(photo credit: AP)
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is beginning to sweat.
Notwithstanding the agreement between US President Barack Obama and Netanyahu on issues such as the recognition of Israel as a Jewish state and the insistence that the Palestinians renounce violence, there are points of serious contention between the two leaders.
These include Obama's position that the two-state solution is the only way to resolve the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, his demand that Israel stop building settlements and his intimation that all the settlements are illegal.
Other points of strife include Obama's call for regional nuclear nonproliferation (which, in effect, assumes that Israel's nuclear capacity will be part of the negotiations with Iran), his recognition of the plight of Palestinians, including the refugees, and his claim that Hamas is a legitimate rather than a terrorist organization.
So far Obama's challenges to Israel have been theoretical, and the only substantive demand that Washington has made involves the 100 or so Jewish outposts in the West Bank. Reiterating President Bush's directive, Obama recently asked Netanyahu to begin dismantling the outposts.
Legally the outposts are just like the 121 settlements (namely, they are all illegal). Only the outposts were built following the 1993 Oslo Accords, and, as opposed to the settlements, which are now home to close to half a million Jews - or about 7 percent of Israel's citizenry - almost all the outposts are extremely sparsely populated with less than a dozen people in each.
Netanyahu did not refuse, but instead of carrying out the job, he decided to put on a show.
Last week, the government sent troops to dismantle two outposts. The television networks were invited to cover the event, and that evening viewers watched how a group of settlers struggled against the most powerful military in the Middle East. Within hours of the news broadcasts, the settlers had already rebuilt the outposts, and thus today we are, once again, back to square one.
The perceptive viewer understands that the government and the settlers are staging the events, using the media to broadcast them to the world. The images of lawless fundamentalists fighting the military convey a clear message to the audience at home: If Netanyahu dares to dismantle the outposts, the settlers will not only topple his government, but there will be blood. More specifically, the not-so-latent inference is that if Netanyahu goes ahead with Washington's directive, he will be responsible for a civil war.
While all of the major news networks provided a similar narrative, Channel 2, the most popular news provider, dedicated 14 minutes of prime time to the issue. In the segment, a reporter is shown interviewing a settler from Karnei Shomron in the West Bank about the dismantlement of Jewish outposts. The two men are standing on a mountain ridge overlooking Palestinian fields that had been set on fire.
The settler asserts that "this is the price tag... People need to know that if they dismantle anything in Judea and Samaria, there is a price." He then looks at the horizon and asks, "Do you see all these mountains?" and immediately responds, "They are all ours."
When the reporter inquires what the settlers will do if a nearby outpost is dismantled, he exclaims that the government will not destroy it, and then adds, "They might destroy a little shack in the outpost to send pictures to the n***** in the United States."
The crux of the matter is that this pathetic, racist settler is right: The images of troops dismantling a few outposts and the forceful resistance are all part of a well choreographed spectacle that is being produced specifically for Washington. Otherwise, why remove only two outposts at a time instead of 40 at once and getting the job done? And why invite the networks to cover the events and not dismantle the outposts by surprise in the early morning hours when the settlers are not ready?
The answer is straightforward: Netanyahu wants Obama to think that Israel will end up in a civil war if the White House stands firm.
The question now is whether Obama will back off or whether he will he have the courage to make Netanyahu dismantle both the outposts and the settlements. If Obama hesitates, Israel will become a full blown apartheid regime, while if he remains bold he will probably be remembered as the president who helped save Israel from itself. To do so he will have to make Netanyahu sweat much more.
Neve Gordon teaches politics at Ben-Gurion University and is the author of Israel's Occupation (University of California Press, 2008).