He has spent his entire political career preaching about threats to Israel’s security. When it was not “Palestinian terrorism” it was the Iranian nuclear programme. Now, Israelis are waking up to the dreadful reality that it is really their own Prime Minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, who poses the main “existential threat” to their security.
Two months after winning just 30 of the 120 parliamentary seats in this year’s general election, Netanyahu barely managed to cobble together a coalition government. Along with his partners in the far-right United Torah Judaism, Shas and Jewish Home parties, he is committed to three central policies: opposition to the establishment of a Palestinian state, unrestricted settlement expansion in the occupied territories and total Israeli dominance over Jerusalem. Pursuit of all three was always going to end in disaster.
Palestinians living under Israeli military occupation couldn’t care less whether the decades-long negotiations between the Ramallah-based Palestinian Authority and the Israelis continue or not. They have long since lost any hope in the “peace process” that has been as fraudulent as it is counter-productive.
What they are no longer prepared to put up with is the constant barrage of terrorist attacks from Israel’s Jewish settlers. These attacks have, in recent months, become increasingly repugnant, not least because they are invariably carried out in the presence of the Israeli army or police, whose officers stand by to protect the settlers should any Palestinian be bold enough to fight back. And yet the same Israeli security agencies, which usually take just minutes or hours to identify and prosecute — and in some cases execute extra-judicially — Palestinian teenagers for stone-throwing, have not, since July, brought a single settler to court for the burning alive of 18-month old Ali Dawabsheh and his parents in the West Bank town of Duma.
Netanyahu has clearly, on this occasion, misread the situation. He has unwittingly given Palestinians across their historic homeland every reason to unite and rise up, regardless of their political affiliation. This outcome has been speeded up after the final red line was crossed by the illegal settlers who have sought to change the status of Al Aqsa Mosque in Jerusalem.
For weeks on end since July, Palestinians have been obstructed and denied access to the mosque while Jews have had unrestricted entry, again under the protection of the Israeli security forces. The occupation authorities obviously underestimate the importance of this sacred site and its ability to become a rallying point for Palestinians and, indeed, Muslims around the world.
As the situation now spirals out of control, Netanyahu’s only hope is that the PA will fulfil its collaborationist security obligations towards Israel. So far, attempts by the latter to crack down on Palestinian protests have failed. Suffice to say that the only way that the PA security agencies might succeed is if they become more vicious and draconian than the Israelis themselves. That is not beyond the realms of possibility if past experience is anything to go by. Inevitably, though, they, like the Israelis, will become the target of popular anger.
Already, within Israel the blame game has started. Netanyahu is now the subject of increasing domestic criticism. A recent poll conducted by Israel's Channel 2 TV revealed that three-quarters of Israelis expressed dissatisfaction with his [mis]handling of the uprising. When asked about the alternative, one-third of Israelis believe that a more hard-line politician, such as former Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman or Education Minister Naftali Bennett, should be made responsible for security.
In an obvious attempt to pre-empt international condemnation, Israeli officials maintain that they don’t desire any further escalation. Yet, domestically the language they are using is distinctly different. Defence Minister Moshe Ya’alon demonstrated this on Friday when he urged civilians with a firearms licence to carry their weapons.
Try to imagine the international outcry if Mahmoud Abbas was to issue a similar call to Palestinians living under Israel’s brutal military occupation. The West’s criminal silence exposes the fact that it more or less condones Israel’s self-decreed “exceptionalism”.
In a related move, Israel’s security cabinet gave the green light to the police and army to use live ammunition against Palestinian stone-throwers. Again, silence from Western governments.
Netanyahu, meanwhile, remains rooted to his familiar denial mode, claiming that neither the Israeli actions at Al-Aqsa nor the Dawabsheh murders are the immediate catalysts for the violence. Instead, he continues to do what he does best, blaming the Palestinian leadership. It’s a familiar script: if Abbas and the other Palestinian factions did not condemn the settlers’ terror campaign and Israeli provocations in Al Aqsa, everything in the garden would still be rosy. This echoes the usual Israeli propaganda that the situation is “quiet” or “stable” when, in fact, Palestinians are being killed almost daily, and Israelis only ever “respond” to Palestinian violence.
Netanyahu’s belated directive to his officials not to visit Al Aqsa Mosque is meaningless at this stage. Such half-hearted stunts will not stem the rising tide of anger, especially while Israeli policies which strangle the economy and livelihoods in Jerusalem remain in place and Palestinians are denied access to Islam’s third holiest site. Mustafa Barghouti, the Palestinian activist and General Secretary of the Palestine National Initiative, was absolutely right when he said that Netanyahu should understand that those who plant oppression will eventually harvest rage. The prime minister looks hell-bent on staying on the path of self-destruction.
The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Middle East Monitor.