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Netanyahu’s remarks should prompt a major paradigm shift in occupied Palestine

July 4, 2023 at 10:18 am

Israel’s Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on July 2, 2023 [RONEN ZVULUN/POOL/AFP via Getty Images]

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is known to be against the establishment of a Palestinian state, but now he has made it clear that he wants to go even further. “We need to eliminate [Palestinian Arab] aspirations for a state,” he told the Knesset’s Foreign Affairs and Defence Committee as reported in Israeli media on 26 June. The right-wing leader added that his government is “preparing for the day after Abbas,” referring to the 88-year-old head of the Palestinian Authority. “We have an interest in the [Palestinian] Authority continuing to work. In the areas in which it manages to act, it does the work for us.”

Some people, including Palestinian Authority officials, seemed surprised by his words, which is odd, given that Israel’s intentions regarding Palestinian freedom and statehood are known even to political novices.

The official spokesperson for the Palestinian presidency retorted by emphasising that only an independent Palestinian state can achieve “security” and “stability”. This terminology is often used by Palestinian officials to induce sympathy in the US, as such language is borrowed from Washington’s narrative about Palestine and the Middle East. Practically-speaking, “security” is almost always linked to Israel, and “stability” is related to the US agenda and interests in the region.

For Israel, however, such language lacks any urgency, because “security” from Tel Aviv’s perspective is obtained through unconditional US support and “security coordination” between the Israeli military occupation and the PA. Both are already satisfied. That is why Netanyahu told the Knesset committee that the PA “does the work for us” and added, “And we have no interest in it collapsing.” In other words, the Israeli prime minister sees the PA as another line of defence against the very Palestinians whose interests the Authority is supposed to represent and promote.

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As for “stability”, this is of little concern to Israel, for in practical terms it defines stability as its own complete dominance over the Palestinians. Actually, make that the whole region.

None of the above assertions are predicated on complex analyses or guesswork; they are extracted from official Israeli statements and actions on the ground.

When Israel’s far-right Minister Bezalel Smotrich declared in March that there was “no such thing as Palestinians because there’s no such thing as the Palestinian people,” he was not giving a history lecture, or merely engaging in hate speech. He was stating circuitously that Israel is neither morally, legally nor politically accountable for its actions against those who do not exist in the twisted Zionist worldview.

His remarks were consistent with the ongoing pogroms carried out by his supporters, the armed and dangerous illegal Jewish settlers across the occupied West Bank, against Palestinians in Huwara in February and, more recently, against Turmus Ayya and other Palestinian towns and villages. Neither the Americans nor the Europeans have imposed any punitive measures against Smotrich or even against the gangs of settlers who torched Palestinian homes and cars, killing and wounding many in the process.

Yet that is only a microcosm of the larger picture, whereby Israel says and does what it wants, while the Americans continue to read from an old political script as if nothing has changed on the ground. There can be no doubt, though, that US foreign policymakers know very well that Israel has zero interest in a just and peaceful settlement to its military occupation of Palestine.

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We are entitled to ask, therefore, why the US government insists on following the same tired formula and urges both sides to re-engage in the so-called “peace process” and return to negotiations. This mantra continues to define US foreign policy, as it has done since the early 1990s, when Israel and the Palestine Liberation Organisation (PLO) signed the Oslo Accords. Oslo made a bad situation much worse; the number of illegal settlements and settlers has since tripled, and the Palestinian people are even more vulnerable, not only to Israeli violence but also to the PA’s repression and corruption. It is surely no coincidence that Abbas played a key role in getting the Oslo Accords signed.

Although Oslo was unfair to the Palestinians since it operated largely outside acceptable international paradigms and had no enforcement clauses or deadlines, Netanyahu and other Israeli leaders objected to it anyway, because — albeit symbolically — it expected Israel to behave in a certain manner. To be told not to build or expand settlements, for example, has always infuriated Netanyahu, who has lashed out even at his American benefactors many times in the past over this issue, most notably under the administration of President Barack Obama.

Israeli leaders feel that they are above any law or expectations emanating from outside, even if these expectations are quite minimal and made by close allies, such as Washington. With time, of course, Netanyahu prevailed, not only over any supposed “pressure” from the US and the international community, but also over the more “liberal” political forces in his own society.

Now, armed with a stable coalition government and apparently immune from any meaningful criticism, let alone tangible consequences for his actions, the Israeli leader is ready to carry out his right-wing agenda without hesitation.

Hence his recent remarks, which are a more emboldened version of the comments made in October 2004 by top Israeli government advisor Dov Weissglas, who explained the true intentions behind the Israeli military deployment in Gaza in 2005. It was an Israeli tactic aimed at “freezing the peace process,” Weissglas told Haaretz. “And when you freeze that process, you prevent the establishment of a Palestinian state, and you prevent a discussion on the refugees, the borders and Jerusalem. Effectively, this whole package called the Palestinian state, with all that it entails, has been removed indefinitely from our agenda.”

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Even though this “whole package” has, indeed, been long removed from the Israeli agenda, the country’s leaders kept referencing a Palestinian state anyway in order to satisfy the minimal expectations of US policy. Netanyahu has played this game on more than one occasion, including his February interview with CNN, where he argued that a Palestinian state is possible, but only if it has no sovereignty. Now, he is ready to move past that seemingly old language, to new political territories, where even the aspiration for an independent Palestine is not permissible.

While Netanyahu’s disturbing but honest language is likely to invite yet more Israeli violence and Palestinian resistance, it should also bring about greater clarity by shelving, once and for all, the fraudulent discourse of “security”, “stability” and the moribund “peace process”.

The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Middle East Monitor.