x Abu Dhabi, UAETuesday 16 January 2018

Israel’s atmosphere of hate is Netanyahu’s true legacy

Incitement and violence against Palestinians flourishes in a particular political culture, writes Faisal Al Yafai - one that has been cultivated to put the possibility of peace beyond reach

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has allowed a culture of impunity on incitement against Palestinians to thrive (AP Photo/Gali Tibbon)
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has allowed a culture of impunity on incitement against Palestinians to thrive (AP Photo/Gali Tibbon)

In the last eight weeks, at least eight teenagers have been killed in cold blood in Israel and Palestine. In May, Nadeem Nouwarah and Mohammad Odeh Salameh were shot dead by Israeli troops as they walked in the West Bank. A few weeks later, Eyal Yifrach, Gilad Shaar and Naftali Frenkel were kidnapped and killed. In the days that followed, Yousouf Ibrahim and Mohammed Dudin were killed and last week Mohammed Abu Khdeir was kidnapped and burnt alive.

It shouldn’t matter what nationality these boys were. None of them was older than 19, growing up in a society where the hatred of adults was foisted on to them.

And yet their nationality does matter, because their deaths illustrate a problem with both Israeli and Palestinian society, the privileging of one group over the other. Israel today is a two-tier society, which dispenses justice to some and creates injustice for others, based purely on race and religion. It is a problem created and maintained by politics.

The nationality of those teenagers is directly connected to whether their killers will ever be found or face justice. The statistic that since 2000 Israel has, on average, killed a Palestinian child every three days is well-known, but what lies behind that number is a system of privilege and impunity, a system that empowers the worst elements in both societies.

It is a culture that allows racist attacks and open incitement against Palestinians. A legal and political culture that privileges Israeli Jews over Muslims and Christians. A culture that privileges Israeli troops regardless of behaviour; a system that has made extortion a tool of politics, making the kidnappers of the three Israeli teenagers believe it was valid to use them as bargaining chips.

But such hate is not endemic to Israeli nor Palestinian society. It flourishes in a particular political atmosphere.

Writing about this in Haaretz, an Israeli newspaper, the journalist Gideon Levy lays the blame squarely on the prime minister.

“The youths of the Jewish state are attacking Palestinians in the streets of Jerusalem, just like gentile youths used to attack Jews in the streets of Europe. These are the children of the nationalistic and racist generation – Netanyahu’s offspring.”

It is Mr Netanyahu, Levy writes, who has offered nothing but “incitement, scaremongering and supremacy over Arabs”.

This week, under immense pressure from the US, Mr Netanyahu has made the right noises, promising to respond aggressively to incitement and prosecute the killers of Mohammed Abu Khdeir.

The problem goes beyond one prime minister, however. Mr Netanyahu is merely the most successful exponent of a politics that goes back to the rise of the right in the 1990s.

In the aftermath of Oslo, Israeli right-wingers recognised that, if they wanted to continue to hold on to Palestinian land, they would need democratic support for such an extreme position.

The narrow nationalism that politicians of the right have expounded since has been deliberately engineered to cultivate extreme positions among Israelis, so that democracy would always put the possibility of peace beyond reach.

Politicians may talk of “no peace partner” with a wry smile – but ordinary Israelis, particularly those who have recently arrived from the countries of the former Soviet Union, genuinely believe it. As much as Palestinian and Israeli civil society seeks to bring the two sides together, their efforts (valiant though they are) are lost in a swamp of ugly rhetoric, a cacophony of politics without humanity.

It is that sort of narrow nationalism that has come to define Israel’s right-wing. Indeed, it defines Israel’s politics today, because the centre has shifted over the past two decades.

The real legacy of this fear-mongering has been to make peace impossible, to put a just solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict out of reach. And not just a particular two-state solution, but any solution whatsoever.

The two most realistic scenarios for a lasting peace today are a two-state solution or a one-state solution. But Israelis sharing a border with Palestinians – or, more difficult to imagine, a country – is impossible in this current atmosphere. There is a profound lack of trust.

Beyond those two possibilities lies an abyss, a country that continues an occupation without end. Indeed, it is looking extremely likely that Israel’s right-wing will one day try what they have been whispering about – a mass expulsion of Palestinians from Israel itself. Such a scenario – unthinkable for most, but something that passes for policy in the Tel Aviv bubble – would make Israel a political pariah for years, destroying the economy and making life far grimmer for Israelis and Palestinians.

Politicians like Mr Netanyahu are leading Israel down a road to nowhere. Under his leadership, the country that today’s teenagers will inherit is growing darker by the day.

falyafai@thenational.ae

On Twitter: @FaisalAlYafai