Mar 24 2015

Netanyahu’s charm offensive

Published by at 2:27 pm under Articles,Palestinian politics


By Daoud Kuttab

Many might be surprised in the coming weeks and months with the charm offensive likely to be launched by Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. The Israeli right-wing leader won election over his opponent Isaac Herzog, mostly because of Netanyahu’s opposition to Palestinian statehood and racist rhetoric about Arab voter turnout. Netanyahu’s Likud Party gained 30 seats compared with 24 for Herzog’s Zionist Camp.

With the elections over, Netanyahu understands that he will have to build bridges with the international community.

After cobbling together a coalition government, Netanyahu will most certainly attempt to give the impression of political moderation. He is likely to make some gestures to the Palestinians, one of which might be returning to the Palestinian government thePalestinian tax monies held by Israel since January. Israel has suspended the monthly transfer of customs and tax monies collected on behalf of Palestinians because Palestine decided to join the International Criminal Court (ICC).

Other gestures might include some easing of the travel restrictions as well as the Gaza siege. It is even possible that major settlement expansions might be slightly delayed to brand Netanyahu’s next step with moderation and goodwill.

This strategy is not new for politicians after elections. Nor is it new that an Israeli right-wing leader — who has won mostly because of being opposed to Palestinians’ rights — would make some gestures in favor of the Palestinians.

After major oppressive anti-Palestinian activities, Israeli leaders have often used terms such as “confidence-building measures” and “easing the restrictions,” and the need for encouraging “economic peace.”

Sometimes these gestures have come in response to direct requests from international officials, and other times it was initiated unilaterally to stave off pressure, such as when Netanyahu visited the Allenby Bridge in 2009 and ordered the extension of its opening hours.

Perhaps the current icy relationship between the White House and Netanyahu is the worst it has been in years, but it is certainly not unprecedented. George H.W. Bush had a similar uneasy relationship in 1991 with the pro-Israel lobby and the government of Yitzhak Shamir of which Netanyahu was chief spokesman during the Madrid peace talks.

The Palestinian-Israeli conflict is primarily a conflict over land. The issues of borders should take precedence to all other issues. The question is no longer whether Palestine as a state should exist. The UN General Assembly, by a majority vote, has already resolved this issue by recognizing Palestine as a nonmember state on Nov. 29, 2012.

What needs to be done now is to work out the borders between Israel and Palestine and any other issue that is related to that. Any attempts to redirect the discussion from the latter will be a waste of everyone’s time.

Palestinians who have lost hope in a negotiated settlement and are opposed to any violent resistance activities find in the victory of Netanyahu and his renunciation of the two-state solution a perfect opportunity to push forward worldwide nonviolent actions aimed at putting serious economic pressure on Israel and isolating it politically. Movements such as the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) are gearing up for a major escalation campaign.

Yousef Munayyer, the executive director of the US campaign “End the Israeli occupation,” called the Netanyahu electoral victory “good for Palestinians.” In a rare op-ed by a Palestinian published in the NY Times, Munayyer said that the Israeli election results “will further galvanize the movement seeking to isolate Israel internationally. [BDS] campaigns will grow, and more countries will move toward imposing sanctions to change Israeli behavior.”

While the bulk of the international community is pressing the Israeli leader to recant his opposition to the two-state solution, an increasing number of Palestinian voices, inside and outside the occupied territories, are calling for the scraping of this idea and for seeking a single state for Palestinians and Israelis.

Palestinian diaspora activist Ali Abunimah, who has been advocating one country for years, wrote in the Electronic Intifada after the elections he was relieved that Netanyahu had won. “Herzog and Livni would not have permitted a Palestinian state worthy of the name,” he said.

As the Israeli leader attempts to give lip service to peace and try to finesse his own negation of Palestinian statehood by saying that the conditions are not ripe for it, and so on, it is about time that the world not be fooled by any of this again.

There is a famous Arabic saying accurately describing the current situation: “A believer is not stung from the same hole twice.”

However, any attempt to persuade the world to give up on a peace process with Netanyahu requires that Palestinians stand firm in their demands and stay true to their own proactive strategy that includes going to the ICC, suspending security coordination and supporting the BDS movement.

To do that, Palestinians need to have one problem resolved. They need to be united and shed away the tragic split that occurred in Gaza in the summer of 2007. The unity of Palestinians is a basic ingredient that is needed to advance an effective and successful campaign, because of the expectation that Palestinians will be under tremendous domestic and international pressure not to pursue Israel.

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