Finally the mask is off. Boldly defying the U.S., the international community, and the Palestinian people, Netanyahu said in the clearest terms possible, “If I am elected there will be no Palestinian state.” Of course Netanyahu’s actions throughout his entire political career have done everything possible to thwart the emergence of a viable and sovereign Palestinian state. So this is nothing new except that now he said it clearly and publicly and he will have to carry out his promise since he will be beholden to the factions even further to his right that he is bringing in to form his new governing coalition. Netanyahu’s dog whistles about Palestinian citizens “coming out in droves to the polls” reveal the depth of his ugly racism and regrettably that racism played well in Israel.
There is, however, a deeper sense in which the mask is off. The reality is that what Netanyahu stated publicly is what has been true of all of Israel’s prime ministers, whether from the left, the center, or the right. For the past 22 years, all have been lying and misleading the world, pretending to seek peace with the Palestinians while pursuing policies to ensure there will never be peace and never be a Palestinian state. The irony is that the greatest of all these liars is the one who finally told the truth and we should thank him for it.
The truth is that under both Likud and Labor governments, negotiations with the Palestinians have been a charade since Israel continued to swallow up more Palestinian land and build more settlements even as it proceeded with the negotiations. And under both governments, Israel has maintained a brutal occupation and initiated wars against the Palestinian people to ensure there would never be a Palestinian state. The government of Israel has never been an honest partner in its negotiations with the Palestinians. Had the Zionist Union under Isaac Herzog and Tzipi Livni won, nothing good would have benefitted the Palestinians. They simply would have attempted to restart the same moribund negotiations that have served as a cover for Israel to talk peace while destroying its prospects by building more settlements and usurping more land. Twenty-two years of negotiations have netted the Palestinians absolutely nothing but false hope and despair.
The Oslo Accords signed on the White House lawn in 1993, which to some seemed a hopeful outcome, resulted in three significant steps: the Palestine Liberation Organization recognized the state of Israel; Israel recognized the PLO as the representative of the Palestinian people; and both sides agreed to resolve their differences and grievances through peaceful means.
The logic of the Accord was grounded in a belief that a final agreement could be achieved through gradual steps. All the major elements in the dispute, the so called “permanent status” issues, were relegated to negotiations that were to take place after a five year transition period. The text itself did not address the crucial elements to the conflict: the right of return of 1948 Palestinian refugees, the status of Jerusalem, the status of the Jewish settlements (colonies) built on occupied Palestinian land, and the issue of borders.
The text of the Accord did not promise or even mention an independent Palestinian state to be constituted at the end of the transition period. Nonetheless the Palestinians rightly believed that in return for recognizing the state of Israel on 78% of historic Palestine, they would achieve a sovereign state on the remaining 22%. However, due to a combination of Israel’s bad faith and their naiveté, this never came to pass.
I contend that the logic of Zionism doomed those negotiations from the very beginning and that is how we got to where we are today. The ultimate goal of all the major Zionist factions has been an ethnically pure Jewish state on all of historic Palestine. As a settler-colonial society, the ultimate aim of Zionism was the displacement of the indigenous Palestinian people and their replacement with the Zionist settlers. Whatever understandable nostalgia many Jews have for the origins of the Zionist movement as a reaction to centuries of Jewish discrimination and persecution, we must face up to the kind of state Zionism has created. Israel today is not a democracy but rather a racist, militaristic, ethnocracy that privileges the rights of its Jewish citizens over those of its Palestinian citizens.
Further evidence of Israel’s refusal to seek peace with the Palestinians and its Arab neighbors can be found in its outright dismissal of the 2002 Arab Peace Initiative signed by all members of the Arab League and reiterated in 2007. The initiative offered Israel a peace agreement and normalization of relations with all the Arab states in exchange for Israeli withdrawal back to the June 4, 1967 line, which entailed withdrawal from the occupied Arab territories, including the Syrian Golan Heights and the territories still occupied in southern Lebanon; a just resolution to the problem of the Palestinian refugees in accordance with UN General Assembly Resolution 194; and acceptance of an independent and sovereign Palestinian state in the West Bank and Gaza Strip with East Jerusalem as its capital.
Israel is a state armed with nuclear weapons and in the grip of a siege mentality due to the collective trauma of the Jewish people that has never been healed. What makes this siege mentality dangerous and pathological is that it prevents Israel from recognizing how its own actions have contributed to the despair, rage, and continuing resistance of the Palestinian people and to its own growing Isolation in the world. There is a sickness rampant in Israeli society whereby most Israelis see themselves as the ultimate victim, an innocent victim in a world that hates them and wants to annihilate them. This then leads to a sense of pathological entitlement whereby because they believe they have been perpetually wronged and abused, they may act with impunity to do whatever they want to secure their own safety, regardless of how it harms or wrongs others.
As a psychotherapist, I understand that when a person is in a kind of paranoid state, applying pressure only heightens their suspicions and fortifies their siege mentality. But the truth is that Israel has been treated with kid gloves by the West since its inception. Because of the traumatic past of the Jewish people and Western guilt over the Holocaust, Israel is granted a kind of exceptionalism that has sadly only fed this entitlement. According to the Congressional Research Service, Israel is the largest cumulative recipient of U.S. foreign aid since World War II, having received $121 billion. Currently, the U.S. gives Israel $3.2 billion annually in financial aid, provides it with advanced weapons including fighter jets and sophisticated attack helicopters, has extensive military and intelligence arrangements with Israel, and uses its Security Council veto to provide Israel with complete diplomatic protection at the UN. And through the power of AIPAC and the Christian Zionists, Israel has a virtual lock on the Congress which has resulted in years of unanimous bi-partisan support. Yet despite the ongoing support of the world’s only super power, Israel’s siege mentality persists. Therefore another approach is necessary to address Israeli intransigence and violations of international law.
There is an old adage that friends do not let friends drive drunk. Israel today is drunk with power and blind with this siege mentality for which the Palestinians have paid a terrible price. For those concerned with the plight of the Palestinians, it is now more than ever time to redouble our efforts. Only outside pressure on Israel will make a difference. The change that is needed will not come from within Israel since the courageous Left in Israel is weak and marginalized. The non-violent BDS movement is an essential component of the strategy of this outside pressure. Jews who are concerned with both the plight of the Palestinians and the growth of the racism and xenophobia in Israel must now realize that to be pro-Israel one must advocate putting serious pressure on Israel to end the occupation and thwart its rush toward perpetual oppression of the Palestinian people. Without this concerted pressure there is little hope for Palestinian freedom. And without this outside pressure it is a sure bet that Israel will eventually be destroyed from within by the manner in which this siege mentality is insinuated into Israeli consciousness by the culture of its educational system and its system of military indoctrination. One thing is becoming increasingly clear. Neither Judaism nor Palestinians fare well at the hands of Zionism which today is also destroying Israel from within.