x Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 24 July 2017

Netanyahu barely bothers to pretend to care about peace

Benjamin Netanyahu, acting as if he had won a big victory at the UN last week, just keeps building new settlements.

When I was in elementary school and in the Boy Scouts, pupils would often be enlisted in fund-raising drives going door-to-door in our neighbourhoods collecting money for various charities or causes (school or church-related projects, scouting trips, etc). Engaging in this exercise, year after year, taught us some lessons about human behaviour.

We learnt that there were those kind and generous souls who would give, and those who would not. Among the latter, we took note of those who would simply say "no", which was fine. But then there were those who felt the need to make up all kinds of excuses. A line we heard all-too-often was "I already gave at the office". This, we knew, meant the individual in question not only would not give, but also wanted to pretend that, really, he was not cheap or heartless.

We knew that the "gave at the office" line was a fabrication, since the charities for which we were raising funds did not collect at offices but relied on our door-to-door solicitations. Because the lie was so overused, it entered everyday language to signify a transparently false excuse.

I was reminded of how annoying this was this week as I read an interview with Israel's Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in The Jerusalem Post. At one point, the interviewer pressed Mr Netanyahu on whether or not he would consider a new "settlement freeze" to help to restart peace negotiations with the Palestinians. Mr Netanyahu's response was short, but telling: "I think we already gave at the office."

At first, I became angry as I recalled my disingenuous and dismissive neighbours trying to put me off by using this trite lie. And then, I thought, how interesting that this prime minister, who prides himself on his debating skills, could make such an obvious mistake.

Finally, I wondered whether Mr Netanyahu actually misspoke. Maybe he really meant: "I've been getting away with this ruse for years, so go away and leave me be. I didn't give before and won't give this time either."

In the rest of the interview, Mr Netanyahu told why he would continue to build where, when and how he pleased. Given recent events, he clearly feels emboldened to continue this way. Shortly after he returned from the UN stand-off over recognition of a Palestinian state, Israel moved forward on 1,100 new housing units in Gilo, a settlement on confiscated West Bank land that Israel illegally annexed to Jerusalem.

Mr Netanyahu returned from New York believing that he had won a great victory. He had helped to manufacture a crisis mood in Israel over Palestinian statehood by warning that a UN vote would be "doomsday". And, having trumped up a phoney crisis and survived, Mr Netanyahu considered himself to be a conquering hero.

It is true to form for Mr Netanyahu's record, which shows a pattern of outright deception accompanied by triumphalism. In his first term as prime minister in the 1990s, his platform promised to end the Oslo peace process. After he was forced by Bill Clinton, then the US president, to sign the Wye River Memorandum with the Palestinians, he refused to implement the same agreements.

He has consistently betrayed his "allies" in Washington, again crossing Mr Clinton when he destroyed Jabal Abul Ghanaim, the last green hill between Bethlehem and Jerusalem, which is now the site of Har Homa, a town of 18,000 settlers. All those settlements the US once called illegitimate - and the EU called illegal - are now "accepted realities" in the language of both the US and the EU. Remember the "outposts" that Israel promised to dismantle? They now have been linked to the rail network and utility grids.

In Mr Netanyahu's second term as prime minister, with a new US president warning against settlements, he again pretended to agree. Then, with support in the US Congress, he stood up to President Barack Obama on his home ground.

The US Congress is eating out of his hand, Republican presidential candidates are attacking Mr Obama and in an election year the Americans appear to believe that they have no choice but to support Israel. And if this were not enough, Mr Netanyahu just defied the entire United Nations.

His record is one of arrogance and transparent duplicity. After decades of peacemaking efforts, Mr Netanyahu has effectively ended the peace process, as Mr Clinton said late last month. But, as troubling as Mr Netanyahu's behaviour is, deeply dysfunctional US politics are enabling this obvious liar.

Mr Netanyahu did not "give at the office" or anywhere else. He has been playing the Americans for fools for decades. The longer this goes on, the dimmer the prospects for peace and the weaker the United States looks in the eyes of the world.

 

James Zogby is the president of the Arab American Institute