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W. E. Gutman: Netanyahu’s 10-month settlement ‘freeze’ a sham

The Long View

Posted: December 26, 2009 7:12 p.m.
Updated: December 27, 2009 4:55 a.m.

In an editorial published back East in August 1997, I urged Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to resign.

I opposed the expansion of settlements in Israeli-occupied areas of Palestine and called for an immediate and permanent cessation to the expropriation of Arab lands, a practice still regarded around the world as a blatant provocation and an open invitation to unrest and violence.

I further argued that dastardly alliances with jingoist generals; unholy covenants with religious zealots in Brooklyn and Jerusalem who use ideological extortion to force a theocracy on a largely secular society; the inexplicable compulsion to scuttle peace negotiations, a wrathful disdain toward international censure, a savage antipathy toward the Palestinian people — all hallmarks of an administration oscillating between clumsiness and aberration — posed grave dangers to peace in the Middle East.

In short, Netanyahu’s regime, I said, was a calamity and a recipe for disaster.

My views, roundly criticized in the press, would be validated by ensuing events. Netanyahu’s stern and capricious governance brought not one iota of security — perceived or actual — to Israel.

Instead, as successive political crises between his government and the Palestinian Authority deepened, Jews and Arabs became mired in frustration and endless conflict.

His combative style and pugnacious rhetoric exhumed and reignited old hatreds, reopened unhealed wounds and fomented a new swell of cynicism, misgivings and suspicions.

Israelis were demoralized. Israel’s friends abroad were exasperated. Negotiating partners were unnerved.

Bitterness and rancor deepened with every stroke of his ministerial pen, with every hostile decree, every calculated vacillation, every broken word — every rubber bullet fired at stone-throwing youths.

This pernicious alchemy, in the name of national defense, yielded confusion, anxiety, sorrow and yes, insecurity. Stimulated by the wild possibility of a peaceful settlement of their protracted conflict, Israelis and Palestinians were now bewildered and apprehensive.

Neither side could endure the suspense and agony of occupation, piecemeal concessions and erratic, snail-paced progress routinely nullified by spasms of retributive violence.

Last, echoing the musings of distinguished Israeli journalist Yosef Lapid, who wrote that the prime minister exhibited “a crass disregard for reality and humanism,” I described Netanyahu’s vision of peace and security as “trapped in paranoia and the corruptive forces of chauvinism.”

Twelve bloodstained years later and after weeks of infighting, Netanyahu was re-elected Prime Minister.

It was clear from Day 1 that he was putting Israel on a new collision course with the Palestinians, Arab neighbors and even its long-time American ally. His elegant oratory, which betrayed his notorious ultra-nationalism, his intransigence and deep-rooted hostility toward Arabs, ruled out any possibility that a modus vivendi could ever be reached.

Netanyahu — MIT-educated — laid waste to the delicate foundations for peace that were being erected. Issued from the sword and resting on the Bible, his policies have daunted and discouraged serious attempts to bring about regional security and stability.

His lifelong antagonism toward the Palestinians, whom he considers “a sinister and divisive element,” has palliated the religious right, whose enormous financial resources helped underwrite his campaign and whose gluttonous territorial expansionist objectives he has vigorously endorsed.

Prodded by the Obama administration to freeze settlements as a way of jump-starting the comatose “peace process,” Netanyahu grudgingly announced a 10-month ban on new housing projects in the West Bank.

“How can we believe the words of a prime minister who promised that our communities would flourish, and now freezes them?” asked the spokesman of a settler group on the West Bank.

Valid point. A better question might be: “How can the rest of the world trust the pronouncements of a man whose actions have clearly betrayed a strategic distaste for peace?”

The answer may astonish the settlers but will surprise few political pragmatists.

First, the freeze excludes East Jerusalem. Second, Netanyahu, who has immodestly asked the Palestinian Authority to “take advantage of the 10-month window and resume negotiations,” will exploit any predictable disturbance to rescind the freeze.

Given these sobering realities and the volatile political landscape on which he has cast his shadow, it is disheartening to conclude that the once-and-yet-again prime minister, his colossal ambitions fulfilled and his hawkish supporters placated, is simply unable to understand that hard line begets hard line, that security by intimidation, repression and economic persecution produces animosity and insecurity.

He who sows the wind reaps the tempest.

Meanwhile, as the Palestinians, outnumbered, marginalized strangers in their own land, are fighting to preserve fragments of their patrimony, a new synagogue is rising on confiscated land.

W. E. Gutman of Rosamond is a widely published veteran journalist, author and a former press officer at Israel’s Consulate General in New York. His column reflects his own views and not necessarily those of The Signal.


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