Netanyahu seeks to establish Israel's place among the nations - opinion

There is nothing new about Netanyahu’s rejection of the territories-for-peace concept as the basis for Israel’s peace strategy.

PRIME MINISTER Benjamin Netanyahu speaks about the Israel-UAE peace accords, in Jerusalem last month.  (photo credit: DEBBIE HILL/REUTERS)
PRIME MINISTER Benjamin Netanyahu speaks about the Israel-UAE peace accords, in Jerusalem last month.
(photo credit: DEBBIE HILL/REUTERS)
In the early evening of Monday, August 31, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu went on air on all the news channels. It was allegedly to make a statement about the historic El Al flight over Saudi Arabian territory to Abu Dhabi by an Israeli-American team on its way to officially open negotiations on normalization of relations between Israel and the United Arab Emirates.
Anyone who had hoped that Netanyahu would use the opportunity to add to the information provided in the various news outlets about the negotiations and other issues – such as the opening of the school year, the growing numbers of Israelis infected by the coronavirus, and the malfunctioning of the Finance Ministry – was disappointed. Netanyahu said nothing new, and almost immediately his speech turned into a harangue of self-adulation in which the word “I” appeared in almost every sentence.
Quoting extensively from the Hebrew version of his 1995 book, Place Among the Nations (A Place Under the Sun in Hebrew), Netanyahu sought to prove his consistency in his claim that peace between Israel and the Arabs must be based on “peace-for-peace” rather than “peace-for-territory,” and that Iran constitutes a danger to Israel’s existence.
He also repeated his claim that before he came to power in 1996, Israel had a “Third World economy,” or alternatively, a “primitive socialist” one, without any sophisticated industries and with a poor economic performance record.
Soon after Netanyahu started answering questions, in his usual evasive style, channels 12 and 13 returned to their regular broadcasts, and a little later, Channel 11 did the same. The truth is that there was no earthly reason for any of the channels to give Netanyahu valuable broadcasting time for him to deliver an election speech of no news value whatsoever, and one that was factually dodgy. If we were officially in an election campaign, the chairman of the Central Elections Committee would have put an end to the broadcast within seconds after it began.
There is nothing new about Netanyahu’s rejection of the territories-for-peace concept as the basis for Israel’s peace strategy. This was the reason he rejected the Oslo Accords. In his speech last Monday, he claimed that he had consistently acted to attain peace with Arab states since he had become prime minister on the basis of the “peace-for-peace” principle, and that his efforts had finally borne fruit in the case of the approaching agreement with the UAE.
He also bragged that already 25 years ago, he had argued in his book that peace would be attained with the Arabs once Israel was powerful politically, militarily and economically, which is what he had persistently acted to achieve. Not very original, Mr. Netanyahu.
“There is no possibility, according to my deep understanding, to bring about peace unless the Arabs will develop a comprehension that they cannot destroy us.... The chance for peace with the Arabs depends on the increase of Israel’s power and security from a political, military and economic point of view.” No, this is not a quote from Place Under the Sun; It is a quote from a speech delivered by Israel’s first prime minister, David Ben-Gurion, at the Mapai Foreign Affairs Committee, on March 4, 1958, when Bibi was eight-and-a-half years old.
Ben-Gurion’s speech was delivered a year after Israel had been forced to withdraw from the Sinai Peninsula and the Gaza Strip, which it had occupied during the Sinai Campaign, due to both Soviet and American pressure. At the time, there was no talk of “territories-for-peace,” since there were no peace negotiations going on.
IT IS ALSO self-evident that no Arab state would reach normalization with Israel if Israel were weak, and if it felt that there was even an inkling of a chance to defeat Israel on the battlefield or economically. However, this does not change the fact that the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is primarily one about control of territory, and that following the Six Day War and Israel’s occupation of the Golan Heights, the West Bank and the Sinai Peninsula, a territorial dimension was added to the conflict between it and its immediate neighbors, which made a territorial compromise by Israel on the way to peace unavoidable, and a prima facie international law issue.
The rest of the Arab world does not have physical borders with Israel, and its conflict with Israel concerns its solidarity with the Palestinians and various religious issues. In the case of the UAE, an American assurance that Israeli annexations in the West Bank would be taken off the table, and a promise by the US to seriously consider the sale of F-35s and other sophisticated arms systems to the UAE, were preconditions for an agreement being negotiated. It wasn’t Israel that made the promises, however, this is not a case of “peace-for-peace.”
Incidentally, while Netanyahu has certainly maintained an active foreign policy as prime minister, it has not been as consistent as he claims. In 2013, the right-wing website, run by Ran Baratz, published a poignant article on this issue (in Hebrew) titled “No Place Under the Sun.”
It should also be noted that behind-the-scenes relations started to develop with numerous Arab and other Muslim states immediately after the Oslo Accords (1993), during Rabin’s premiership. As minister of defense at the same time, Rabin also started to contend with the growing Iranian threat, both in terms of its support of terrorism, and its nuclear ambitions
Now about the Israeli economy before and since 1996. The fact is that Israel was never a Third World economy. True, its economy always included modern, sophisticated sectors and low-tech sectors. From the very beginning, part of Israel’s population was highly educated, and part of it arrived in the country with very low levels of education and a high level of illiteracy, which took several decades to overcome.
This was true until 1977 the Mapai/Labor governments led a highly centralized economy, though much was also done to encourage the development of a vibrant private sector as well. However, it should be noted that in the first 20 years of Israel’s existence, its growth rates were high, and the economy was anything but stagnant.
After the 1977 political upheaval that brought the Likud to power – 19 years before Netanyahu’s first election as prime minister – a process of enhanced economic liberalization was introduced. Since Netanyahu came to power, liberalization took a turn in the direction of extreme capitalism and massive privatization, which started to dismantle Israel’s welfare state and its economic and social planning mechanisms. That in turn has resulted in growing socioeconomic gaps in the country. Among the reasons for Israel’s poor performance in trying to cope with its current health and economic crisis are these developments for which Netanyahu is largely responsible.
So when he brags about his economic achievements – and on the macro level he certainly has much to be proud of – Netanyahu should also have the humility to admit that his rejection of proper planning mechanisms, and the upkeep of the welfare state, are not things he can be proud of, and that his vision of Israel’s place under the sun ought to undergo some revision.