The Palestinian unity government held its first meeting in the Gaza Strip on Thursday after “great efforts” were made to obtain the necessary permits from Israel for ministers from the West Bank to cross into the coastal territory.
Ever since moves were made to bring about Palestinian reconciliation, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has attempted to thwart them. The kidnap and murder of the three Israeli teens earlier this year was recruited to undermine the unity government, and the recent offensive in the Gaza Strip was launched just over a month after it was sworn in; both aimed to crush Hamas, and with it Palestinian reconciliation.
Netanyahu has appealed to world leaders asking them not to recognise the unity government, which includes the Palestinian Islamic Resistance Movement. “I call on all responsible elements in the international community not to recognise a Palestinian government of which Hamas is a part or which rests on Hamas,” he said. “Hamas is a terrorist organisation that calls for the destruction of Israel, and the international community must not embrace it. This will not strengthen peace; it will strengthen terrorism.”
Addressing the UN General Assembly at the end of September, Netanyahu referenced the Hamas Charter as proof of the above. “The Hamas charter makes clear,” he noted. “Hamas’s immediate goal is to destroy Israel.”
While the charter is indeed laden with warlike terminology that calls for Israel’s destruction, in 2010 Hamas leader Khaled Meshaal referred to the document as “a piece of history and no longer relevant“. However, despite the alleged irrelevancy, Meshaal now argues that the charter’s language “cannot be changed for internal reasons”. Dr Ahmed Yousef, an adviser to Meshaal’s deputy, Ismail Haniyeh, believes that not only have the words in the charter, written in 1988, been taken out of context, but the movement’s views have also clearly moderated over time.
The charter was referenced repeatedly during the last offensive to support Israel’s claims that self-defence and security were behind the launching of “Operation Protective Edge”. It was used to undermine the unity government, a historic move which may end years of division between Fatah and Hamas, and was also recruited to demonstrate that Hamas is not a potential “peace partner”, which fed into the derailment of the most recent attempts to broker a peace deal as well as previous attempts. The reminder that the charter calls for the destruction or the dismantling of the State of Israel crops up at every possible turn.
Furthermore, such usage infers that, in contrast, Israel is pro-peace, pro-a Palestinian state and pro non-violence. Written over a decade after the Hamas Charter, however, the 1999 Likud Party Platform reflects a different reality. It reads:
a. “The Jordan river will be the permanent eastern border of the State of Israel.”
b. “Jerusalem is the eternal, united capital of the State of Israel and only of Israel. The government will flatly reject Palestinian proposals to divide Jerusalem.”
c. “The Government of Israel flatly rejects the establishment of a Palestinian Arab state west of the Jordan river.”
d. “The Jewish communities in Judea, Samaria and Gaza are the realisation of Zionist values. Settlement of the land is a clear expression of the unassailable right of the Jewish people to the Land of Israel… The Likud will continue to strengthen and develop these communities and will prevent their uprooting.”
The platform rejects outright the idea of a Palestinian State a full six years after the Oslo Accords which set out a road map for its establishment. While there is no explicit call for the physical destruction of a Palestinian State, Likud’s Platform in 1999 and Israeli policies preceding and following it have ensured that there cannot be a State of Palestine; even hopes for it have been destroyed. Benjamin Netanyahu, remember, is the head of the Likud Party.
While people may say, like Meshaal claimed of the Hamas Charter, that the platform is outdated, these policies show a continued commitment to its values. Netanyahu’s Likud raised the banner of Jewish settlement in “Judea & Samaria” and in Galilee, and introduced the Jerusalem Law, which established the status of united Jerusalem as the capital of the State of Israel. This has progressed and today the West Bank is fragmented into 167 enclaves, which are in turn broken up by 552 checkpoints and barriers as well as being separated from Israel by a 440 kilometre concrete wall, which has cut East Jerusalem off from its natural West Bank hinterland. The illegal settler population has doubled and 53,000 settlement homes have been constructed to house them.
The platform may not be outwardly violent; however it is a prescription for a continuing system of brutal occupation and in turn, a violent struggle.
While Netanyahu’s 2009 Bar-Ilan University speech was seen as effectively amending the Likud Platform, with him basically endorsing the idea of a Palestinian state, his moves towards making this a reality have been none existent. Under his leadership, for example, settlement building has reached an all-time high. This seems to support the comments by Likud Knesset member Tzipi Hotovely that the speech was “a tactical speech for the rest of the world.”
During Operation Protective Edge, Moshe Feiglin, the deputy speaker of the Israeli parliament and a member of Netanyahu’s party, called for the use of concentration camps to deal with the Palestinian population, his parliamentary colleague Ayelet Shaked of the ultra-nationalist Jewish Home Party called for the slaughter of Palestinian mothers who give birth to “little snakes”.
However, very much like the Likud Platform, the statements and actions of the Israeli government do not have to advocate violence overtly in order to promote the destruction of a state of Palestine and its people. The constant rejection of the state by leading politicians such as Danny Danon (Deputy Defence Minister & Chairman of the Likud Party Central Committee) can be just as effective. He said in July last year: “Look at the government: there was never a government discussion, resolution or vote about the two-state solution… If you will bring it to a vote in the government… you will see the majority of Likud ministers… against it.” Naftali Bennett, the Minister of Industry, Trade and Labour in Netanyahu’s coalition government said: “I will do everything in my power, forever, to fight against a Palestinian state being founded in the Land of Israel.” Such statements are more than enough to illustrate the real intentions of the Israeli government vis-à-vis a Palestinian state.
The parties’ core goal of preventing a Palestinian state from coming into being expressed in the Likud Party Platform is not substantively different from the expressed desire of the Hamas Charter to reject Israel’s existence. Unlike the Likud Platform, though, which uses opposition to and the destruction of a Palestinian state to gain votes, Hamas’ 2006 election manifesto dropped the movement’s call for Israel’s destruction. Meanwhile, Hamas has expressed a willingness to pursue a long-term hudna (truce) with Israel based on the 1967 armistice lines, and it joined the unity government which recognises the State of Israel. The beginning of a more nuanced understanding of the conflict would be an explicit acknowledgment by Israel and its allies of the Islamic Resistance Movement’s shift in this respect.
The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Middle East Monitor.