Netanyahu, by far, has the most power of anybody in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, and this has been the case for over six years. Nobody has done more to shape the current situation over this period, and therefore, nobody deserves more blame than him. And yet, there is plenty of blame to go around, and both Israeli and Palestinian societies—both the Israeli and Palestinian people—are encouraging, rather than fighting, the drivers of conflict.
Originally published on LinkedIn Pulse October 26, 2015
AP Photo/Nasser Shiyoukhi
AMMAN — As the sadly predictable violence suffered by both Israeli and Palestinian civilians seems to spiral out of control into something approaching an uprising or sorts (maybe a Third Intifada, maybe not, only time will tell) it is important to know who to blame so there can be accountability and way forward.
Blame must necessarily be placed more heavily where there resides more power. Keeping this in mind, first and foremost, we must blame Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and his conservative coalition governments, in power for over six-and-a-half years, since March 2009.
Netanyahu has for years never been enthusiastic about the peace process; he even bragged about actively undermining the Oslo Accords while Prime Minister from 1996-1999, helping to set the stage for the Second Intifada; he was against the 2005 Gaza “disengagement” plan of then-Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon, quitting his cabinet post in Sharon’s government in protest; and all through Obama’s presidency, he has resisted serious peace talks, participating only reluctantly and has been unwilling to discuss major final-status issues, in particular the final borders with a Palestinian state. All the while, he has been a champion of illegal Israeli settlement expansion on what is legally Palestinian territory, the final status of which is supposed to be determined in negotiations, and he has refused intense requests from the Obama administration to fully halt settlement expansion during peace talks, undermining whatever good faith could have existed. He even allowed his government to repeatedly announce plans for settlement expansion at the most inopportune moments, leading one of his senior ministers in his own government to accuse his government of deliberately undermining negotiations. Netanyahu used the horrific murder and kidnapping of three Israeli teens in the summer of 2014 as an excuse to pursue an agenda of political repression against Hamas, even though Hamas as an organization was not responsible for the lone-wolf atrocity.
At this time, Hamas had also been observing a cease-fire since November 2012 for a year-and-a-half, and all throughout that period Netanyahu did nothing to alleviate the harsh blockade of Gaza in the long-term despite Hamas’ dutiful observation of the cease-fire. The crackdown against Hamas was the largest security operation in the West Bank since the Second Intifada ended ten years earlier and was seen by Hamas as a provocation after it had been on its best behavior in years, refraining from engaging in terrorism and violence against Israelis. Netanyahu continued the crackdown, and Hamas responded with rocket fire.
The main point to make here is this: Israel has almost all the power in this situation. It has the real sovereignty over the whole West Bank and de facto sovereignty in Gaza, where Israel totally controls the airspace, coastal waters, land crossings, population movement, controls most of its taxation, and still occupies almost 17% of Gaza’s land. Netanyahu makes bold demands of Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, his governing party of Fatah, and Hamas, but deliberately disempowers them to the degree that they are not generally capable of meeting his demands. Palestinian officials, whether of Hamas or of Fatah, have little control over anything and that control is totally at Israel’s discretion. Fatah renounced violence and basically kept to this for years now. Hamas has not. If Netanyahu had a productive strategy, it would be rewarding areas controlled by Abbas’s Fatah for nonviolence by ending the occupation—in place since 1967—in some of these areas. This would in turn pressure Hamas to become less violent as the Palestinians living under Fatah control would see the benefits of non-violence and cooperation while those living under Hamas control would become jealous.
What does Bibi do instead? He makes no major concessions or serious reductions of the occupation at all to Fatah and continues with massive settlement expansion in areas under Fatah control despite years of security cooperation that has been praised for years by Israeli security officials; when Hamas is non-violent for over a year and half, Netanyahu also does nothing to reward this behavior. As the major power broker, Netanyahu at the helm of the Israeli government sets the stage, and has the ability to reward and encourage non-violence; when he does not do this, he is essentially encouraging violence and is empowering Hamas and undermining Fatah and Abbas. Hamas can point to Fatah and the leadership of Abbas, and say “See what cooperation with the Israelis gets you? More occupation, more settlements!”
This was Netanyahu’s approach from the moment he took office through today, including the many anguishing months of fruitless talks led by U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry and in the run-up to last summer’s Gaza conflict and in his lack of initiative in the year since leading up to this current round of violence. In his actions Netanyahu has shown that he not only does not care to seek real peace in the form of a two-state solution with the Palestinians, he has also shown no inclination to reduce or end the oppressive occupation. He is also no stranger to divisive rhetoric, most recently on display in his trying to shamefully and falsely claim a Palestinian inspired Hitler to carry out the Holocaust, inspiring condemnation from many Israelis and historians.
But on another level, we can—and should—blame everyone.
The Israeli people had chances and came close to removing Netanyahu from office twice in recent years; they did not. They have continually empowered him, no doubt out of an understandable sense of fear, but in doing so they are helping to perpetuate this conflict. And how is there room in the Israeli public space for incitement and right-wing mobs that attack Arabs (sometimes Jews are mistaken for Arabs and attacked by other Jews) and even Jewish leftist dissenters, and for significant numbers of settlers (supported by the IDF!) to attack Palestinians and their property?
The Palestinians understandably are now turning away from Abbas, who has been unable (through little fault of his own) to produce any results to show for his cooperation with Netanyahu. This may be understandable, but it, too, is unwise. To turn towards violence and Hamas and intifada is not a recipe for success, it is a recipe for more bloodshed, and, as always, the vast majority of those dying will be the Palestinians themselves. We are seeing young children forming groups to throw rocks at Israeli security personnel, groups of young women too; where are their parents? How are they allowed to participate in riots and violence on such a regular basis? When will the incitement of violence and glorification of Palestinians who attack Israeli civilians stop?
Bibi has had the power to help nudge both societies away from such behavior, but has done just the opposite. He is the director for a staged play awash in violence and conflict, but most of the actors in Israeli and Palestinian society are all too willing to play their part. Israelis and Palestinians who advocate peace and coexistence are increasingly marginalized by their respective societies and are devoid of meaningful political power. This latest time the curtain has risen for a show of predictably increasing violence, there is plenty of blame to go around, indeed.
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