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The Curious Case of Benjamin Netanyahu

It is one of the great paradoxes of the modern Middle East:

When peace with the Palestinians is in sight, Israel will turn violent.

This is quite understandable though, when one realizes that the entire raison d’être of the Jewish state is based on the principle of establishing “greater Israel.” That could not happen of course, were there to be a just peace. As the country’s first prime minister David Ben-Gurion infamously proclaimed, “To maintain the status quo will not do. We have to set up a dynamic state bent upon expansion.”

Relinquishing conquered territory, ending occupation, halting further settlement activity (let alone dismantling existing ones), stopping home demolitions or anything deemed to conflict with this fundamental objective will never be (seriously) considered.

Israel has also attempted to persuade us that it cannot but be on a constant war-footing. The reality is however, that an enemy must necessarily be present – or created – so it can avoid having to reach an equitable settlement with the Palestinians.

Israel’s siege and subsequent attack on Gaza was a prime example.

Enemy At The Gates?

Waged under the pretext of ending the launch of crude, home-made, fertilizer-based rockets from Gaza into southern Israel (which killed 16 Israelis in seven years and none in the year prior) and after a crippling 18-month siege left Gaza’s population starving and destitute, Israel claimed to be acting in “self-defense” when it attacked the territory. We now know the war was planned six months in advance.

The real motives for it were multifactorial. They included crushing any hopes or aspirations Palestinians may have had of establishing a fully independent, sovereign state under a freely elected leadership – one not under the diktats of Washington or Tel Aviv. It was also meant to collectively punish the people for having elected Hamas in that capacity.

But often overlooked and of equal importance was Hamas’ willingness to accept a Palestinian state based on the 1967 borders with Israel. This was clearly stated by both Hamas chief Khaled Meshal and the elected Palestinian prime minister, Ismail Haniyah.

Without any rejectionist party present, Israel has no basis in refusing substantive talks. Hence, a premeditated and barbarous war initiated on flimsy and hyped pretense was conducted to ensure the people of Gaza and Hamas remain resentful, angry, and far less likely to sit at the negotiating table.

More Of The Same, Only Different?

It is well known that all Israeli governments, be they Labor, Likud or Kadima, are interchangeable in terms of their foreign policy. The government of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu though, has been exceptional in broadcasting its political platform.

Avigdor Lieberman, a veritable child-abuser and former member of the Kach party – a extremist group outlawed in Israel for its violently racist nature – was granted one of the most important portfolios in the administration, that of foreign minister. His approach to Hamas (“Do to Hamas what the U.S. did to Japan”), the loyalty oath he wants all Palestinians living in Israel to take, and his proposed annexation of Palestinian land have certainly given him a great deal of notoriety.

Regardless of whether Lieberman will ultimately make Netanyahu out to be the “moderate,” his positions underscore the moral temperament the government has adopted.

Just this week for example, Israeli transport minister Yisrael Katz called for Hezbollah Secretary-General Sayyid Hasan Nasrallah’s assassination, while the “dovish” President Shimon Peres threatened Israel would strike Iran. With an aim to further incite, Peres felt he too must jump on the sectarian bandwagon, saying a clash between Sunni Arabs and [Shia] Iran was “inevitable.”

Netanyahu has remained silent during all this, including Lieberman’s recent declaration that the 2007 Annapolis peace conference (where parties agreed final resolution of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict would involve two states) “is dead.” Netanyahu himself has been adamant there will be no withdrawal from the Golan Heights or dismantlement of settlements.

The confrontational and hostile tone of Netanyahu’s government has occurred, quite predictably, against the backdrop of a renewed atmosphere of engagement. There are now increasing calls for dialogue with Hamas, the United Kingdom has lifted its ban on speaking with Hezbollah and the U.S. rapprochement with Iran is slowly taking shape. Even President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad proclaimed Iran “… may forget the past and start a new era …” in its relationship with the U.S.

Like Benjamin Button, Israel is regressing; not in age, but politically and morally. And as its enemies become involved in more constructive talks with the U.S. and Europe, Netanyahu – or whoever the prime minister may be – will inevitably seek to instigate a new crisis in order to justify continuing Israel’s aggressive policies.

This explains why many who follow the Middle East, including this writer, remain pessimistic at the prospects for peace in the region.

RANNIE AMIRI is an independent Middle East commentator. He may be reached at: rbamiri at yahoo dot com.

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Rannie Amiri is an independent commentator on Middle East affairs.

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