Netanyahu Isn’t In Charge Here

Gershom Gorenberg

My new column at the American Prospect explains why Netanyahu refused to extend the settlement freeze, and what’s missing from U.S. diplomacy.

The confession of weakness was startling. Israeli Defense Minister Ehud Barak was explaining to the BBC why Israeli-Palestinian peace talks should continue despite Israel’s refusal to extend its freeze on new building in West Bank settlements. People had to understand, he said, “Israel doesn’t have a way to stop this building totally.”

Barak is the civilian official directly responsible for the Middle East’s strongest military. He’s also responsible for governing the West Bank, since it’s under military occupation. Nonetheless, he says he just can’t stop settlers from revving up the cement mixers. Since settlement constructions are intended not merely to provide homes but also to set Israel’s borders and reduce its diplomatic options, Barak is also admitting that the government has ceded its monopoly on foreign policy.

Only a bit more subtly, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu showed his own weakness on Sunday. It was the last day of the 10-month building moratorium, which Netanyahu had refused to renew despite the high risk of sabotaging the peace talks. But Netanyahu at least wanted to avoid in-your-face displays of new construction — like the public groundbreaking planned at the settlement of Revava that evening. Netanyahu reportedly asked the organizers — settlement leaders and Knesset backbencher Danny Danon of his own Likud party — to keep a low profile. It didn’t help. At Revava that evening, cement was poured, several thousand people cheered and released balloons, and Danon proclaimed, “the building freeze is over.” So much for party discipline.

Actually, there are two kinds of weakness here — and a more general lesson about diplomacy. One kind of weakness is that the government is afraid to enforce the law and its own decisions against settlers. Through aerial photography and visits to settlements, the Peace Now movement’s tracking effort found that construction of over 450 housing units began illegally during the freeze. The Israeli government surely could have located the same violations. It has police and troops available to stop them, but it is unwilling to confront the settlers. This is part of an old pattern: In a recent Supreme Court hearing about the government’s failure to demolish buildings put up on private Palestinian land back in 2005, the government’s attorney said the court shouldn’t interfere in enforcement priorities. Chief Justice Dorit Beinisch responded, “There are no priorities, because nothing is ever implemented.”

Read the rest here, and come back to South Jerusalem to comment.

13 thoughts on “Netanyahu Isn’t In Charge Here”

  1. Thank you once again for your anaylsis. That such minds are not in positions of policy power is a torture of human existence.

    I do not think, though, that Obama can save you. Change must be internal. The settler movement has this kind of power because the rest of the electorate has abrogated it. Why this has happened only Israelis can determine. Quasi liberal Americans mouthing off (as I do) will mean, do nothing.

  2. Obama speak to the Israeli public when he cannot even speak to the American public about the issue? 400,000 settlers are driving the policy not only of Israel but of a country of 300 million!

    Nothing new here, however. This nut to crack is the unstinting financial and military support that continues to arrive on schedule. As far as I know there was no linkage discussed in the F35 negotiations, not even a hint of it. Not a peep about linkage with Iron Dome financing.

    Just this morning I was reading about American Furkan Dorgan’s murder by Israeli commandos. No press hounding a silent US administration.

    The settlers are the mice that roar. This is a story that will live in the history books as a lesson in the possibilities of “democracy”.

  3. I think you are all missing the point here. The electorate in the Israeli democracy, the only democracry in the ME and one of the oldest democracies in the world, elected this government, with all its views. The problem is that Gershom and the rest of the world is letting the Palestinians define the issue around Israeli communities. They have nothing to do with a peace accord. The Palestinians still believe that someone out there will impose a solution to their liking. They also refuse to accept a Jewish State in the ME and they still refuse to stop broadcasting incitement to hatred on a daily basis ( see Palestinian Media Watch to see what PA tv was broadcasting this very Rosh Hashana). A Jewish community here or there will not stop a final agreement from being worked out. Only Palestinian unwillingness to accept a Jewish state and to trade their revolution for the realities of a real Palestinian state plus the reality of all the Arab dictatorships in the area prevent a resolution to this conflict.

  4. The latest news cycle rap on the President is that he is not generating the same enthusiasm and emotion that he was able to marshal in the presidential campaign Like Gregory says, talking directly to the Israeli people isn’t likely to effect the current coalition and their policies. It’s more likely to be seen as professorial lecturing and a turn-off.

    Until there’s actually some economic repercussions, “settlement sanctions”, whatever Americans say isn’t going to matter. The settlers are too committed, and the ruling government is in collusion with them as their elected representatives. The best face-saving the Israeli government can muster for their friends (Americans and Muslim moderates) is to pretend that somehow they aren’t responsible, that they don’t have the ability to control radicals in their midst. (Hhhmm … sort of like what Pakistan used to say about their radicals).

    I think Abbas should renounce the right of return today. Make a big, bold concession that’s totally unexpected. Even with that the Prime Minister will find a dodge, but it will make plain the true obstacle to talks.

  5. at the end of it all…the israelis , that is ,the ones not commited to suicde,can not trust the palestinians to live in peace ..no matter what consessions the palestinians are given….until the arab nations can convince the israelis they can and will be good neighbors…there will never be an agreement

  6. One kind of weakness is that the government is afraid to enforce the law and its own decisions against settlers.

    Netanyahu is not a prime minister who inspires his own party. He’s not someone who can declare a bold policy and sweep the public behind him.

    I was beginning to think that Abbas should stay in the negotiations because gaining a Palestinian state would be the best revenge against Israeli arrogance and lack of interest in peace. I agree Obama should have already spoken to the Israeli people, but why do Israeli’s even need Obama to convince them that a deal will make them safer and prevent the young from leaving? Why?

    It gets to the point that Israeli’s do not see peace as urgent.. or maybe even necessary. That gets to the feeling that there will have to be war, or ( better) a surge of strong pressure upon Israel, from within as well as the international community.

    If Abbas stays in these negotiations without a settlement freeze he will discredit himself because it is proven again here that Israeli’s cannot deliver. Israeli’s can keep pointing to Gaza.
    The claim that Palestinians can’t deliver is nullified. I think now that there is an equal chance or more of a chance that Palestinians can deliver than Israeli’s can deliver on any agreement, including a referendum on each side.

  7. This is not some sort of giant, never ending football game. People die, or their possibilities are truncated by fear and despair. Truncation on many to all sides, anger and hate reply to fear and despair, the primate mind hooting it will not fail. Each side ignores the costs incurred by other sides, Books of Life in only my ledger, come join me, or be blotted out.

    I misquoted the defining dictum of Hillel a few days ago, saying “What is hateful undo you do not do unto others.” I should have said not “others” but “neighbor.” But we have no neighbors anymore. Those resident near us are not tied directly to us in livelihood. We do not expect to marry their daughters, or find jobs through them. Shalom we say, the peace of not knowing your travails. Our neighbors have become others, an emancipation from imprisoned possibility, from tribalism which, if you look closely in your work place, is still with us there. Hillel floats, as does Jesus of Nazareth, neighborless, grand morality without target.

    Why not mutate Hillel, make a slip of word something new? Neighbors we mostly once encountered, now only others. So other rushes into that vacuum. “Do not do unto others.” Not as horribly hard as Jesus’ love your neighbor. Just do not do what would be “hateful unto you.” No prison camps, no spitting into the face, no drowning of possibility. An easier demand than Jesus’ but, mutated from “neighbor” to “others,” one which open ended embraces without the crippling consequence of knowing the other.

    Humanity if a fiction, one we do not want. Are you prepared to embrace the suicide bomber as your humanity? Or Mengele? Or, to remove oneself from Jewish history, Pol Pot? In Hillel mutated you do not have to embrace all humans; just leave them other, but do not do what would be hateful unto you unto them. Human rights are not about humanity, for humanity toto is rarely desired. Even the loving all of Christianity has the prison of hell. Human rights are morality untethered from direct reciprocity. The other, out there, never encountered, to this I will not do what would hobble me. If you do this, you will not be trapped by anyone’s love. And if you think loves do not trap, look around you, at others.

    Mutate Hillel, stop the football analysis of peace talks, bombardments, settlements, evictions, kidnapings.

    What is hateful unto you, do not do unto others.

  8. I was upset when Gen. (res. ) Mendy Meron and Ehud Barak claimed [paraphrasing], “What’s another [settlement] home more or less?” Excuse me? We’re talking about someone’s home, not just a Lego block. Each and every settler’s home has significance for and impacts (or rather blocks) the peace process. Blatantly disregarding every agreement to desist from building settlements with that kind of “reasoning” is disingenuous at the least, and insulting the intelligence of the democratic world at worst.

  9. one should not forget that if israel were to give up the small buffer of land between themselves and the palestinians…israel would be subject to attack by extremeists with simple weapons…isreal would become uninhabitalble…..all of israel would become target practice…….and there will always be arab exteremeists …no atter what the peace agreement says

  10. The government of Israel is not an arbitrary dictatorship. The Jews of the West Bank have some political clout, as interest groups in a democracy often do.

    Gorenberg is asking the Israeli government to treat the West Bank Jews as enemies, not constituents. Well, of course, he can’t.

    If Bibi believed that the negotiations were vitally important to Israel, of course he would try harder. But he doesn’t. And he’s right; Israel can’t make a deal without Hamas, and Israel can’t make a deal with Hamas, among other things.

    Let’s look at it from a different angle: Israel has a tremendous battlefield advantage against the Arabs and expects to translate this into advantage at the negotiating table. Abbas isn’t going along. Hence, a stalemate.

  11. there can be no peace…unless and until, the arab world ,and the terrorists amongst them and the rest of the muslim world …move into the modern age…..thats it.period

  12. Of course planting a bomb is not the same as uprooting an olive grove, or other crops. One is a slow starvation, the other an instantaneous death, however there is another symmetry here.

    Jews say ” we are helpless to control our radicals”

    Arabs say ” we are helpless to control our radicals”

    If the USA wasn’t pressing the scale so hard in favor of Israel and the resulting asymmetry creating the roots of a millennium of tragedy, the show would run as a satire of human nature.

  13. if you equate the jewish tadicals to the arab terrorists….right there …you are either terribly naive or a just plain jew-hater…

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