Speeches by Shimon Peres and Benjamin Netanyahu at the end of the fifth presidential conference consisted of an exercise in manipulating historical legitimacy. Relegating Palestinians to a role even more meagre than that of spectators, the Israeli president and prime minister attempted to assert further dominance by citing delegitimization attempts against Israel and urging Palestinians to recognise the Jewish state.
Any talk of acceptance and willingness to achieve a semblance of peace was swiftly overshadowed by the usual rhetoric depicting Israel a victim of delegitimization void of any valid historical context. Peres states that “Israel is facing on-going attempts of delegitimization, but this conference contains within it a winning strategy to face these attempts. It is a legitimizing conference that shows how involved the residents of this nation are in creating, in renewing, in inventing … Pray that those who are not our friends today will be our friends tomorrow.” A thorough distortion which seeks to undermine the illegality of establishing an ethnic state and forced dispossession by eliminating not only the Palestinian narrative, but also Palestinian identity in relation to the right to territory. The concepts of creation, renewal and invention, so meticulously endorsed by Peres, is consistent with the Zionist ideology, which sought to maintain a myth by sustaining the deliberate misrepresentation of Jewish history. Enhancing the coveted stereotype of the victimized state, imbued with Western guilt related to the Holocaust and later strategic interests, Israel disposed of the Palestinian narrative either by an adherence to early Zionist propaganda of the barren land, or else including Palestinian existence into a metaphor of intimidation and security concerns.
Israel delegitimized itself from its inception. Yet, Peres attempts to marginalise the ramifications of settler colonialism and ethnic cleansing by invoking hope and expecting an initial gesture of goodwill from the oppressed, implying the expectation of submission to a higher, albeit illegal authority. There is never a gesture of alleged benevolence without the threatening implication of subservience. Considering the consistent denial of Palestinian history, what Peres is expecting is less substantial than an illusion. Israel expects Palestinians to reinforce the perpetual victimhood status of Zionism by accepting a narrative which distorts and negates the legitimacy of the indigenous population as a strategy to ensure the occupation’s survival. Having gained an undeserved legitimacy from its powerful allies and the UN, Peres now implores Palestinians to abandon their collective memory for Israel’s own definition of peace.
Such a ludicrous proposal suggests that Palestinians should live in oblivion of their own continuous experience of massacres and forced displacement, substantiated not only by collective memory but also by Zionist testimony of atrocities, such as the recently interviewed Yitzhak Pundak’s clear conscience about razing Palestinian villages, or Moshe Nissim’s testimony of the Jenin Massacre published in May 2002 by Yediot Aharonot. “I found joy with every house that came down, because I knew they didn’t mind dying, but they cared for their homes. If you knocked down a house, you buried 40 or 50 people for generations. If I am not sorry for anything, it is for not tearing the whole camp down.”
Netanyahu’s address, less ethereal than the equivocal hope expressed by Peres, adamantly placed the burden of blame upon the inability of Palestinians to accept Israel’s ‘right to exist’. Embarking upon a series of assertions such as calling upon the Palestinian Authority to negotiate ‘peace’ without pre-conditions and answering his own rhetorical questions, Netanyahu’s simplistic version of history involved the usual invocation of the Holocaust, the struggle for power in the Middle East ‘between medievalism and modernity’ and a unilateral version of ‘discussion’ regarding the Jewish state.
Although Netanyahu has stressed he would not acquiesce to pre-conditions prior to embarking of negotiations with Palestinians, the Israeli prime minister includes a pre-condition of his own – Palestinians must ‘accept the existence of Israel as a Jewish state… This is the heart of the matter’. However, the insistence upon such statements reinforces Israel’s own adherence to illegal practices while exposing Israel’s impunity in the absence of any formidable international jurisdiction and accountability.
The premeditated manipulation of history and its exclusion of Palestinians from their roots are further exacerbated by Netanyahu’s references to resistance against settler colonialism. ‘They say to vacate Palestine. Do they mean Beersheba? Ashdod? Ashkelon? Jaffa?’ Palestinian resistance is aligned with self-determination. The fragmenting of resistance into separate entities illustrated by naming a few villages during a speech is a disparaging tactic which further alienates passive spectators from the necessity of struggle to adapt to the rhetoric of feigned acceptance. With the dynamics of oratory extending to audiences beyond the conference, manipulation serves to ingrain a culture of superiority and unfettered rights to Israelis, as well as legitimise Israel’s security concerns to an international audience. Reminiscent of corporate media coverage dealing with Israel’s image as a peaceful state, Netanyahu justifies his stance by referring to Palestinian rockets which ‘continue to rain down on Israel’. Reversing magnitudes by insinuating a constant state of alert while obscuring the extensive damage and death toll of Palestinians annihilated by superior Israeli military equipment keeps any discussion of Israel within prudent limits. Besides, it allows for the unjustifiable exploitation of euphemisms such as collateral damage to manipulate public opinion into differentiating between Israeli and Palestinian deaths.
While allowing the myth of the ‘ancient homeland’ a prominence which divests Palestinians of self-determination, any alleged ‘hopes’ for peace are undermined by a malevolent, defining reality. Netanyahu clarifies that any progress and development achieved excludes Palestinians from garnering benefit. Apart from the obvious enforced apartheid and oppression, the assertion enforces the false assumption of ownership over autonomy, land and resources, reinforcing the Likud Charter which states ‘in matters of foreign affairs, security, immigration, and ecology, their activity shall be limited in accordance with imperatives of Israel’s existence security, and national needs’. Far from imparting any desire for peace, Facing Tomorrow has succeeded in reinforcing a defensive approach in order to assume permanent control over Palestinian land, history and memory – a premeditated and necessary approach for Israel in order to uphold its own fabricated historical legitimacy.
The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Middle East Monitor.