. But after several such confrontations, including one in which the Israeli PM lectured the US President in the White House itself, Netanyahu revealed that the sky did not fall. On the contrary, in some such contests Netanyahu emerged the winner".

This week, the Palestinians implemented the plan they had been talking of already for some time, formally presenting to the UN Security Council the text of a draft resolution which would require Israel to end the occupation within two years, thus preventing Israeli military rule from reaching its fiftieth anniversary in 2017. When this text comes to a vote in a few weeks, will the American Ambassador's hand be raised once again to cast an automatic veto on behalf of Netanyahu?

The term "paper tiger" is an ancient Chinese expression. In the West it had become known especially due to a statement of Mao Zedong in 1956: "In appearance America is very powerful, but in reality it is nothing to be afraid of. America is a paper tiger. Outwardly a tiger, it is made of paper, unable to withstand wind and rain."

And in 2014?