Think About It: A political tsunami

Once again Netanyahu has demonstrated a serious defect in his understanding of European history.

December 28, 2014 20:24
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu addresses weekly cabinet meeting in Jerusalem, December 28, 2014. (photo credit: EMIL SALMAN/POOL)

In recent weeks those objecting to a political settlement with the Palestinians based on the two-state solution have started to describe a sequence of European moves and resolutions designed to enhance the establishment of a Palestinian state, and which allegedly legitimize the Hamas, as a “political tsunami.” This sequence includes a wave of resolutions adopted by various European national parliaments in favor of immediate recognition of a Palestinian state – resolutions with declaratory rather than practical significance.

The European Parliament also joined the wave with a relatively moderate resolution adopted on December 17 stating that “[The European Parliament] supports in principle recognition of Palestinian statehood and the two-state solution, and believes these should go hand in hand with the development of peace talks, which should be advanced.” In addition, the European Court ruled that Hamas should be removed from the EU list of terrorist organizations in another two months, unless the Europeans overcome a certain technicality having to do with the original grounds for placing the Hamas on this list back in 2003, which were based on American rather than European grounds. In other words, it does not deny that Hamas is a terrorist organization, nor does it suggest that “one man’s terrorist is another man’s freedom fighter.”

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Finally, at the initiative of French President François Hollande, France, Germany and Britain are drafting an alternative UN Security Council resolution to that submitted by the Palestinian Authority on December 18, outlining the principles of an Israeli-Palestinian final-status deal (which some reports say includes Palestinian recognition of Israel’s being the state of the Jewish people) and setting a two-year timetable for completing negotiations on such an agreement. This is being done in order to forestall an American veto in the Security Council on the Palestinian draft resolution, which calls for a 12-month deadline to reach a peace deal with Israel, and designates the end of 2017 as the final date for completing an Israeli withdrawal from the West Bank and east Jerusalem. Certainly from an Israeli point of view the European proposal that is being crystallized is preferable than the Palestinian one, but most Israelis – including left-wingers – would prefer keeping the UN Security Council at arm’s length from this issue.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is understandably worried by all this hustle and bustle, which has all resulted from a unilateral Palestinian effort to advance toward statehood in the absence of negotiations with Israel. He can also be expected to try and make much political hay out of this string of events during the coming election campaign, in which he will undoubtedly point out that only a strong prime minister (i.e. he himself) can see Israel through this alleged tsunami.

The answer to Netanyahu is that whether or not one views this is as a tsunami, it is the result of the total lack of progress in negotiations with the Palestinians, for which Israel is partially to blame (even though even former justice minister Tzipi Livni admits that the Palestinians also share in the responsibility), and Israel’s enhanced settlement activities in Judea and Samaria, for which Netanyahu himself is responsible, at least because he has not done more to rein in Construction Minister Uri Ariel. And as to who can reverse the wave, would you appoint a pyromaniac to put out the fire he himself ignited? Netanyahu’s reaction to the decision of the European Court, which undoubtedly reflected his feelings about all these events, was to state that “it seems that too many in Europe, on whose soil six million Jews were slaughtered, have learned nothing. But we in Israel, we’ve learned. We’ll continue to defend our people and our state against the forces of terror and tyranny and hypocrisy.”

Once again Netanyahu has demonstrated a serious defect in his understanding of European history. The first time I witnessed this defect was during the 1988 elections when he cited the Sudeten Germans in the interwar period as a successful example of autonomy, during a debate that dealt with whether the conflict with the Palestinians can be resolved by means of Palestinian autonomy.

Now what he seems to be saying is that the only thing that should be learned from the Holocaust is that the Jews are under perpetual threat of extermination, be it at the hands of German Nazis in concentration camps, radical Islamist regimes with a nuclear potential, or Palestinian terrorists, and that anyone who does not perceive of these threats as Israel does, is a hypocrite, or worse.

No one denies that the Jews have faced an existential problem, and that Israel too is not free of such worries.

But that is an extremely narrow, self-centered approach to what one should learn from history. The Europeans, insofar as one can speak of them collectively, have learned from the Holocaust, and the whole Second World War experience for that matter, that fanatic, racist and chauvinistic regimes, which do not respect the national, territorial and human rights of other peoples, pose a threat not only to world peace, but are capable of committing the most atrocious and heinous crimes, in the name of their alleged superiority.

With all their disapproval of many aspects of Israel’s policy with regard to the territories and the Palestinians, and their awareness of many negative phenomena in Israeli society, including overt manifestations of racism, the majority of Europeans, and their governments, do not consider Israel to have such a regime, though there are individual Europeans who do think so.

However, the Europeans at large certainly perceive the present-day six million Jewish Israelis as being in a completely different situation than the helpless six million Jews mercilessly slaughtered in the Holocaust. Israel today is perceived as anything but helpless. It is regarded as the most powerful force in the Middle East, which is why Netanyahu’s constant harping on the Holocaust is met in Europe with raised eyebrows, at best. I dare say that with all due respect for the Holocaust – and no one denies that it is an experience which no Jew can ignore, or belittle – constantly mentioning it in arguments, as bitter as they may be, is both contemptuous of the Holocaust, and adds neither honor nor credibility to the Israeli case.

Last Tuesday, Foreign Minister Avigdor Liberman declared in a closed conference with businessmen at Tel Aviv University that there is no political tsunami, that at most there was a “light breeze,” adding that he supports a two-state solution. This is certainly good news for all of us who believe that if Israel were merely to show a real desire to make a sincere effort to reach a negotiated settlement based on the two-state solution, the European parliaments wouldn’t be wasting their time on passing hypothetical resolutions.

This doesn’t mean that a different Israeli approach would immediately lead to an agreement with the Palestinians – most likely it wouldn’t. It merely means that a different Israeli attitude and policy would put the wave of European resolutions – tsunami or no tsunami – to rest.

And what if despite everything Netanyahu heads Israel’s next government? Well, he can always adopt the North Korean approach, and declare a cyber war against the European parliaments and institutions, which according to him need a lesson in history. It is said that we are the champions in cyber warfare.

The writer is a retired Knesset employee.

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