Arab News (Editorial)
December 16, 2011 - 1:00am

It would be a fine thing to believe what he says, except that Netanyahu himself leads a government that is one of the most extreme since Israel’s 1948 creation.

The reality is that the views and attitude of the gang of settlers who have just been arrested and charged with these appalling and deliberately inflammatory crimes are merely a logical extension of the Eretz Israel (Greater Israel) policies that underpin Netanyahu’s Likud Party and his no-less radical coalition allies.

He has refused to stop the expansion of illegal settlements on Palestinian land as a precondition to talks demanded by the Palestinians. Government spokesmen speak openly of the changing “facts on the ground.” Netanyahu is, therefore, sponsoring a further substantial theft of land in the occupied West Bank and East Jerusalem. As each of these ugly, fortress-like new settlements is completed, the Israeli government, like its predecessors, is offering extremely generous financial inducements to attract Israelis to go and live in them.

How can a government that steals a neighbor’s land and gives it to its own people, possibly be surprised that these heavily-armed settlers, with their swaggering arrogance and utter contempt for anyone’s opinion but their own, should start to attack mosques, beat up Palestinians and behave like thugs? There is no substantive difference between the criminality of government-sponsored settlements on Palestinian land and the hate attacks on mosques, the torching of vehicles and the daubing of racist graffiti.

In the circumstances, it is not, therefore, surprising that Netanyahu resisted calls to brand this loathsome campaign of violence as the work of “terrorists.” The sensitivity of the word is clear. The barbarous 2009 bombardment of Gaza was an act of state terrorism, in response to the pinprick rocket attacks from this Palestinian enclave. So too was the massive aerial and artillery assault on Lebanon two years earlier.

However, presumably even Netanyahu must have had public pause for thought, when the now-leading candidate for the Republican Party presidential nomination, Newt Gingrich, declared the Palestinians to be “an invented people.” While such a hostile analysis may very well reflect Netanyahu’s private prejudices, as an accomplished international political wheeler dealer, even he can see the damage that such a comment can inflict on Israel’s bargaining position. Israel’s policy under Netanyahu is to pretend it wants to negotiate with the Palestinians. It cannot pretend that they do not exist.

Gingrich may have imagined that by airbrushing the Palestinians out of Middle East history and protesting his unwavering support for Israel, he was sewing up the US Zionist vote. Yet some of this target audience are reportedly appalled, not so much at what he said, but that he thought it wise to say it publicly.

Israel has prospered from over 60 years of covert support from Washington. The US handed over money, weaponry and technology. And what the Americans did not give, Israeli spies, such as Jonathan Pollard, have stolen. On top of this, Washington has blocked resolution after resolution from the UN that has sought to establish Israeli crimes against the Palestinians.

However, never before has a mainstream US politician gone so far in his backing for Israel, as to effectively deny the existence of the Palestinians. Thus the mercurial and inconsistent Gingrich may actually have lost himself a bunch of Zionist votes, for fear that were he to win the White House, his extremism would isolate Washington from international opinion, which would then endanger continued US support for Israel.

The fictional Zionist picture of a brave little democratic Israel for ever battling for survival in the face of implacable Arab threats is torn, stained and faded. Israel’s democracy is even in question since its introduction to Parliament this November of legislation that forbids “defamatory” statements against the Israeli state. Now in response to the wave of “extremist” violence against Palestinian targets, Netanyahu wants rioters tried in military courts.

How long will it be, one wonders, before this measure is used principally against Palestinians?


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