Renewed Violence Boosts Netanyahu

The day-in-day-out goal of Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu seems to be how to prevent the compromise and reconciliation needed to achieve a comprehensive peace. In that sense, the latest rounds of violence and hatred are serving his interests well, as ex-CIA analyst Paul R. Pillar notes.

By Paul R. Pillar

The last few months have gone rather well for the right-wing Israeli government of Benjamin Netanyahu, in the sense of advancing its prime objective of indefinitely extending the occupation and colonization of Palestinian territory by ensuring failure of any diplomatic efforts to end the occupation.

Netanyahu’s success in this regard has been due both to his own tactical skill and to the luck of outside events.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu

Netanyahu achieved failure of the latest U.S. attempt to revive a peace process worthy of that name partly through the preemptory demand for the Palestinians to recognize Israel as a “Jewish state.” He also successfully used the stratagem of striking a deal with the Palestinian Authority that involved release of Palestinian prisoners, reneging on that deal by construing its meaning differently than originally intended, and then blaming the P.A. for not proceeding anyway with substantive talks as if nothing untoward had happened. The Israelis had to take some mild off-the-record blame for the breakdown from the Americans, but nothing that wasn’t manageable.More threatening to the Israeli government’s strategy than Secretary of State John Kerry’s diplomatic efforts was the latest effort by Hamas and Fatah to bridge their differences and jointly support a single Palestinian government. These intra-Palestinian acts of reconciliation have always been a problem for Netanyahu’s strategy because they involve creating a negotiating partner that can speak for the great majority of Palestinians and because they belie the Israeli allegation that Hamas wants nothing but the destruction of Israel.

The Hamas-Fatah deal and subsequent creation of a cabinet of technocrats clearly involved Hamas moving toward Mahmoud Abbas’s position rather than the other way around. This latest reconciliation appeared even more threatening to Netanyahu’s approach than the previous ones because it showed more sign of sticking. Perhaps most disturbing to Netanyahu is that the Obama administration indicated it was willing to work with any jointly supported Palestinian government that emerged from the deal.

Netanyahu has given the same vehement and unyielding reaction he has given to the previous efforts at Palestinian reconciliation, such as withholding tax revenue that belongs to the Palestinians. What most enabled him, however, to sustain his strategy in the face of this latest challenge, and here is one place where the luck of events has helped him, was the kidnapping and murder of three Jewish Israeli teenagers in the occupied West Bank.

Netanyahu immediately blamed Hamas and repeatedly promised evidence, which still hasn’t been forthcoming, that the group was responsible for the crime. Two men with ties to Hamas have been named as suspects. They are at large but their families’ homes have already been demolished. No proof of guilt was furnished beforehand, but Israeli demolition of Palestinian homes in the West Bank is an everyday occurrence anyway.

The crime provided the occasion for the Israeli government to strike back more broadly and forcefully than that. As Mitchell Plitnick has described it, “Under the cover of searching for the kidnapped youths, Netanyahu launched a massive operation to cripple Hamas in the West Bank, further humiliate Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, and punish the entire Palestinian population for calling for a halt to the charade of the ‘peace process’ and, worse, moving toward a unified leadership.”

This forceful stirring of the pot by Israel, which has involved the detention of hundreds of Palestinians and the death of several of them at the hands of Israeli security forces, helps to put any peace diplomacy even farther out of reach. It enables American supporters of Netanyahu’s government to say for the umpteenth time that the time is not “ripe” for peace negotiations, and the government they support will do what it has to do to ensure that the time will never be ripe.

Netanyahu’s strategy has benefited recently from other distractions, which have diverted any energy and attention that might otherwise be directed toward establishment of a Palestinian state. The principal distraction that Netanyahu has relied on has been, of course, his demonization of Iran.

Other events have helped him. The world’s attention was diverted greatly for a time by the crisis in Ukraine. Then came widespread alarm over the Sunni extremist group in Iraq and Syria that now calls itself the Islamic State. The latter scare has been even more useful for Netanyahu, who used it as another excuse to insist that Israeli troops must continue to occupy the Jordan River Valley indefinitely. Never mind that the chief of Mossad dismisses the notion of an Islamic State army marching across Jordan to invade Israel; the excuse still has a crude geographic appeal.

So Netanyahu has peace diplomacy right where he wants it: in the trash bin, but so far without having to shoulder unequivocal international blame for putting it there. His very success over the last few months in this regard, however, may over the next few months lead to reactions that will complicate further execution of his strategy.

That the Hamas-Fatah reconciliation has gone as far as it has, farther than previous attempts, may lead many Palestinians to see it as a best shot at a genuinely comprehensive peace, one that would cover Gaza as well as the West Bank. Continued vehement Israeli rejection of this best shot may lead Palestinians to conclude that they have no shot, none, that is, at negotiating a bilateral accord with any Israeli government that looks at all like the current one.

One resulting possibility, which the current volatility in the Palestinian territories shows is dangerously close to becoming a probability, is outbreak of a new full-blown intifada, an uprising with widespread violence.

Even without a new intifada, there are two other strategy-complicating possibilities. One is for the Palestinian Authority (presumably in the form of its Hamas-backed but non-party government) to drop its previous restraint in seeking the full involvement of international organizations in helping the Palestinians out of their plight and moving toward real statehood. The other is for the Palestinian Authority to dissolve itself, end the fiction that what exists in the West Bank is anything other than continued Israeli military occupation, and stop being an accessory to that occupation.

Netanyahu in effect encourages Palestinians to reach that latter conclusion, and to realize that the P.A. is not really a government at all, when he does things such as disdaining Abbas’s attempts to help in finding the killers of the Israeli teenagers and berating the P.A. even though the crime occurred in a portion of the West Bank where the P.A. has no security functions at all.

But Netanyahu is always focused on the short term, and he probably is not worrying much right now about those possibilities. It also is because he is focused on the short term that success in his strategy in fending off Palestinian statehood is not at all success for Israel. In fact, it is quite contrary to the long-term interests of Israel and damaging to its prospects for living as a peaceful, prosperous, liberal state. The Netanyahu strategy fails to recognize that clinging to all the land to the Jordan River makes it impossible for Israel to be both a Jewish and a democratic state.

The strategy is one that entails unending conflict and animosity. As Israel sinks ever more deeply into hard-core apartheid, a corrosive effect continues to be seen in the public attitudes and morality of many Israelis as well as many Palestinians, an effect that is disturbing to the many other Israelis who are still thoughtful and humane.

The phenomenon in question has become increasingly apparent in recent years in an intolerance in Israel that has evolved into overt hatred and prejudice against Arabs, matching anti-Jewish hatred that can be found on the other side. (Anti-Semitism probably is not the appropriate term in this context, only because both Jews and Arabs are Semites.)

In this atmosphere, nonofficial acts of inhumanity and violence become more likely, such as the killing of the three Jewish teenagers and the subsequent killing, possibly after being burned alive, of a Palestinian Arab teenager. The atmosphere also infects official acts. Those acts include much of what happens in the West Bank every week, including all those demolitions of homes. It also has reportedly included in the past few days the brutal beating by Israeli police of another Palestinian teenager, a cousin of the one who was burned and killed.

The victim of the police beating is an American: a high school sophomore from Tampa, Florida, who was visiting his relatives. If the reports about his beating are confirmed, this ought to be an occasion for the U.S. to pull its kid gloves off at least a bit more in dealing with Netanyahu’s government. When Israeli police are beating up U.S. citizens, the U.S. government ought to do more to steer the Israeli government off its disastrous path. Call it tough love if your prefer, but the emphasis needs to be on the toughness.

Paul R. Pillar, in his 28 years at the Central Intelligence Agency, rose to be one of the agency’s top analysts. He is now a visiting professor at Georgetown University for security studies. (This article first appeared as a blog post at The National Interest’s Web site. Reprinted with author’s permission.)

5 comments for “Renewed Violence Boosts Netanyahu

  1. Alfred
    July 9, 2014 at 14:39

    Mr. Pillar seems to be a spokesperson for anti-Zionists. Jewish Israelis were living in the country over 1,000 prior to the bloody Moslem Jihad that swept the Levant and north Africa. Jews have a right to live in their own country and have it declared a “Jewish” homeland.

  2. Joseph Brant
    July 8, 2014 at 18:56

    Well, said, Debbie, although I suppose that Mr. Pillar knows this as well.

    The nation cannot be retaken nor democracy re-established precisely because there is no public forum nor democratic elections. Just to speak the truth in these forums is to lose the propagandized audience. So perhaps the writers here are saying what can be said to the few who can learn.

  3. July 8, 2014 at 15:07

    US politicians and journalists constantly claim Israel has a right to defend itself and that Israel is the only democracy in the Middle East and justify supplying Israel weapons and diplomatic support.

    Can Mark Regev, spokesman for Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu dispute this ? Is this democracy?


    and this

    I don’t think I have ever heard any American politician, much less President, so eloquently, empathetically, and directly describe the suffering and aspirations of Palestinians as President Obama did in his Cairo speech. This is the one part which I have to quote:

    “….it is also undeniable that the Palestinian people – Muslims and Christians – have suffered in pursuit of a homeland. For more than sixty years they have endured the pain of dislocation. Many wait in refugee camps in the West Bank, Gaza, and neighboring lands for a life of peace and security that they have never been able to lead. They endure the daily humiliations – large and small – that come with occupation. So let there be no doubt: the situation for the Palestinian people is intolerable. America will not turn our backs on the legitimate Palestinian aspiration for dignity, opportunity, and a state of their own.

    For decades, there has been a stalemate: two peoples with legitimate aspirations, each with a painful history that makes compromise elusive. It is easy to point fingers – for Palestinians to point to the displacement brought by Israel’s founding, and for Israelis to point to the constant hostility and attacks throughout its history from within its borders as well as beyond. But if we see this conflict only from one side or the other, then we will be blind to the truth: the only resolution is for the aspirations of both sides to be met through two states, where Israelis and Palestinians each live in peace and security.”

    This is quite possibly the most powerful statement by an American President about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict in decades and we will ever hear.

    What does Israel do ?

    Israel unleashes “Operation Cast Lead” devastating Palestinian infrastructure and killing thousands. followed by Operation Pillar of Cloud, Israel continues to build settlements, Israel thumbs its nose at the American President, the International community (whatever that is suppose to be) and the United Nations and the United States Congress and Media day in and day out parrot Israel’s right to self-defense and justify Israel’s violence. Ridiculous!

  4. July 8, 2014 at 13:51

    Mr. Pillar,

    Zionism is trying to create nothing new, nothing which they have not commonly done in the many other places where they have settled as guests or invaders in their long history… they are trying to create a Jewish Ghetto in Palestine. The only question remaining is , “where shall we build the walls?”
    And it ignores the fundamental principle of walls and fences, be they garden, palace or prison; walls which keep out, also keep in.
    Fences do not good neighbors make. They isolate neighbors, the ones you may need the most in times of distress, and destroy neighborhoods.

    America can do Zilch Mr. Pillar! The Israelis make no bones about that. A former Israeli Prime Minister said: “We, the Jewish people, control America, and the Americans know it.” And who can forget the undignified cheerleading of the Members of the US Congress for the Israeli Prime Minister not too long ago that diminished the status of America in the eyes of the world.

    Let us quit banding about the bush. Perhaps it is not too late to save America for Americans.

    Let’s state the terms, declare the issues, select positions, clear the field and let the battle to take back American foreign policy and Media from the hands of American Jews, which supports or functions in support of primary “Jewish or Zionist interests,” and return it to the hands of actual representatives of the American people!

    The fact that you Mr. Pillar, Mr. Parry, Mr. Ray McGovern, Mr. Philip Giraldi, Mr. Justin Raimondo, and scores of American foreign policy analysts and journalists now residing in Alternative Media are denied the right to voice your opinion in your own Media, is shameful to say the least and demonstrates and exhibits complete denial of the notion of freedom of speech and the culture of debate in your country.

    Unless America’s diplomatic, financial and military support for Israel is stopped, we can go on for decades analyzing what Israel says and does to Palestinians, and Israel continues to build settlements and kill Palestinians everyday, and Palestinians will continue to resist until the last Palestinian is standing.

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