Jonathan Power
The Jordan Times
May 21, 2010 - 12:00am

Too many Jews in Israel don’t want a settlement with the Palestinians. At every turn, whatever the compromising rhetoric of those at the top of the pyramid of power, there are enough hardliners with enormous influence that are determined to undermine such a deal.

This became abundantly clear when, in 1995, prime minister Yitzhak Rabin, in the process of reaching out to the Palestinians, was murdered by an extremist Jewish militant. Although there was an outpouring of grief, there were a good 30 to 40 per cent who thought, and even said, “good riddance”.

When prime minister Ehud Barak went to the Wye plantation outside Washington DC and negotiated face to face with Yasser Arafat and President Bill Clinton, the media hailed it as a nearly reached agreement and then tore into Arafat for scuppering it. But the fact is that Barak could not have won the Knesset’s approval for what he conceded and, indeed, he raised the bar very high, knowing that Arafat would not make the great final leap. Maybe it was all just a masterful piece of public relations meant to get America off Israel’s back and to undermine Arafat’s standing.

Current Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s latest “U-turn”, by which he said he was accepting negotiations, could well be more of the same. Just a ploy to quieten Washington.

But aren’t the Jews shooting themselves in the foot? As Netanyahu’s predecessor, Ehud Olmert, spelt out clearly, an unwillingness to compromise, together with the high rate of Arab population growth both inside Israel and in Palestine, means that in the foreseeable future, the Jews will be inevitably outnumbered in the land they control. The Jews will never give the West Bank Palestinians a vote in greater Israel. Palestine will be a “bantustan”. Israel will become a precarious “apartheid state”. It will, like South Africa, eventually be undermined from within, even if it takes decades.

The second self-defeating mistake the Israelis have made is their long game with the militant Islamist political movement, Hamas, now de facto rulers of Gaza Strip. In the late 1960s, Israel began its policy of building up Islamist strength in Palestine in a gravely mistaken effort to undermine the secular Palestinian leadership. In 1973, Shin Bet, the Israeli domestic intelligence agency, helped Ahmed Yassin, the leader of the Muslim Brotherhood, to lay the foundations for the creation of Hamas.

Not everyone in Israel was happy with this, but the far right pushed it forward - Menachem Begin, prime minister Yitzhak Shamir and defence secretary Ariel Sharon who all wanted to hold on to the West Bank for eternity. Yassin’s organisation bothered little about Israel and spent most of its energy fighting the Palestine Liberation Organisation, as the Israelis wanted it to. But when Hamas was formerly established in 1986-1987, it changed direction and supported the first Intifada against Israel. Yet, whenever the PLO and the Israeli Labour Party moved towards an accord, Hamas upped its anti-PLO stance. It would violently disrupt the talks, pleasing Likud and the Israeli right.

But as time went on, Hamas increasingly turned against its original backer, losing no opportunity to attack Israel. The Israeli right was not too displeased. A panicked Israel elected in 1996 Benjamin Netanyahu of the rightist Likud Party for the first time. Likud leaders learnt how to go on playing the fear card: in September 2000, Sharon provocatively went on a walk to the Haram Al Sharif holy site, one of Islam’s most sacred places. The result was the second Intifada, which scared Israelis and precipitated Sharon’s election as prime minister, ending all chances of a deal with the Palestinians. Hamas cadres were at the heart of the second Intifada.

Sharon in power continued his ultra-provocative policies. When, the next year, the PLO secured a Hamas pledge to halt its terrorist attacks, Sharon ordered the assassination of a top Hamas leader. In 2004, Israel assassinated Yassin. Today, as the PLO, encouraged by the US, tries to negotiate a peace deal, Hamas continues to fight Israel tooth and nail from its redoubt in Gaza Strip, although its use of rockets that so terrified Israelis last year has subsided for the present.

Israel has created a Frankenstein. The right in Israel does not want peace, but the left cannot pursue it as long as Hamas is on the warpath.

The right does not think it has shot itself in the foot, but one thing is clear: by the two policies of building up Hamas and ignoring the population dynamics of the Arabs, the Israeli right probably shot its country and the Jewish people right in the back.


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