Patrick Seale
Gulf News (Opinion)
July 15, 2011 - 12:00am

Yigal Amir has good reason for quiet satisfaction. Yitzhak Rabin’s assassin knows that the three shots he fired on the night of November 4, 1995, slammed shut the door on peace and changed the course of Israeli history.

As he sits in his comfortably-appointed cell in Beersheba, awaiting the visits of Larisa Trembovler, the Russian wife he married in jail, Amir must savour his decisive contribution to the extremist causes for which he killed Israel’s Prime Minister — the rise and rise of the far-right, ultra-religious Zionism to which he adheres; the ever-expanding West Bank colonies and the unrelieved suffering of the Palestinians, robbed not only of their land but of freedom, justice and human rights.

The assassin may be locked up for life, but his policies live on. In the nearly two-and-a-half years he has been Prime Minister, Benjamin Netanyahu has walked unswervingly down the path trodden by Yigal Amir. It is as if he were determined to consolidate the young fanatic’s heritage.

Netanyahu has done everything he can to avoid peace with the Palestinians. He has maintained the occupation of the West Bank; he has continued to wage economic warfare against 1.5 million Palestinians trapped in Gaza; he has attempted to seize what remains of Occupied East Jerusalem; and he has refused to negotiate with any semblance of good faith.

His land-hunger apparently knows no bounds. He has given fanatical colonists free rein to expand their illegal colonies and subject their Palestinian neighbours to systematic violence — burning their crops, cutting down their olive trees, and desecrating their mosques.

It is no wonder that the Palestinians, despairing of Israel’s intentions, have decided to seek recognition of their state at the UN next September, an initiative to which Israel has reacted with something like panic. Recognition of Palestinian statehood by a large majority of UN members will not end the occupation, but it will further underline Israel’s isolation.

At home, Netanyahu has allowed far-right and ultra-religious elements to acquire ever-greater influence in the Israeli army, in society and in his own government and he has eroded Israeli democracy by promoting an oppressive and racist ideology, which he has done his best to translate into law. The latest example is the Boycott Prohibition Law, which inflicts severe punishments on anyone calling for a boycott of Israel — or of the produce of its illegal colonies.

The cost to Israel of these policies has been very steep. Its reputation and international standing have suffered hugely. It is seen in many Western diplomatic circles as a real nuisance. That a notorious and most undiplomatic bruiser, Avigdor Lieberman, has been put in charge of Israel’s foreign relations has not helped.

Meanwhile, Israel’s cruel behaviour towards the Palestinians has led to the emergence of a world-wide non-violent civil-resistance movement, known as the BDS campaign — Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions — aimed at making Israel come to its senses before catastrophe strikes.

Adverse impact

Although Israel seeks to justify its uncompromising stance by the absolute necessity to protect itself in a hostile environment, Netanyahu’s policies have actually dealt the sacred cow of security a lethal blow. Washington will no doubt continue to guarantee Israel’s ability to defeat any combination of its enemies — a guarantee actually written into American law. But on a deeper level, Netanyahu and his fellow extremists have themselves helped to bring about adverse changes in Israel’s strategic environment.

Israel’s key alliance with Turkey has been all but destroyed. The last nail in the coffin was last year’s brutal assault by Israeli commandos on the Mavi Marmara, a Turkish ship attempting to break the Gaza siege. Nine pro-Palestinian activists were killed. Turkey is seeking an apology and compensation for the dead. Lieberman says never.

For all its relentless demonisation of Iran, Israel has failed to drag the United States into war with Tehran. This marks a real setback for Israel’s formidable propaganda machine. Few if any observers believe Israel would dare strike Iran alone — and risk the inevitable, and probably devastating, consequences. So Iran’s nuclear programme proceeds unchecked.

Israel’s 1979 peace treaty with Egypt — which by removing the largest state from the Arab military line-up guaranteed Israeli supremacy for three decades — is under threat. The Treaty will probably survive, in form at least, but the revolutionary changes now taking place in Egypt have emptied it of its content. There will be no more Egyptian collusion with Israel against the Palestinians or against Iran.

Despite all its efforts, Israel has failed to dismantle the Tehran-Damascus-Hezbollah axis which has been a major obstacle to US-Israeli regional hegemony over the past several years. In spite of intense lobbying against Syria in the United States by American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) and the Washington Institute, AIPAC’s sister organisation, and in spite of a similar campaign in Europe by pro-Israeli groups, Syria and its axis have both so far survived.

President Bashar Al Assad’s rigid and autocratic Syrian leadership is facing unprecedented opposition. Its attempt to silence the protests with violence has been rightly condemned. But the situation does not seem to be regime-threatening -- or at least not yet. Meanwhile, in Lebanon, Syria’s Hezbollah ally remains politically and militarily strong. Taken together, however, these developments mean that Israel’s military supremacy over all its neighbours looks unsustainable in the longer term. It may eventually have to accept to live — horror of horrors — with a regional balance of power.

Of all the consequences of Netanyahu’s policies, the real damage has been to America. Netanyahu has humiliated Barack Obama, arrogantly dismissing his attempts at peace-making. The contest between them has given the world a demonstration of American impotence. Netanyahu has made nonsense of Obama’s overtures to the Arab and Muslim world. Shackled by lobbyists and by a venal Congress, the president has been unable to discipline his errant ally.

There are, of course, several reasons why the United States now faces great hostility in much of the Arab and Muslim world. The main reason is its own wars in Iraq, Afghanistan, and elsewhere, and the huge material and human damage these have caused. But its blind support for Israel has also been a major contributing factor.

Netanyahu’s adamant refusal to make peace with the Palestinians has been extremely costly for the United States. The cost will only grow as the occupation is prolonged and the prospect of peace fades away.

Meanwhile, a minor, often forgotten casualty of the conflict is Gilad Shalit, the captured Israel soldier rotting in a Gaza cellar for the past five years. True to form, Netanyahu has not wanted to reward the hated Hamas by releasing, in exchange for his freedom, a few hundred of the many thousands of Palestinians rotting in Israeli jails.


American Task Force on Palestine - 1634 Eye St. NW, Suite 725, Washington DC 20006 - Telephone: 202-262-0017