Reprinted from The National
Is Israel on the verge of civil war, as a growing number of Israeli commentators suggest, with its Jewish population deeply riven over the future of the occupation?
On one side is a new peace movement, Decision at 50, stuffed with former political and security leaders. Ehud Barak, a previous prime minister who appears to be seeking a political comeback, may yet emerge as its figurehead.
The group has demanded the government hold a referendum next year -- the half-centenary of Israel's occupation, which began in 1967 -- on whether it is time to leave the territories. Its own polling shows a narrow majority ready to concede a Palestinian state.
On the other is Benjamin Netanyahu, in power for seven years with the most right-wing government in Israel's history. On Friday he posted a video on social media criticizing those who want to end the occupation.
Observing that a Palestinian state would require removing hundreds of thousands of Jewish settlers currently living -- illegally -- on Palestinian land, Mr Netanyahu concluded: "There's a phrase for that. It's called ethnic cleansing."
Not only did the comparison upend international law, but Mr Netanyahu infuriated the Obama administration by implying that, in seeking to freeze settlement growth, the US had supported such ethnic cleansing. A spokeswoman called the comments "inappropriate and unhelpful" -- Washington-speak for deceitful and inflammatory.
But the Israeli prime minister is not the only one hoodwinking his audience.
Whatever its proponents imply, the Decision at 50 referendum is about neither peace nor the Palestinians' best interests. Its assumption is that yet again the Israeli public should determine unilaterally the Palestinians' fate.
Although the exact wording is yet to be decided, the referendum's backers appear concerned solely with the status of the West Bank.
An Israeli consensus believes Gaza has been free of occupation since the settlers were pulled out in 2005, despite the fact that Israel still surrounds most of the coastal strip with soldiers, patrols its air space with drones and denies access to the sea.
The same unyielding, deluded Israeli consensus has declared East Jerusalem, the expected capital of a Palestinian state, as instead part of Israel's "eternal capital."