Following the murder at Itamar, Gilad Sharon, son of PM Ariel Sharon, published this piece on Israel’s most important tabloid, Yedioth Ahronoth. It pretty much speaks for itself. The only thing that needs to be added is that recently, the young Sharon has joined Kadima – a supposedly center-left party led by Tzipi Livni.
The article was translated and posted in English on the rightwing Israel National News (Arutz 7) site. bold is mine:
Gilad Sharon: PA Nationalism is Only an Offshoot of Zionism
by Gilad Sharon
Let us not forget with whom we are dealing here. You can take the wild Palestinian beast and put a mask on it, in the form of some fluent English-speaking spokesman. You can also put on it a three-piece suit and a silk tie. But every once in a while – during a new moon, or when a crow’s droppings hit a howling jackal, or when pita with hyssop doesn’t come out just right – the wild beast senses that this is its night, and out of ancient instinct, it sets off to stalk its prey.
They’ll explain to us, and we’ll also explain to ourselves, how nice and beautiful peace is. We will argue excitedly and with deep inner conviction whether there should be an immediate peace agreement, or perhaps a series of interim agreements. We will discuss these and other such questions, all based on the assumption that on the other side they also think like us and also want quiet and tranquility.
But such an assumption is a rape of reality. A society that can thus sanctify death, and whose best of its youth are baby-stabbers, is simply not like ours. Even their leaders… condemn these acts only by claiming that they “harm the Palestinian cause.” There’s no moral issue here; it’s just a question of harm to the cause. Their three-piece suit is sullied with blood stains, and the mask falls off… and the image of the beast they tried to hide is once again revealed.
They look at us. We are everything they never were and never will be. We have a history and culture thousands of years old, we have a functioning, developing society – while they are just the offshoot of our Zionism. Their entire national story was born in the wake of Zionism. Even their self-definition as a people has no subsistence without us.
They look at themselves through our image. The more we succeed and progress, the more their hatred intensifies. We are the proof that it is possible to do it differently, that failures are not the result of destiny, but primarily of decisions and actions.
In any arrangement that might or might not come about, remember with whom we are dealing. Our security must always remain in our hands.
More than a week passed since PM Benjamin Netanyahu got back from Washington, and still there is no deal on the settlements moratorium. Attila Somfalvi, Ynet’s political correspondent, quotes an Israeli source:
“The Americans are showing signs of despair from Netanyahu. They don’t understand what he wants.”
An Israeli minister who is a member of the security cabinet (a decision-making forum within the government) says:
“The negotiations continue, but there are disagreements about some clauses in the document. There are talks with the United States, but things are moving slowly.”
Another cabinet minister adds that “Netanyahu apparently got himself in a mess with these talks. There is no document on the understandings [between Washington and Jerusalem], and it’s not clear when would the cabinet vote. The United States goes on a holiday, which would slow things even further… [However] delays do not mean that Netanyahu will not be able to pass the [settlements] freeze in the Cabinet.”
An American source told Ynet that “the administration is confused. They don’t understand what is it that Netanyahu want.”
It should be remembered that Netanyahu has the authority to fire any minister who opposes his policies, so the PM shouldn’t have any problems getting a decision he wants passed in the cabinet. It won’t be a first time: in 2004 Ariel Sharon fired Uzi Landau, a minister in his government that opposed the pullout from Gaza.
Netanyahu doesn’t prolong the settlements moratorium because that’s his choice, not because he can’t.
Take a few minutes to hear the story of Adeeb Abu Rahma of Bil’in. It’s not part of the big diplomatic news like the Obama-Netanyahu meeting this week, but in a sense, it’s more important. Far from being unique, this case captures most of what there is to know about the current stage of the Israeli occupation in the West Bank. It’s the kind of things you have to keep in mind when you read the morning news.
Adeeb Abu Rahma is a resident of Bil’in, the village which became the symbol of non-violent resistance to the occupation. A few years ago, Israel decided to build its security barrier on Palestinian land, and not on the Green Line, the historic border between Israel and the West Bank. The reason for this was PM Ariel Sharon’s desire to capture more land for new neighborhoods in some of the large settlements Israel was building in recent years, and to secure a reality in which most of the settlements are seen as part of Israel, and not something “across the border”.
The people of Bil’in, who had much of their land taken for the barrier project, filed a petition to the Israeli Supreme Court against the confiscation, and even had a partial victory: The court ruled that parts of the fence were not constructed on the village’s land for security reasons, and ordered it to be moved. The court failed to address the main issue – the decision to build the fence inside the West Bank rather than on the old border – but it didn’t really matter, because the army simply ignored the verdict. Three years later, the fence is still on its original location.
For five years now, a popular struggle against the fence has been taking place in Bil’in. Every week, Palestinians, Israelis and international activists are taking part in demonstrations. Most of the action consists of attempts to march to the village’s confiscated land; occasionally stones are thrown, but there was never a serious threat to the army forces there, and certainly not to Israeli civilians who live nearby.
Without much outside help or even support from the Palestinian Authority, these demonstrations had a tremendous effect. They relegitimized the Palestinian cause in the eyes of the international community, after the blow it suffered because of the suicide attacks of the Second Intifada. The protest also spread to other villages in the West Bank, and there are already talks of a third Intifada – this time, a non-violent one.
Israel is doing all it can to stop the protest in Bil’in. It used rubber covered bullets, tear gas, stun grenades and plastic bullets against the demonstrators. Bassem Abu Rahma, Adeeb’s cousin, was among those killed on the hills surrounding Bil’in, after suffering a direct hit of a tear gas canister. As can be seen in this video, Bassem (like all the rest of the protesters) wasn’t taking part in any violent act when he was hit, and the soldiers who shot him weren’t in any kind of danger.
A few months ago the army declared the entire Bil’in area a closed military zone, and stepped up the nightly raids on the homes of Palestinian residents. Many were arrested and held under “administrative detention”, without having any charges presented against them. This is standard procedure in the West Bank; there are currently 213 Palestinians imprisoned under administrative detention orders without charges or trial.
Adeeb Abu Rahma, a taxi-driver and father of nine, was knows as one of the prominent figures in the none-violent protest. Adeeb and his wife Fatima’s families have been cut by the fence from some 25 acres of their land on which they used to grow olive trees and cereals. In this video, you can see Adeeb in an emotional outburst in front of IDF soldiers:
Adeeb was arrested on 10 July 2009, while taking part in the weekly demonstration against the fence near Bil’in. He was brought before a military panel in Ofer Prison, North of Jerusalem, one of several Guantanamo-like facilities in Israel. After being held there for 11 months (no bail for Palestinians), Adeeb was convicted last month on charges of “incitement”, “disturbing public order” and “presence in a closed military zone”.
This is from Rechavia Berman’s report on his trail:
[Adeeb's] conviction was based on testimony of four minors – 14, 15 and two aged 16 years old – of which [the Shin Beit] got an admission… that Adeeb Abu Rahma told them to throw stones.
These Minors were taken forcibly from their homes at 3:00 in the morning, handcuffed and blindfolded, and kept this way until the next day at 2 PM, without being allowed to eat or to go to the toilets. They were questioned without the presence of a lawyer or a family member, as required even by army regulations.
During the court’s hearings, the military prosecutor argued that she has videotapes of the demonstrations to prove its case [against Abeed], but when Abu Rahma’s lawyer, attorney Gabi Lasky, asked to review this material, the prosecution claimed that the tapes were mysteriously deleted. In the interrogation of the minors there was not even a distinction between throwing leaflets […] and stone-throwing.
Despite all of this, the military court decided to send Adeeb to no less than two years in prison, a time in which his family will be left without its sole provider. Needless to say, his arrest and conviction were hardly mentioned by the Israeli media. These kinds of stories happen every day.
Meanwhile, on the same land but in a completely different universe, a Hebron settler named Yifat Alkoby – seen here harassing local Palestinians – was detained for slapping a soldier. According to a report in Haaretz (h/t Hagai Matar), Alkobi was throwing stones at Palestinians in Hebron, when a soldier approached her and asked her to stop. After Alkoby attacked the soldier, slapped and scratched him, she was arrested, only to be released after several hours (unlike the Palestinians in the West bank, Jews are brought before a civil court). Had Abeed Abu Rahma dared lay his hand on a soldier, he would have spent the next decade behind bars.
So there you have it all. The systematic confiscation of the land (sometimes illegally even by our own standards); the separated legal systems, with different laws for Jews and Arabs; the unproportional use of force against civilians and minors; the treatment of any kind of protest as “terrorism”, justifying special interrogation methods; the blind eye towards the settlers; and the failed notion that any of this would actually work, and the Palestinians would simply forget about their lands. In short, the injustice, cruelty and absurdity of it all.
This is the everyday level of the occupation, as I’ve first seen it 17 years ago as a soldier (though things have gotten much worse since). Adeeb’s case is not “an incident”, it’s part of a system. The occupation is not the work of a bunch of extreme settlers, but a national project in which the army and the Israeli legal system play the major role.
this is something many fail to understand: the heart of the story is not about murder, like some of the anti-Israeli propaganda claims (or should we say, most of the time it’s not about murder), but about the daily banalities of an evil system. Israel is not fighting a battle against Iran, Hezbollah or the International Jihad, like our government and its cheerleaders around the world want you to think; it is engaged in an effort to prevent basic human and civil liberties from millions of people.
Even the best of Hasbara talking points won’t blur this simple fact much longer. The world can’t go on turning its back on Adeeb Abu Rahma and the people of Bil’in. They deserve justice.
Many people, including supporters of the two state solution, have argued recently that the United States should not apply pressure on Israel in order to make it leave the West Bank. Their basic claim is that since evacuating the West Bank is in the long term interest of Israel, Israel, being a democracy, would do so itself, when the right time will come (for example, when it will face a reliable Palestinian leadership and receive assurances for its security). The role of the international community, these people argue, is to create the right conditions for such withdrawal. In Obama’s White House, it is said that Dennis Ross holds such view.
I will try to explain why I disagree with this approach, using something like a Rational Choice model. In short, Rational Choice theory claims that all humans try to maximize advantages by weighting costs against benefits when taking decisions. It sounds pretty self-evident, but there has been a lot of criticism regarding this notion. People might also argue that putting the Middle East and “rational” in the same sentence is somewhat absurd. However, I think that this could be a useful exercise for understanding the political dynamics in Israel. The main advantage of this line of reasoning is that it frees us from questions of ideology or character, which tend to blur our judgment.
The basic assumption of this model is that no leader will take an action that is likely to bring his downfall. In this context, we should remember that Israel’s political system is very unstable. It is one of the most direct systems in the West, which makes it very easy to bring down a Prime Minister.
Let’s look at Benjamin Netanyahu’s government: if he even declares he is going to evacuate settlements, let alone split Jerusalem, his rightwing partners will leave his government. Theoretically, Kadima and Labor could save him in the name of peace, but Tzipi Livni and Ehud Barak are rational actors as well (for the sake of this debate. Nobody knows what goes on in Barak’s mind). What do you think will happen when they have a shot at getting Netanyahu out of the way and going immediately to elections? Naturally, they won’t do it over the peace process, because their voters would punish them. It will be on some side issue, but the outcome will be just the same: the government falls and we would have elections.
Netanyahu, of all people, knows that: this is exactly what happened to him in his previous term as PM: after hesitating for two years, he handed Hebron to the Palestinians. The settlers left the government, the Left imposed new elections in 1999, and Netanyahu lost to Ehud Barak.
But even if our leader is able to pull it off politically, his troubles are just beginning: Every Prime Minister that will try to evacuate settlements will have to confront the settlers and their establishment for what would be their political showdown. The settlers will have nothing more to loss; all scenarios, from a fierce political fight to a civil war, are possible. Israel had around 9,000 settlers in Gaza, most of them considered “moderates” or non-ideological – and still, evacuating them left a political and social trauma that the country has yet to overcome. The offers made by Ehud Barak and Ehud Olmert to the Palestinians would have had at least ten times this number of hardcore ideologist evacuated. I don’t think anyone can tell which way this might go. And here is the real nugget: estimates are that around 25 percent of combat soldiers in Israel are national-religious, some of them already declared that they wouldn’t take part in evacuations of Jews.
I’m not saying evacuating the settlements is impossible. I’m just claiming that it will be very hard to carry out. All evidence from the past show how high the cost of handing territory to the Palestinians is: out of the three PM’s who tried to do this, one (Netanyahu) fell from power, the other (Sharon) had to split his own party and didn’t finish the job, and a third (Rabin) paid with his life.
Here is the heart of the matter: an Israeli leader who considers withdrawal from the West Bank and evacuation of settlements needs to ask himself what’s the political price he might pay, and compare it with the political price of maintaining the status quo. The lower the cost of the status quo is, the less likely is the Israeli leader to evacuate settlements.
In order to increase the likelihood of evacuation, one must increase the political cost of maintaining the status quo (lowering the cost of evacuation doesn’t seem very likely). Unless we do so, the Israeli leader is likely to avoid negotiations or negotiate forever, hoping that political circumstances might change in his favor.
Why the PM’s brilliant political moves this week won’t help him
This was one of the strangest weeks I can remember in Israeli politics. It started with everybody waiting for a prisoner exchange deal with Hamas that could change the diplomatic reality in the entire region – just to forget it immediately as PM Benjamin Netanyahu’s move against Kadima was reveled. Gilad Shalit was back in his cave in a split of a second, and all attention was turned to the seven backbenchers who supposedly agreed to deflect from Kadima to Likud, thus making Netanyahu’s coalition – which is fairly strong as is – significantly more stable.
Even as it turned out that Netanyahu wasn’t able to split Kadima (only one Knesset Member, the unimportant Eli Aflalo – known mostly for his impressive mustache – announced his departure from the opposition party), it seems that he handed his political opponent the blow of her career. Now Tzipi Livni has to chose between abandoning her entire political strategy and accepting Netanyahu’s offer to join his coalition, to trying to keep her party together in the opposition – a task which seems much more daunting by the day, if no entirely impossible.
In the last couple of days, many pundits were praising the PM for his brilliant move. Here is for example Amir Mizroch, news editor at The Jerusalem Post, on his blog:
If he had managed to pull it off, Netanyahu would have stepped up a level as a political operator. This was a Sharon-like move. In fact, this was the move designed to counter Sharon’s establishment of Kadima. Sharon undone. Disengagement from Kadima. If he had managed to pull it off…
But to what end?
When Yitzhak Rabin was split Tzomet party in 1995 he did it to pass the Oslo agreement in the Knesset, once it was clear that the Orthodox Shas would vote against it; and when Ariel Sharon split the Likud he did it to carry out his plan of unilateral withdrawal from the Palestinian territories. Netanayhu, it seems, is trying to break Kadima for little more than getting even at his political opponents. The only reason that would really require Netanyahu to strengthen the left flank of his coalition is some sort of diplomatic progress with the Palestinians or with Syria. With regards to Iran, the Goldstone report, the Hamas and Gilad Shalit, the Knesset and the public are more than likely to support whatever decision the PM would take.
Right now there are no negotiations with the Palestinians or the Syrians, and in any case, all indications are that Netanyahu wouldn’t go one step further than where the White House forces him. He accepted the two state solution because of president Obama’s speech in Cairo, and he agreed to a partial settlement freeze only after tremendous pressure from Washington. As even some of Netanyahu’s supporters recognized, in both cases, his move came too late to hand him real political gains, and the world remained suspicious of the Israeli PM’s agenda.
This is something that characterized Netanyahu’s approach to politics throughout his career: he (almost) never initiates moves. He always reacts. This has nothing to do with ideology, Left or Right. There are leaders on the right who try to shape reality themselves (Ariel Sharon and George W Bush come to mind, and maybe that’s part of the reason they had such good personal relations), as there are some leaders on the Left who tend to react to events. It’s a matter of personality. Read the rest of this entry »
Abu-Mazen – who did as Netanyahu ordered and withdrew the demand to discuss the Goldstone report in the UN Council for Human Rights, only to be humiliated publicly by the PM and his Foreign Minister – has learned the real lesson we have been giving the Palestinians for so long: That if you try to do business with Israel, you stand the risk of losing all you have, and in return, you will get nothing but shame and humiliation.
It’s no wonder he changed his mind. What else can he do, after Israel all but declared publicly that the Palestinian president supported the attack on his own people in Gaza?
It has been this way from the first Intifada, when we tried to crash the moderate local leadership, through the unilateral withdrawal and Sharon calling Abu-Mazen “a featherless chicken”, to this very day: Israel has always brought the worst fate on the moderate Palestinians. I guess we truly do prefer the Hamas. Read the rest of this entry »
As I write this, I still have 10 days until the end of my reserve service in the West Bank. It is my first service in the Palestinian territories in nine years. Until then I was a platoon commander in an infantry unit, and served on a regular basis in the West Bank and on Gaza strip, both during mandatory duty and on reserve. Seven years ago I decided I will not take part in the occupation anymore, and refused to enlist to my yearly service. I was sentenced to 28 days in army prison no. 6, and later removed from my commanding post. When the next call came, I was transferred to a civil defense unit (again, as platoon commander), which usually doesn’t carry out such missions. But lately the army changed its policy, and my unit was called for a 26 days service in the Jordan Vally area. Not “hardcore occupation” like the things I used to do in Hebron or Ramallah, but still, inside the West Bank.
Jewish settlements in WB, 2002 (click to enlarge). source: Betzelem
I’m going on reserve service, so I probably won’t be posting for two weeks or so. Meanwhile, here is what I’ve been thinking about lately.
On March 1998, just before his first campaign for the position of Prime Minister, Ehud Barak was interviewed on a one of the cable channels by Haaretz’s Gidon Levi. At one point, Levi asked Barak where his life would have leaded him, if he was born a Palestinian. “If I was at the right age,” the response had come, “I would have joined one of the terror organizations.”
Thus started a big controversy: some people thought Barak was taking a brave and candid approach, others argued that he was legitimatizing suicide attacks (most people didn’t notice at the time or don’t remember now, but Barak condemned the Palestinian attacks on civilians in the second part of his answer to Gidon Levi). Altogether, the answer might have been a slip of a tongue, but it certainly didn’t prevent Barak from beating Netanyahu in the 1999 elections. Levi himself tried the same trick on Ariel Sharon a few years later, but Sharon ducked the question. Maybe it’s better that way; I believe it is not for Israelis to pass judgment or to give advice on the way the Palestinians fight the occupation.
Still, I would like to use this approach to make a point about an abnormality in the current debate that never ceases to amaze me.
Let me put it this way: if I were a Palestinian “of the right age,” like Barak puts it, I wouldn’t have joined any terror organization, and in fact, I wouldn’t even support the Palestinian fight for an independent state. Instead, I would embrace Netanyahu’s “economical peace“.
The Israeli daily papers got into some sort of a fight this week over the state of foreign minister Avigdor Liberman’s criminal investigation. While Yedioth Ahronoth claimed that the police finished its work and the decision whether to file charges against Liberman is now at the hands of the legal counselor for the government, Meni Mazuz (who serves in Israel as the head of the prosecution as well), Maariv daily paper insisted that the investigation is not over yet. But both papers agree on the basic facts: according to sources in the police, substantial evidences of corruption was found, and a criminal charge against Liberman is all but inevitable.
Is the political career of the person labeled is “Israel’s Jorg Haider” is about to reach its end? It’s hard to tell. First, in a week marked by the return to politics of the star of the 90′s, Shas’ legendary leader, Aryeh Deri, one can only repeat the lesson given by Israel’s biggest comeback kid ever, Ariel Sharon: stay on the big wheel, because the ride never really ends (a somewhat ironic idea, considering Sharon’s years of coma, which have yet come to an end). Second, it is clear that Liberman won’t leave without a fight.
You can say that Benjamin Netanyahu raised impossible demands from the Palestinians in his “major diplomatic speech,” as he called it (full text here). You can say that he didn’t accept the American demand for a complete stop of all construction projects in the West bank and East Jerusalem. You can say that he spent most of his time repeating his usual narrative of peace-seeking Israelis and Arab Rejectionism, and that he was “boldly stepping into 1993“. And you would probably be right in saying all this.
But what I heard today was the last Israeli leader to accept the idea of a Palestinian state.
There is no national figure to the right of Netanyahu, only second rate extremists. Avigdor Liberman long ago accepted the idea of a Palestinian state. So did, in less than a decade, Ariel Sharon, Ehud Olmert and Tzipi Livni – all of them formerly Likud people, even hard-liners, who finally understood that from an Israeli point of view, even a Zionist one, there is no real alternative. Twenty years ago, even Labor leaders didn’t speak of a Palestinian state. It was considered a radical-leftist idea. Things changed; one can’t deny that – but at what price!
So much for historical perspective. Now we can take apart some of the smaller details of the speech:
● Negotiations: Netanyahu called for immediate negotiations with all Arab leaders, “without preconditions.” This in something Israeli leaders always said, and the Arabs will probably reject this idea again. The reason is simple: The only asset the Arab leaders are holding is the possibility of legitimizing Israel, and negotiations can be seen as a form of legitimation. That’s why most leaders will ask for something in return before engaging in direct talks – if not from Israel, than from the US.
● A Jewish State: Netanyahu wasn’t completely honest when he claimed to be ready to negotiate without preconditions. He had some conditions, especially for the Palestinian side. First, he asked Palestinians to recognize Israel as a Jewish state (in fact, if I got it right, he kind of asked the whole Arab world to do so). This is something the Palestinians will never do, because they would be betraying the cause of Palestinians citizens of Israel – which make up 20 percent of the population – for equal political and civil rights. But Netanyahu knows that this demand sounds good to the Israeli public, as well as to American Jews (unlike his insistence on building settlements), so he keeps on raising the issue, assuming it can help him out of tough corners in the future.
● Hamas: Netanyahu had another condition for the Palestinians. He demanded the PA does something the Israeli Army couldn’t do: remove Hamas from power and re-seize control over the Gaza strip. Again, Netanyahu probably knows that moderate Arab leaders, with the silent support of the Obama administration, are moving in the opposite direction, of establishing a Palestinian unity government that will be able to negotiate with Israel. The Hamas problem allows him to buy time.
In my view, this is currently the biggest obstacle in the way of the peace process. This is not about declaring something about a Jewish homeland, like the previous demand. We can always work out a fancy statement that will keep almost everyone happy. This is a real political mess: Hamas controls Gaza. The PLO controls the West Bank. Are we to establish three states? The position Netanyahu took actually gives veto power over any agreement to Hamas – and the PM might be counting on them to use it.
● Settlements: Thirty words. That’s what Netanyahu had to say about the issue which stood at the bottom of his confrontation with Obama, as well as his political problems at home. Bottom line: the PM presented the consensus he was able to build in his government as a response to the American demand. No new settlements will be built, and there will be no further confiscation of Palestinian land (I won’t go into the legal details, but this doesn’t mean much, because Israel decided long ago most of the land in the WB is “public land”, and therefore open for construction). We will have to see what Israel really does on the ground – and how the Administration responds – in order to judge both sides’ commitment to their positions.
● Borders, Security, Refugees and Jerusalem: we had nothing new here. A typical Israeli hard-line. Netanyahu even said at one point that “my positions on these matters are well known.” And that’s exactly how we should look at them – his positions, which will be subject to whatever happens at the negotiating table.
● And that’s my bottom line: I never thought – and I still don’t think – that Benjamin Netanyahu is the right man to lead Israel out of the West Bank (not to mention bring peace for the region). Not because he is a radical – Sharon was considered much worse before he took power – but because he hasn’t got the right character, nor the right ambitions. But he can still play a big role in this process, and if he does, this day will be remembered as his first step. It took Obama only two months to get him there. We should be optimistic.