May 2017 will mark fifty years of Israeli occupation of Gaza and the West Bank characterized by institutionalized inequality and injustice toward Palestinians. At the bidding of the government, the Israeli Defense Force (IDF) routinely and violently confronts Palestinians, but also Israeli and international dissidents who dare challenge the continued expansion and entrenchment of the illegal settlements in the West Bank and the blockade of the Gaza strip. Protesters run the risk of getting cursed, spat on, detained, beaten up, stoned, stabbed, shot, kidnapped, imprisoned, tortured or any combination thereof. Moreover, in an unfortunate yet predictable move, the Israeli government has recently declared war on the nonviolent boycott divestment and sanctions (BDS) movement.
Like clockwork, every few years a cycle of violence disproportionately bathes Palestinian society in blood and tears and serves to further fortify the occupation (see Israeli Occupation for Dummies). According to renowned scholar Ilan Pappe, Israeli society needs a regular dose of war not only as a means to justify its excessive military budget and lucrative arms industry, but as a tool to reaffirm itself as a cohesive settler-colonialist entity faced with an existential threat.
The following months afford a unique and dangerous opportunity for Israel’s right-wing government to coax the Palestinians into yet another cycle of violence, which will lead to an escalation in hostilities and tragedy. The ingredients for such a recipe include a healthy portion of desperate political opportunism mixed with a dash of male macho yet insecure exhibitionism stirred up into an explosive cocktail at just the right timing- now!
Benjamin Netanyahu is not doing very well of late. The Israeli Prime Minister (PM) is routinely shunned by foreign politicians and has regular power spats with ministers in his own government, recently with Minister of Transportation Yisrael Katz. In addition, the heat is on in the courtroom: Netanyahu faces a multitude of lawsuits and corruption scandals, including one in which he sued a reporter for claiming in a Facebook post that Sara Netanyahu threw the PM out of the car during an argument, delaying the heavily guarded motorcade. Finally, a recent poll shows that Yesh Atid (“There is a future”), the centrist party headed by Yair Lapid, surpasses Netanyahu’s Likud party if elections were to be held today. As a well-known political opportunist and sucker for polls, Netanyahu may resort to the solution that has proved successful time and time again in diverting attention from his own inadequacies and has coalesced the Israeli populace behind him- war.
Israel has a new and inexperienced Minister of Defense- Avigdor Lieberman. The once night club bouncer and convicted child beater has much to prove in the office which he seems grossly unqualified for. Even members of the Likud party, which used to be his political home, are not fans of Lieberman’s credentials, claiming recently that: “The closest thing to a bullet that ever came whizzing past [Lieberman’s] ear was a tennis ball”.
There is nothing like war to prove one’s worth in this new and prestigious position as was made clear by the tenure of Amir Peretz as Minister of Defense in 2006 under then Prime Minister, now convicted prisoner, Ehud Olmert. Peretz presided over the second Lebanon War, an operation that resulted in a staggering death toll of 1200 Lebanese and 160 Israelis and was deemed a severe failure by the The Winograd committee. Further, Lieberman is known for his unabashed racism and has already initiated plans to “color-code good and bad Palestinians”. In concert with his need to prove his worth and his thuggish disposition, Lieberman spells a recipe for disaster.
Timing- it’ all about the American elections
As an imperialist surrogate of the United States, Israel is well-versed in Washington’s lingo of dos and don’ts, and knows well that election season is a time when candidates are particularly vulnerable to extortion, as they are desperate for cash. The pro-Israel right-wing lobbying group the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) has a special monetary role to play here, and Israel has taken advantage of its hefty influence in the corridors of empire during the months that lead up to the inauguration of a new American President. Here are some examples of hostilities waged during the months leading up to a changing of the guards in the White House:
1/ In September 2000, Ariel Sharon decided that visiting the Al-Aqsa Mosque in Jerusalem was a great idea. This inflamed tensions in East Jerusalem, sparking nonviolent and violent protests by Palestinians, who eventually hurt an Israeli security official. Israeli forces severely retaliated and the Second Intifada broke out. Deaths as a result of the Second Intifada included 6371 Palestinians and 1083 Israelis, according to B’Tselem. Sharon became Prime Minister shortly thereafter.
2/ In December 2008 the Israelis discovered tunnels that they claimed were dug by Hamas as a means to capture Israeli soldiers and smuggle them into the Gaza strip. Hamas claimed the tunnels served defensive purposes. The Israelis bombed these tunnels, after which Hamas launched a barrage of its missiles into Israel. Israel then mounted a full-scale and highly destructive attack on Gaza. The Israeli offensive was called “Operation Cast Lead” and deaths (in Gaza) included 1391 Palestinians and 13 Israelis, according to B’Tselem.
3/ In November 2012 Israel assassinated a top Hamas leader. Hamas retaliated by launching its rockets into Israeli towns bordering Gaza. This led to a full-scale Israeli offensive called “Operation Pillar of Defense” in which 167 Palestinians were killed as were 6 Israelis according to B’Tselem.
In addition to Israel’s propensity to wage war during the final months of American election campaigns, the current electoral circus includes two especially weak candidates that have bent over backwards to please Israel and its American allies, with Donald Trump as the unpredictable clown who has recently set up shop in an illegal settlement in the West Bank and Hillary Clinton spending much of her time at the champagne bar with the ultra rich (e.g. Haim Saban). As the time approaches for Hillary Clinton to face off Donald Trump in a series of televised debates that will likely determine the outcome of the elections on November 8th, both candidates are particularly vulnerable to extortion and eager to please Israel.
In summary, the present moment leading up to the inauguration of the next President of the United States may serve as an opportune time for a weak Benjamin Netanyahu and an insecure, thuggish Avigdor Lieberman to join forces and wage a new war against the quintessential Israeli scapegoats and victims, the Palestinians. Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump will be only too happy at the distraction from their corrupt and sluggish campaign performances. Ironically, Barack Obama, who has been missing in action with respect to American arbitration of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, may serve as the Palestinians only defense. The history of his deep-seeded dislike of the Israeli PM may finally serve to quell violence by preventing an open season on Palestinians. Then again, Obama never fails to disappoint, and will likely pass on the baton to the next American administration.