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Israel’s bogus civil war

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Is Israel on the verge of civil war, as a growing number of Israeli commentators suggest, with its Jewish population deeply riven over the future of the occupation?

On one side is a new peace movement, Decision at 50, stuffed with former political and security leaders. Ehud Barak, a previous prime minister who appears to be seeking a political comeback, may yet emerge as its figurehead.

The group has demanded the government hold a referendum next year – the half-centenary of Israel’s occupation, which began in 1967 – on whether it is time to leave the territories. Its own polling shows a narrow majority ready to concede a Palestinian state.

On the other is Benjamin Netanyahu, in power for seven years with the most right-wing government in Israel’s history. On Friday he posted a video on social media criticising those who want to end the occupation.

Observing that a Palestinian state would require removing hundreds of thousands of Jewish settlers currently living – illegally – on Palestinian land, Netanyahu concluded: “There’s a phrase for that. It’s called ethnic cleansing.”

Not only did the comparison upend international law, but Netanyahu infuriated the Obama administration by implying that, in seeking to freeze settlement growth, the US had supported such ethnic cleansing. A spokeswoman called the comments “inappropriate and unhelpful” – Washington-speak for deceitful and inflammatory.

But the Israeli prime minister is not the only one hoodwinking his audience.

Whatever its proponents imply, the Decision at 50 referendum is about neither peace nor the Palestinians’ best interests. Its assumption is that yet again the Israeli public should determine unilaterally the Palestinians’ fate.

Although the exact wording is yet to be decided, the referendum’s backers appear concerned solely with the status of the West Bank.

An Israeli consensus believes Gaza has been free of occupation since the settlers were pulled out in 2005, despite the fact that Israel still surrounds most of the coastal strip with soldiers, patrols its air space with drones and denies access to the sea.

The same unyielding, deluded Israeli consensus has declared East Jerusalem, the expected capital of a Palestinian state, as instead part of Israel’s “eternal capital”.

But the problem runs deeper still. When the new campaign proudly cites new figures showing that 58 per cent support “two states for two nations”, it glosses over what most Israelis think such statehood would entail for the Palestinians.

A survey in June found 72 per cent do not believe the Palestinians live under occupation, while 62 per cent told pollsters last year they think Palestinians have no rights to a nation.

When Israelis talk in favour of a Palestinian state, it is chiefly to thwart a far bigger danger – a single state shared with the “enemy”. The Decision at 50 poll shows 87 per cent of Israeli Jews dread a binational conclusion to the conflict. Ami Ayalon, a former head of the Shin Bet intelligence service and a leader of Decision at 50, echoed them, warning of an “approaching disaster”.

So what do Israelis think a Palestinian state should look like? Previous surveys have been clear. It would not include Jerusalem or control its borders. It would be territorially carved up to preserve the “settlement blocs”, which would be annexed to Israel. And most certainly it would be “demilitarised” – without an army or air force.

In other words, Palestinians would lack sovereignty. Such a state exists only in the imagination of the Israeli public. A Palestinian state on these terms would simply be an extension of the Gaza model to the West Bank.

Nonetheless, the idea of a civil war is gaining ground. Tamir Pardo, the recently departed head of Israel’s spy agency Mossad, warned last month that Israel was on the brink of tearing itself apart through “internal divisions”.

He rated this a bigger danger than any of the existential threats posited by Mr Netanyahu, such as Iran’s supposed nuclear bomb.

But the truth is that there is very little ideologically separating most Israeli Jews. All but a tiny minority wish to see the Palestinians continue as a subjugated people. For the great majority, a Palestinian state means nothing more than a makeover of the occupation, penning up the Palestinians in slightly more humane conditions.

After many years in power, the right is growing in confidence. It sees no price has been paid, either at home or abroad, for endlessly tightening the screws on the Palestinians.

Israeli moderates have had to confront the painful reality that their country is not quite the enlightened outpost in the Middle East they had imagined. They may raise their voices in protest now but, if the polls are right, most will eventually submit to the right’s realisation of its vision of a Greater Israel.

Those who cannot stomach such an outcome will have to stop equivocating and choose a side. They can leave, as some are already doing, or stay and fight – not for a bogus referendum that solves nothing, but to demand dignity and freedom for the Palestinian people.

A version of this article first appeared in the National, Abu Dhabi.

Jonathan Cook

Jonathan Cook won the Martha Gellhorn Special Prize for Journalism. His latest books are “Israel and the Clash of Civilisations: Iraq, Iran and the Plan to Remake the Middle East” (Pluto Press) and “Disappearing Palestine: Israel’s Experiments in Human Despair” (Zed Books). His new website is

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10 Responses

  1. talknic on September 13, 2016, 11:06 am

    October 11, 2010

  2. John O on September 13, 2016, 1:11 pm

    You might want to study the return of the “pieds noirs” – the French settlers in Algeria – to their mother country for some indicators as to what might happen. No one, to the best of my knowledge, called that “ethnic cleansing”. It was a recognition by the colonial power that the colonists’ situation was untenable. They nearly caused civil war in France, but Charles de Gaulle eventually faced them down.

    • MHughes976 on September 13, 2016, 5:21 pm

      It’s an interesting example. I think the pieds noirs did suffer what is now called ethnic cleansing and I’m sorry it happened. I would think it good, not that I’m any authority, if the settlements ceased to be armed camps under non-Palestinian control, the result of ethnic cleansing by the Israelis, and simply became open to Palestinians on equal terms. Not that this would be welcomed by Netanyahu.

      • Mooser on September 13, 2016, 5:45 pm

        ” I think the pieds noirs did suffer what is now called ethnic cleansing and I’m sorry it happened. “

        And after all they had done for Algeria, too.

        ” and simply became open to Palestinians on equal terms.”

        How generous.

      • echinococcus on September 13, 2016, 7:03 pm


        I think the pieds noirs did suffer what is now called ethnic cleansing and I’m sorry it happened.

        Really, Hughes? Colonial occupiers offered a chance at citizenship of the newly independent nation refuse and get ejected. How is that “ethnic cleansing”? The Pieds-noirs weren’t the only ones, by the way –a lot of Harkis and other Algerian Arab collaborationists also had to get out fast. I fail to see how this can be classified as “ethnic cleansing”.

        if the settlements ceased to be armed camps under non-Palestinian control, the result of ethnic cleansing by the Israelis, and simply became open to Palestinians on equal terms.

        That would no doubt meet the approval of some people out in the West. Totally irrelevant. We also know it meets the approval of the collaborators and traitors. Irrelevant.
        Is it authorized by any fully representative Palestinian organ –or plebiscite?

      • MHughes976 on September 16, 2016, 5:01 am

        The settlements are ethnically cleansed areas and also armed camps, so should not exist as they are. They are small versions of what Israel is overall. I hope for a situation where there the opposite of ethnic cleansing, manifest absence of ethic discrimination, prevails, though I take Mooser’s point that calls for multiculturalism and non-discrimination can, where there is so much discrimination to reverse, give overdue restitution an absurd air of generosity.
        Echono’s right in many ways. The pieds noirs had done some ethnic cleansing of their own and done many bad things, though I’d say not every effect of their presence was negative. They did not all leave Algeria at once, though those who did not leave in the dramatic ‘suitcase or coffin’ first wave left slowly and steadily over the 60s and 70s, with only a tiny remnant there to this day. Or so it seems from a Guardian article (January 2013) by Andrew Hussey, who found a few attending a Catholic service. I would still call this ethnic cleansing – the piers noirs in France seem often to have complained of being treated as ‘deservedly cleansed’. It’s true that the ex-harki families have fared worse.

      • echinococcus on September 16, 2016, 1:44 pm


        Even if there was a lot of anger against the French, and not a few acts of private vengeance to them as a group were committed, you’ll remember that what decided the fate of the Pied-noirs was not their “ethnic” or rather citizenship status. It was the fact that they, along with a smaller number of Arab-Algerians, refused their allegiance to the new, decolonized Algeria (or were guilty of collaboration with the enemy.) It was massive and it may have been collective punishment, but it was not “ethnic”.

  3. Kay24 on September 13, 2016, 7:11 pm

    Talking about bogus…it seems the claims that Palestinian students were anti-semitic at a NY college were investigated, and found to be FALSE.

    Oh how these zionists lie, and lie, and lie. That card has been overplayed far too many times.

    “An independent investigation has vindicated a pro-Palestinian group charged with fostering an anti-Semitic climate at the nation’s largest urban public university.

    Two lawyers hired by the City University of New York to investigate alleged instances of anti-Semitism found that expressions of political opposition to the State of Israel are not inherently anti-Semitic, and that such expressions are protected under the First Amendment.

    The investigation and the events that triggered it are part of a broader trend of campuses becoming political battlegrounds, where heavyweight Israel advocacy groups, like the Zionist Organization of America, spar with pro-Palestinian activists. Students for Justice in Palestine, the subject of this investigation, is a frequent target of such groups — but not the only one.

    “The report finds what we’ve said all along, that the ZOA’s claims that SJP engaged in anti-Semitic activity are completely unsubstantiated,” said Radhika Sainath, an attorney with Palestine Legal.”

  4. Talkback on September 14, 2016, 10:23 am

    Israel’s so called “two state solution” has NEVER been anything else than a Palestinian bantustan.

  5. brent on September 14, 2016, 11:30 pm

    The original PLO platform for a secular democratic state with equality for all was attacked as “destructive” of a Jewish state. Reviving that platform today would be the most direct route to a two state outcome as that would change established narratives and would resonate widely with those who believe in equality…. thereby incentivizing those who seek a Jewish state to advocate for a Palestinian state.

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