Sunday, 20 July 2014

What is Netanyahu playing at?

In all of the whirlwind coverage of the 'conflict' between the IDF and Hamas in the Gaza Strip there are a number of pertinent questions being ignored. I say 'conflict' with inverted commas because the conflict did not begin on July 8. Nor did it begin with the deaths of three Jewish teenagers on the West Bank. The origins go back to 1967 and the absence of any peace settlement acknowledges Palestinian grievances. Israel continues to violate international law in its occupation of the West Bank and its siege of the Gaza Strip prevents any kind of development there since Sharon's unilateral withdrawal from the Strip in 2005 (which came far too late).

It is as though the Israel-Palestine conflict is composed of a series of smaller 'conflicts', such as Operation Cast Lead and the ongoing bloodbath. Of course, for Israelis, peace comes when the rockets stop, but even then there is no peace for the Palestinians. To this day Gaza remains under blockade on all sides, while the West Bank is being gradually broken up into cantons, its most arable land and best resources being taken under Israeli control. The everyday reality of the Occupation does not effect the Israeli public mind and its perception of violence visited upon Israel. The experience of systemic violence in the policing of every aspect of life in the West Bank does not count as a 'conflict'. But it does fit in with the Israeli understanding of 'peace'.

In their search for the murderers, the Israelis arrested 400 Palestinians and, in their raids, killed 5-7 Palestinians. Then came the reprisal killing of a Palestinian boy, the culprits being caught soon afterwards. On July 7 Hamas upped its rocketfire into Southern Israel and Netanyahu sanctioned the first airstrikes on July 8. It was on July 14 that General Sisi offered a ceasefire proposal (without consulting Hamas) to which the Israelis quickly agreed. No doubt Netanyahu knew full well that Hamas would not accept and wanted to retaliate to the airstrikes. Hamas viewed compliance with a non-agreed ceasefire as a surrender and not a truce. The IDF resumed the bombing on July 15 and by the next day the bodycount had risen to 200 Palestinians.

It is all too easy to forget that there are fundamental principles at stake here, in particular the right to self-determination. Netanyahu would like us to believe Israel is a peaceful country trying to secure itself from these outbreaks of irrational violence on its borders. In actuality Israel lays claim to vast swathes of the 22% of Mandate Palestine promised to the Palestinians under international law. As of 1967 the internationally recognised borders of Israel leave the country with 78% of the land of former Mandatory Palestine. Yet the Occupation lays claim to much more than that 78%. The constant expansion of the settlements chisels away at the West Bank and clears land of Palestinian families in the end condemning them to languish in cantons.

On July 16, Hamas put forward 10 conditions for a decade-long truce, which was reported by Ma'ariv and translated by Mondoweiss: 1) withdrawal of Israeli tanks from the Gaza border; 2) freeing all the prisoners that were arrested after the killing of the three youths; 3) lifting the siege and opening the border crossings to commerce and people; 4) establishing an international seaport and airport which would be under U.N. supervision; 5) increasing the permitted fishing zone to 10 kilometers; 6) internationalizing the Rafah Crossing and placing it under the supervision of the U.N. and some Arab nations; 7) international forces on the borders; 8) Easing conditions for permits to pray at the Al Aqsa Mosque; 9) prohibition on Israeli interference in the reconciliation agreement; 10) reestablishing an industrial zone and improvements in further economic development in the Gaza Strip.

Without going into the huge problems with Hamas as an organisation it may be said that the group are at least rational actors. To presuppose otherwise really harks back to the racist stereotyping of Arabs which we have seen since 1956 when Nasser fought off an Anglo-French-Israeli invasion. The formerly supine people of the desert became rampaging savages over night. Hamas fires rockets in many directions mainly to terrify the Israeli population, hoping that they will leave if they just fire enough rockets. Edward Said characterised it as a non-strategy, it's the absence of strategy to be more precise. The Palestinians know that the negotiations are rigged as Israeli politicians do not accept international law from the outset and the entire process is managed by Americans.

There was a brief ceasefire agreement in the morning of July 17 to which both sides complied until the afternoon. By the evening the IDF had began its ground invasion of the country. The bodycount has since risen to over 430 Palestinians and more than 3,000 injured. The ceasefire proposal of the Red Cross, covering the Shuja'iyya neighbourhood, was rejected by both sides on July 20.

It's impossible to understand Israel's position without historical context. The same goes for the attempts by Palestinians to forge some kind of body national out of the remnants of their ancestral lands. The so-called 'peace process' is a fraud, as we all know, as they all know too, its main function is to glorify hawks as doves. The Nobel Peace President needs as much of that as he can get after all of those drone strikes he has sanctioned. The whole process is really the wrangling necessary to draw out non-negotiations and, in fact, allow greater time for greater expansion and aggression to take place. You don't have to look too hard to find this.

As Robert Fisk has pointed out, Benjamin Netanyahu has been consistently evasive, first saying he couldn't talk with Mahmoud Abbas because he didn't represent Hamas, but only the Palestinian Authority. When Abbas formed a unity coalition with Hamas - which he insisted would be based upon "recognition of Israel, renunciation of violence and acceptance of previous agreements" - Netanyahu condemned Abbas for forging an alliance with a "murderous terrorist organisation that calls for Israel's destruction." Netanyahu now claims he can only talk with Abbas if he splits with Hamas. The message is clear: the Israeli government will not talk to Abbas.

The Obama administration used its veto power at the UN Security Council to oppose the Palestinian bid for statehood in September 2011. In February of the same year Obama vetoed a UN resolution that endorsed official US policy on the illegal settlements in the occupied territories. That's right, President Obama went as far as undermining American law to defend Israel's settlements. The Israeli government under Netanyahu has stood in firm opposition to all UN resolutions to the conflict and to the Palestinian bids for statehood. Against all odds, in November 2012, the Palestinians finally achieved a modicum of statehood with 138 countries voting in its favour, 41 abstentions and 9 opposition votes (including Israel, of course).

Here's an important question, Netanyahu is working to break apart the unity between Palestinians in Gaza and the West Bank, and he ultimately sees the Occupation as permanent, what happens if he succeeds? Firstly, the Palestinians will be left in tiny fragmented cantons, they'll have enough autonomy to fire rockets, and then the IDF will bomb the shit out of them from time to time (sound familiar?). Of course, this means keeping Palestinians separate from Israelis for the sake of holding onto a majority Jewish state. To any reasonable observer this is intolerable and unjust, but there are two alternatives:

1) A two-state settlement based on the 1967 border giving states to both peoples. Believe it or not this proposal has had overwhelming international support since 1976 and has been blocked at the UN by the US government.
2) A bi-national settlement where the occupied territories are assimilated into Israel and the Palestinians become equal citizens of Jewish and Arab Israelis. This would almost certainly mean the end of Israel as a majority Jewish state.

If Netanyahu succeeds in his aims then it means the second solution will be more likely than the first. That's an irony I suspect is lost in the heads of so many of his supporters. Certainly it is in the twin-case of Lieberman and Bennett.

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