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Israel-Palestine: Trumped, Part 1: Why the Israeli Right Will Never Negotiate

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As is widely known, President Trump recently declared that the United States recognizes Jerusalem as the capitol of the State of Israel and that he intends to move the U.S. Embassy there as soon as it is feasible to do so. He also announced that architects and engineers will be getting to work on the design. Since he does try to make personal income out of his Presidency (see for example his golf courses, his Mar-a-Lago Club, and his Washington hotel), one wonders if he will be directing that the work be done a) by Trump-connected firms, b) how tall the building will be, and c) if it will be named something like "The Trump Embassy," or "The U.S. Embassy/Trump Tower." (For a fuller discussion of what Trump has done and what it means see "Trump's Lethal Decision on Jerusalem ," retailing a conversation between Prof. Francis Boyle, a long-time legal advisor to the Palestinian Liberation Organization, and Dennis Bernstein, the host of "Flashpoints" on the Pacifica Radio Network.)

At any rate, the move is weighed down in symbolism. Among other things, it indicates that the U.S. has in reality given up trying to be an "honest broker" in the never-ending, on-again/off-again talks between the Israeli government and the Palestinians. Of course, it has always been known that the U.S. has never been a diplomatically fully neutral party. But the appearances of that status that successive U.S. governments have tried to maintain, even while providing much maintenance for the Israeli Defense Force, will now largely be a thing of the past. Which is just fine with Trump's soul-mate, Bibi Netanyahu, his party Likud, and the small ultra-"religious" right-wing parties on which Likud is dependent for staying in power. Why?

Separation Wall - Bethlehem
Separation Wall - Bethlehem
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The Israeli Right traces its history back to the 1920s and its early leader Ze'ev Jabotinsky. (A distinction for Jabotinsky was that in the 1930s the leader of the Labor Zionists, David Ben-Gurion, labeled him as the "Jewish Hitler.") A major doctrine of Right-Wing Zionism was that any future Jewish state should occupy all of the Biblical Land of Israel, between the Mediterranean and the Jordan River. The Israeli holds to this doctrine to this very day. Since they know that this objective cold never be achieved through negotiations with the Palestinians, they of course have no interest in ever entering into any meaningful negotiations with them.

But there are a variety of reasons why Netanyahu and Likud (the right-wing party directly descended from Jabotinsky) do not want to ever engage in substantive negotiations. That is the subject of the balance of this column. Of course, historically the only way that Israel could be made to seriously come to the negotiating table was through U.S. pressure. With his decision, Trump has virtually announced that such pressure will not be forthcoming during his Administration. Made entirely for political reasons at home (oh man, his evangelical base just loves it --- for the "Rapture" to occur the Land of Israel with Jerusalem as its capitol must be in place --- the Right-Wing/Orthodox Jews who covet the Land of Israel for different reasons), he has managed to turn off even his close authoritarian friends in the Arab world. At any rate, on with the analysis of why Likud will never negotiate (unless the U.S. were to withdraw its support for the Israeli military, something no U.S. President has ever even contemplated).

Henry Siegman is a former President of the Synagogue Council of America and the American Jewish Congress, and served on the executive committee of the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) for nearly thirty years, from 1965 to 1994. In 2011 Rabbi Siegman published a lengthy column on the Israel-Palestine conflict in the June 11th edition of The Nation titled, "Can Obama Beat the Israel Lobby?" In it Rabbi Siegman held that an understanding of the current state of affairs dealing with the conflict must begin with an understanding that the current government of Israel has absolutely no interest in negotiating with the Palestinians, never has and never will. I was fascinated to read Rabbi Siegman's lengthy column, for it supports a view that I have long held. Rabbi Siegman presents very convincing evidence for the position, including the fact that many Israelis agree with it.

In Israeli governments, this stance goes back to that of Yitzhak Shamir. Shamir was the Prime Minister after Menachim Begun, who had, under intense US pressure from the Carter Administration, negotiated the peace settlement with Egypt (but not the Palestinians). Shamir, a former leader of the "Stern Gang," a Right-wing-Zionist terrorist organization formed during World War II to fight the British, famously said that he just loved negotiations. Just as long as they went on and on and never came to any conclusions. (Begun was actually the first former Right-wing-Zionist terrorist to become Prime Minister of Israel. He was a former leader of Irgun, a larger and better organized group than the Stern Gang, from which the latter had split when it felt that Irgun was not radically anti-British enough.)

Succeeding Shamir in 1992 was Yitzhak Rabin, a former Chief-of-Staff of the Israel Defense Force. Rabin had come to be firmly in favor of a negotiated settlement. In 1995 he was assassinated by a far-rightist Israeli. Negotiations, at that time based on a document called the "Oslo Accords" (in which the border between the two proposed countries was effectively to be the "Green Line" of 1967), came to a halt. The "Green Line " more-or-less follows the border between the State of Israel and Palestinian territory as it stood at the end of the "Six Day War" in 1967. Adoption of any version of it in a negotiated settlement would of course preclude the establishment of "Greater Israel."

Talks were re-started at the end of the term of President Bill Clinton, with the last center-left Israeli Prime Minister, Ehud Barak. They ended with a resounding thud at the end of the Clinton Presidency. Just who was or were responsible for the collapse remains unclear to this day. But Ariel Sharon had been elected Prime Minister and he was totally opposed to any meaningful negotiations. Under the Presidency of George W. Bush, he had nothing to worry about. But worry he did, so much so that whenever there seemed to be a slight step forward being taken, somehow there would be a terrorist incident or two. There was not just one voice inside Israel, including an occasional member of the Knesset (Parliament), who thought that at least on some occasions these happenings were not coincidental (agents provocateurs, anyone?)

Bibi Shows Cartoon of Mass Destruction to UN (and just who is launching those rockets, anyway?)
Bibi Shows Cartoon of Mass Destruction to UN (and just who is launching those rockets, anyway?)
(Image by DonkeyHotey)
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With the rise to power of Benyamin Netanyahu, guessing games about whether the Right-Wing Israeli government is interested in seriously negotiating or, as Rabbi Siegman firmly says, they are not, are no longer necessary. One of Netanyahu's former Foreign Secretaries, Avigdor Lieberman, a former Russian (and quite secular) Jew, openly talked about expulsion, not only of the Palestinians from the Occupied Territories, but also of Arab Israeli citizens from the State of Israel. The day before Netanyahu met with President Obama in 2011, the Deputy Speaker of the Knesset and a prominent Likudnik, Danny Danon, said, in an Op-Ed published in The New York Times (May 19, 2011) that Israel should simply go ahead and annex the Occupied Territories. Shortly thereafter, Netanyahu refused to meet in Israel with a visiting delegation from the US Congress organized by J-Street, the pro-peace US liberal Jewish lobbying organization. "Just don't want to talk about negotiatin,' no way, no how, donchaknow."

Then there is the whole moving-the-goalposts gambit, like the bunch of right-wing Israeli government pre-conditions that is now so large that it includes the prior recognition of Israel not just as a state (which Saudi Arabia voluntarily agreed to in 2002 in a peace initiative totally ignored by their oil-soul-mates in the White House as well as Israel, of course) but as a Jewish state. And further: Hamas would not be allowed at any negotiating table (even though they are the elected representatives of the Gazan population and some respected authorities think that their "we don't recognize Israel" position [actually not held by all of its leadership] is nothing but a bargaining chip, of which they have precious few others); a discussion of Palestinian repatriation could not be on the agenda either, even though the leading Palestinian negotiator, Saeb Erekat, has, since the draft peace settlement "Geneva Accords," negotiated by himself and a former center-left Israeli government Cabinet Minister Yossi Beilin in 2004, accepted a token 50,000 as his negotiating starting point.

And so the question arises, "Why?" Why is the Israeli Right so opposed to a settlement with the Palestinians based on a two-state solution, with the Palestinian state being demilitarized and Israel having some kind of military presence along the Palestinian portion of the River Jordan? This is a question that does not often arise in discussions of the Israel/Palestine conflict, but to my mind it is the central one. For it explains why there will never be a settlement until either the Israeli people replace the governing Right-Far Right coalition or the United States forces a settlement down its throat, as suggested in the article by Rabbi Siegman. And the latter has become a total impossibility for as long as Trump, or any Republican successor like the Dominionist Mike Pence (who may, unlike the irreligious Trump, actually believe in the Rapture) is President.

1. In the Woody Allen movie Sleeper, when he awakens from a (very) deep sleep after the end of a catastrophic world war and is asked what started it, he replies, "well, there was a man named Albert Shanker." As noted above, it was Ze'ev Jabotinsky who started it for Israel/Palestine. It was he who laid down the dictum that the long-range solution for what would become Israel was to establish a state within what has been held for millennia to be the Biblical boundaries of "The Land of Israel" "granted to the Jews" "by God." Questions of logic, history, and legality do not figure into this configuration for a modern State of Israel. For Jabotinsky, like Lieberman, the solution to the problem of the Arab peoples living there was a simple one: expulsion.

Netanyahu's father was a secretary to Jabotinsky. Ariel Sharon's parents were close associates of his, and Begun's Irgun was strongly influenced by him. At the time of the UN-sponsored Partition of the British Palestinian Mandate into Jewish and Arab sectors in 1947, the one-third of the Jewish Agency that represented the Jabotinskyites voted against accepting it. So Jabotinsky's, " 'The Land of Israel' is ours and no one else's regardless of who else happens to be living there perhaps for quite some time," position has been at the center of the political ideology of all of the generations of the Israeli Right. Of course, presently it is convenient for the Israeli Right to have the support of a strong branch of the US Republican Christian Right which also supports the creation of the modern "Land of Israel," but for different reasons than those held by any Israelis. As noted, it is that element of the Republican Party to which Trump is appealing in part with his "Jerusalem is the capitol" decision.

2. If a settlement were to be arrived at, Israel would face the very real possibility of the outbreak of some kind of civil war. A significant proportion of the settlers on Palestinian lands are not Israelis by birth but in fact right-wing American Jewish e'migre's, often Orthodox. The biblical, "Land of Israel" story (which of course has no relevance to present day reality) is in their blood and they might very well be willing to spill quite a bit of the latter to defend the former. A right-wing Israeli government, built partially on the backs of the settlers, would have a very hard time opposing them, especially with force.

3. Finally, and this may be the key point, if there were a comprehensive settlement, with the establishment of a Palestinian state, the Israeli Right would likely become politically irrelevant. To administer a country finally at peace after decades of wars, pseudo-wars, and threats of war, almost certainly a new Center-Left coalition, with strong representation from the Arab-Israelis, would be voted into power. And then where would that leave the wealthy in a country which is rapidly approaching the United States in the rich/everyone-else split? Where would that leave the Israeli arms industry? Where would that leave the Israeli Defense Force and Mossad? Where would that leave the tiny religious parties and their outsized influence on social policy in return for their few votes in the Knesset that puts Likud over the top? Not good for their side, one should think.

The day before the May 20, 2011 Obama-Netanyahu meeting, an ad in The New York Times signed by 100 Israelis, high-ranking former military and Mossad commanders, numerous winners of the Israel Prize, and a number of other well-known political and academic leaders, sponsored by the pro-Israel/Palestine peace organization J-Street, was headed, "Act Now: To Achieve a Two-State Solution," based on the 1967 borders. That in itself did not bode well for the Israeli Right, should peace ever be achieved. Now with Trumpist policy in place, Jared Kushner to the contrary notwithstanding, the Israeli Right has absolutely nothing to worry about.

Part 2 of this series, "Likud, the Republicans, and their Respective Class Interests," also based on a previously published column, will appear next week.


Note: This column is largely based on one that was originally published on June 16, 2011, under the title "Why the Current Israeli Government Will Not Negotiate," on The Planetary Movement, at: click here

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Steven Jonas, MD, MPH, MS is a Professor Emeritus of Preventive Medicine at StonyBrookMedicine (NY) and author/co-author/editor/co-editor of over 35 books. In addition to his position on OpEdNews as a ├ éČ┼"Trusted Author,├ éČ Ł he is a Senior (more...)
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