Rattling the Cage: Spinning the settlements

The intifada has long since ended, but Israeli hasbara hasn't changed a bit.

larry derfner 88 (photo credit: )
larry derfner 88
(photo credit: )
I read that Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu is out to "reframe the conflict" in the eyes of the world. "[T]he root of the conflict is not the settlements, not the borders, not an argument over this piece of territory or that. That is not the problem, or the root of the problem. The root is to recognize Israel as a Jewish state. I will not let this rest. I will raise it with presidents, leaders, editors and writers," Netanyahu was quoted as saying last week after his visit to Britain and Germany. This week a half-dozen government ministers and mouthpieces are carrying the message to American "political and media figures, policy-makers, campus groups and Jewish organizations," reports The Jerusalem Post. What a bold new approach. What a fresh perspective. Seven years ago, on August 13, 2002, I wrote a column that began: "The consensus about the intifada among Israelis, Diaspora Jews and American conservatives - that it's caused by Arab hatred and rejection of Israel - is nothing but a lousy excuse. An excuse to say that Israel is wholly blameless in this affair..." Funny - the intifada has long since ended, but Israeli hasbara, or spin, hasn't changed a bit. Our nation's leader is just full of new ideas. Remember "making peace from the bottom up"? In other words, helping the Palestinian economy instead of just arguing politics with them? That idea was a cliché already in 1993, when the Oslo Accord was signed and people were talking about the "fruits of peace" and a "New Middle East." Actually, the notion of making peace from the bottom up has been around since someone suggested "beating swords into plowshares." No matter. Whenever Netanyahu comes up with another hasbara gimmick, another PR campaign to get the focus off settlements and occupation, another printout of talking points to put the Arabs on the defensive, it's "eureka!" time. The shock of the new. THIS ALWAYS goes over big with, say, the Zionist Organization of America, the Christian Coalition - nobody can preach to the choir like Bibi. He's also successful with the ignorant, with people who bring a blank slate to the Israeli-Arab conflict - at least until they become less ignorant. But with people who are open-minded, who look at both sides of an issue and who have more than a little knowledge of the Middle East, our prime minister falls flat. He's transparent. Any informed, mildly skeptical adult can see he's talking propaganda and trying to pass it off as political science. No, despite what Netanyahu and legions of other hasbaratists have been saying for years and years, the root of the conflict is not the Arabs' refusal to accept Israel as a Jewish state, or their hatred of Israel or their rejection of Israel. If that were the root of the conflict, we'd be fighting every day against all 57 Muslim nations, not just the Palestinians, because none of them accept Israel as a Jewish state; in fact, most if not all of them just plain hate us. The root of the conflict, rather, is that two nations, the Jews and the Palestinians, are fighting over one piece of land. There are many obstacles to ending the conflict, including the power of Hamas, especially in Gaza, and the Palestinians' demand for the "right of return." But no less an obstacle is the 121 settlements that house 300,000 Israelis up and down the West Bank. It's the settlements that physically prevent the division of the land between the two nations. It's the settlements that keep the IDF in the Palestinians' face. These settlements don't give Israel peace, they just usurp the Palestinians' land. Seeing as how Hamas is not part of the peace process while the Palestinian Authority in the West Bank is actively preventing terror, the settlements are inevitably and rightly the focus of the world's new effort in the Middle East. Naturally, Israel's prime minister is desperate to shift the focus, to "reframe the conflict," because he doesn't have the political power to remove the settlements, not even one of them, not even if he wanted to. This is yet another obstacle to peace, a much bigger one than any Arab refusal to recognize Israel as a Jewish state.