Palestine Spring, Bibi’s Winter Of Discontent – OpEd

Mahmoud Abbas delivered his UN speech today to rapturous applause from the assembled delegates.  Bibi Netanyahu–not so much.

In one especially telling passage he likened the Palestinian demand for statehood to the Arab Spring, calling it the Palestinian Spring.

Didi Remez offers a scan from Maariv which notes Bibi is using his tried and true method of advancing Israel’s interests on the world stage: bribery.  Just as he bribed Romania and Bulgaria to vote No on statehood by offering 1,000 Israeli work permits to each, he’s offer “foreign and military aid” to Portugal, Nigeria, and Gabon to secure their No votes.  There’s nothing like a country that argues its case solely based on merit, is there?

Bibi’s speech (full text) was full of his usual sour-dourness.  Imagine he flies all the way to New York to address the General Assembly and all he can muster is dark imprecations about the UN being a “place of darkness” for Israel and ” a theater of the absurd.”  Of course, he’s referring largely to the Zionism is Racism resolution which harkens back to the dark ages of the 1970s.  No one appears to have told Bibi that times have changed and that in today’s world Israel is rightly condemned not for Zionism, but for killing civilians and other acts which many consider violations of international law.

Among Bibi’s many sins of omission and commission are this conflation of the PA and Hamas:

President Abbas just said on this podium that the Palestinians are armed only with their hopes and dreams. Yeah, hopes, dreams and 10,000 missiles and Grad rockets supplied by Iran, not to mention the river of lethal weapons now flowing into Gaza from the Sinai, from Libya, and from elsewhere.

In fact, the PA has performed diligently in guaranteeing security in the West Bank and for Israel as well.  No missiles are launched from Fatah territory into Israel.  Yet somehow this good is transformed into bad and Fatah and Hamas are conflated as if they are one and the same.  In fact, Israel has refused to encourage any political process by which the PA might be governed democractically by either Fatah or Hamas.  In effect, Bibi has only himself to blame.

Someone he also counted up Hamas’ missile inventory and discovered that all “10,000″ Grad rockets have an Iranian imprint on them.  Curiously, not even his own intelligence agencies have made such a vague, unproven claim.

Bibi begins his speech on a note of sheer chutzpah claiming to reach out his hand in peace to every state which Israel has affronted through war and acts of violence including Turkey, Syria, and last but not least the Palestinians.  It reminds me of that old saying: you can’t piss on my back and tell me it’s rain.  That’s pretty much what Bibi’s doing here.

Both Bibi and Barack said in their speeches that peace cannot be won through UN resolutions.  They conveniently forget that national independence can indeed be won through such resolutions, which was how Israel won its recognition as a new state in 1947.

Israel’s PM raises the specter of “militant Islam,” that bogeyman so useful to Islamophobes and radical right-wing Israelis everywhere.  When the odds are against you you can always pull out the specter of bin Laden to shock and frighten your audience.  There is yet another noxious element to the abuse of this trope: it confuses the Palestinian struggle for nationhood with a religious holy war.  There is no religious war between Israel and Palestine.  There is a war for national independence and rights, which is not the same thing.  To claim anything else is a lie.  But a lie that is convenient to all the radical Judeans (settlers) who envision a final Gog and Magog between the religious forces of Good and Evil.

I wouldn’t mind Bibi likening “militant Islam” to a noxious reptile if he’d also do the same for militant Judaism (in the form of the settler movement):

[Our] critics continue to press Israel to make far-reaching concessions…They praise those who unwittingly feed the insatiable crocodile of militant Islam…They cast as enemies of peace those of us who insist that we must first erect a sturdy barrier to keep the crocodile out, or at the very least jam an iron bar between its gaping jaws.

As Yousef Munayyer points out, if Palestinians likened the settlers to reptiles, the latter would be the first to shrey about anti-Semitism.  Yet somehow, Bibi gets a pass.  Bibi I’ll make you a deal: you call the settlers creeping insects, crawling reptiles or other noxious treif animals and I’ll be OK with all the crocodile stuff.  Deal?

Here, Israel’s leader adds further insult to injury:

Militant Islam has already taken over Lebanon and Gaza.

This of course presumes that Hezbollah rules Lebanon, which is not the case.  Hezbollah may have veto power over the current government, but that’s not the same as ruling.  Lebanon is far too complicated a country politically and ethnically for Hezbollah or Islamism to prevail there.

Here Bibi again posits an imaginary militant Islam tearing up peace treaties:

It’s determined to tear apart the peace treaties between Israel and Egypt and between Israel and Jordan.

If those peace treaties are torn up it will only be Israel’s fault because it didn’t resolve the underlying conflict with all the frontline Arab states.  No one, as far as I know has said a word about tearing up the treaty with Jordan.  Again, this is Bibi’s delusion.

Here, Netanyahu attempts to rewrite history:

In 2000 Israel made a sweeping peace offer that met virtually all of the Palestinian demands. Arafat rejected it.

Easy for Bibi to talk about Camp David when he himself opposed, and has opposed virtually every major peace effort.  And easy for him to call it a sweeping offer when he wasn’t the Palestinian leader being asked to accept half a loaf.  The Camp David offer was simply not enough territory for Arafat to be able to accept it, and even senior U.S. negotiators like Aaron David Miller have conceded this in books they’ve written.

Bibi further advances the preposterous argument that the West Bank promises to become a terror state with missiles smuggled into the Hebron Hills to rain down on Israelis living below.  And he has the chutzpah to call this scenario “very real.”  The only thing raining down on the Hebron Hills are the bullets and blows of far-right settlers beating up Palestinian farmers and shepherds and burning their fields.

In a further insult to injury, Bibi adds another canard to the list of infractions in his speech.  He advances the lie that the PA’s UN observer called for Palestine to be “Judenrein.”  This is a flat-out lie.  What the ambassador did say was that he envisioned something that virtually every major Israeli center-right politician has said hundreds of times over–that the two peoples should be separated from each other for their own security.  He said nothing about no Jews being allowed within Palestine, but rather that the two states should be separated.  In fact, Palestinians leaders and even some religious settlers envision a future in which Jews may live within Palestine as long as they take Palestinian citizenship and accept Palestinian sovereignty.  I only wish Israel’s leaders would do the same for Palestinian refugees seeking to return to their historic homeland.

One of the most incredible fictions Netanyahu advances is the notion that his historic claim to the land is confirmed by the fact that he can read his family name in historic Israelite inscriptions:

In my office in Jerusalem, there’s a — there’s an ancient seal. It’s a signet ring of a Jewish official from the time of the Bible. The seal was found right next to the Western Wall, and it dates back 2,700 years, to the time of King Hezekiah. Now, there’s a name of the Jewish official inscribed on the ring in Hebrew. His name was Netanyahu. That’s my last name. My first name, Benjamin, dates back a thousand years earlier to Benjamin — Binyamin — the son of Jacob, who was also known as Israel. Jacob and his 12 sons roamed these same hills of Judea and Sumeria 4,000 years ago, and there’s been a continuous Jewish presence in the land ever since.

His Diaspora family name was not Netanyahu, but Miliekovski.  In other words, national identity isn’t just inherited.  It isn’t based on fact or history alone.  It can also be a construct.  There’s nothing wrong with that as the Palestinians to an extent have done just the same.  But what IS wrong with this process is if you confuse historical fact with your own personal definitions or aspirations.  Bibi’s claim to the land is a Zionist construct which he and others fill with meaning.  It is created or willed, not God-given and certainly not solely determined by history.

Bibi’s sophistries continue with this one:

So let’s meet here today in the United Nations. Who’s there to stop us? What is there to stop us? If we genuinely want peace, what is there to stop us from meeting today and beginning peace negotiations?

What’s to stop you, Bibi?  How about thousands of Israeli troops maintaining a massive Occupation along with 500,000 Israeli settlers displacing the former Palestinian landowners and residents of that land?  How about that?  This situation reminds me of the midrash of God holding Mt. Sinai over the heads of the Israelites and offering them the Torah and asking whether they accept it.  They had little choice, did they?  Well, Abbas is saying that Palestinians have free will and they won’t be railroaded by superior power into a sham deal.

Bibi asks this interesting question about Mahmoud Ahmadinejad:

Can you imagine that man who ranted here yesterday — can you imagine him armed with nuclear weapons?

A fair question perhaps.  But can the world imagine Bibi Netanyahu armed with 400 nuclear weapons?  Why is a single Iranian weapon more dangerous than Israel’s 400?  And does the world truly believe that Ahmadinejad is any less a radical troglodyte for his country’s interests than Bibi is for his?

Another telling passage from his speech:

 Millions of Arabs have taken to the streets to replace tyranny with liberty, and no one would benefit more than Israel if those committed to freedom and peace would prevail.

This of course is a delusion.  Israel doesn’t welcome the Arab Spring.  It’s petrified of it.  What Israel wants is an Arab Spring that continues Israeli hegemony over the region and its interests there.  This will not happen.  So Bibi here is spouting pure sophistry.

What this speech proves more than anything else is that peace is impossible given the current Israeli leadership.  There is nothing but deafness on that side.  So if Obama, the UN, the Europeans, the Quartet want peace they must bring it themselves by imposing a settlement.  But the first step in doing this is throwing a bucket of cold water in Bibi’s face by recognizing a Palestinian state.

This article appeared at Tikun Olam


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Richard Silverstein

Richard Silverstein

Richard Silverstein is an author, journalist and blogger, with articles appearing in Haaretz, the Jewish Forward, Los Angeles Times, the Guardian’s Comment Is Free, Al Jazeera English, and Alternet. His work has also been in the Seattle Times, American Conservative Magazine, Beliefnet and Tikkun Magazine, where he is on the advisory board. Check out Silverstein's blog at Tikun Olam, one of the earliest liberal Jewish blogs, which he has maintained since February, 2003.

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