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Where can Netanyahu possibly go from here?


Last week, in a speech at the 37th Zionist Conference ostensibly intended to set straight a number of alleged lies about Israel, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu told a little untruth of his own:

Benjamin Netanyahu'Hitler didn't want to exterminate the Jews at the time, he wanted to expel the Jews. And (Grand Mufti of Jerusalem) Haj Amin al-Husseini went to Hitler and said, "If you expel them, they'll come here." "So what should I do with them?" (Hitler) asked. He answered, "Burn them".'

Condemnation was swift and scornful. Steffen Seibert, a spokesman for German chancellor Angela Merkel quickly reiterated that 'this crime against humanity is German and very much our own', while social media mocked Netanyahu's revisionism mercilessly.

But what could really compel Netanyahu to make such a bizarre claim? Well, two things actually. The first has to do with how the Israel-Palestine conflict is framed to the outside world, the second with internal Israeli politics.

When it comes to the framing of this supposedly intractable conflict, there are two competing themes at play. The first identifies unprovoked Palestinian aggression as the basis of all hostilities, with Israeli actions depicted as 'retaliations' and 'revenge'. The second regards Israeli Occupation of Palestinian land as the conflict's root cause.

When it comes to how the west views the conflict, the first frame overwhelmingly dominates. This is reflected in much of the coverage of the violence currently engulfing Jerusalem and the West Bank. While there are references to anger over the status of the Al-Aqsa Mosque, with Palestinians fearing they may lose all access to it, rarely is the link drawn between Palestinian actions and the abysmal living conditions imposed on them by the military Occupation.

When this link is made, it is swiftly rebuked. Earlier this month US secretary of state John Kerry noted in a speech at Harvard University that 'there's been a massive increase in settlement over the course of the last years, and now you have this violence that is growing'. He was immediately condemned by Israeli officials, forcing president Obama to jump in saying, 'there is no direct causation here.'

Yet Palestinians themselves have identified the settlements as a key grievance, and every US administration since Jimmy Carter has called the settlements a major obstacle to peace. So why is this link denied? Because to acknowledge it disrupts the dominant frame that there is no rhyme or reason to Palestinian uprisings, and casts at least some blame on both Israel and the US.

Over the years, Palestinians and their supporters have attempted to insert this missing context into the discussion. In recent op-eds for The Guardian, Palestinian activist Marwan Barghouti declared that peace is impossible until the Occupation ends, while Israeli journalist Mairaz Zonsein stated that Palestinian violence is an inevitable consequence of Israel's total domination over them.

This is where Netanyahu's increasingly damning comments regarding Palestinians come in. Designed to perpetuate the trope of Palestinians as intrinsically irrational and murderous, they serve to deflect attention away from Israel's own policies and actions.

The problem with this simplistic, but popular, framing is that the stakes have to be continually raised. Israel is the far greater power (boasting the fourth largest military in the world), and so is capable of inflicting far more damage than it receives, as we saw in Gaza last year.

In order to make its actions palatable, Israel must increasingly dehumanise Palestinians — so when Israel bombs a UN shelter, it's because Palestinians were using it to hide weapons; when Israel kills children, it's because Palestinians are using them as human shields, and so on.

In other words, the more disproportionate Israel's use of force, the more strongly the frame has to be implemented.

The second explanation behind Netanyahu's comments has to do with his fragile political position. As Israel's longest serving PM since Ben-Gurion, he retained power last year on the promise of an even harder stance towards Palestinians and a 'Greater Israel', a hardline ideology that, as Avi Shlaim writes, 'implicitly rejects any Palestinian national rights over the West Bank'.

In appealing to hardliners Netanyahu has no choice but to paint his more moderate opposition as a danger to Israel's security, and the easiest way to do this is to make increasingly incendiary comments about Palestinians. During the election he warned, 'Arab voters are heading to the polling stations in droves ... Left-wing NGOs are bringing them in buses.'

Other comments made by high ranking officials, including justice minister Ayalet Shaked, who characterised all Arabs, including children, as 'snakes' and 'little terrorists', and trade minister Naftali Bennett, who said, 'If you catch terrorists, you simply have to kill them.'

Netanyahu is out of touch. As Mahmoud Abbas increasingly rejects negotiations with Israel in favour of UN recognition, and as the US attempts to move past its old clash-of-civilisations rhetoric as evidenced by its nuclear agreement with Iran, it seems the PM is running out of options that don't involve some concessions — something his more conservative supporters, who are determined to annex the West Bank, would never accept.

It's not surprising then, that he chooses to keep raising the stakes to try and cement Israel's position as the long-suffering victim. But now that he has essentially blamed Palestinians for the Holocaust, the question is, where can Netanyahu possibly go from here?

Ruby HamadRuby Hamad is a freelance writer and columnist for Daily Life. She holds a Masters in Media Practice from Sydney University where she wrote her thesis on objectivity and bias in the western media's coverage of the Israel-Palestine conflict. She currently runs workshops on this topic for Macquarie University's Global Leadership Program. She tweets @rubyhamad

Topic tags: Ruby Hamad, Palestine, Israel



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Existing comments

Bob Dylan famously sang "when you ain't got nothing, you got nothing to lose". Palestine has lost much, but not its spirit. Which is precious. This conflict is intractable and that's because a line has been drawn in the sand by both sides. Maybe Bob Dylan should have the last word "the answer, my friend, is blowin' in the wind, the answer is blowin' in the wind."

Pam | 26 October 2015  

I'm currently reading Ilan Pappe's - The Ethnic Cleansing of Palestine (ISBN - 13:978-1-85168-555-4). Recommended yet disturbing to say the least.

John Southwell | 27 October 2015  

Get rid of all the religious sites as they have only brought destruction and human misery . Build a Disneyland, as fairy tales can come true.

marlene bracks | 27 October 2015  

A very realistic article Ruby Hamad. And,where can Israel go from here ? Back in September 2010, I worked with dozens of volunteers from around the world on " The Cinema Jenin Project" restoring a bombed out cinema in Occupied Palestine. One evening the subject of Israeli behaviours towards the Occupied people was discussed. One 'international ' ( as we were called ) said, " At least they [Israelis] have not used the gas chambers." A young Palestinian responded, " No. Not yet ! " I have thought of that exchange many times. Many of us would say, " They [Israelis ] would not do such a thing, & the world would not allow it." My response? The Israelis are TOTALLY & PERMANENTLY unable to end the Occupation. That should be 100% clear after all these decades ! The difference between gas chambers & the endless atrocity of besieged Gaza, for example, is surely ONLY A MATTER OF DEGREE . The world has allowed the Occupation decade after decade after decade..... The world has allowed Gaza year after year after year after .... Why not a more rapid form of genocide of the Occupied people ? Any objections ?

David Hicks | 27 October 2015  

Ruby Hamad’s article might well have instead been titled “Where can either leader or people go from here?” I am frankly sick of hardliners from both sides asserting their people are angels, and the other side are the evil incarnate. It takes two to tango, and both sides in this long-running conflict have their moderates and extremists as Nick Dyrenfurth discussed in our recent book, Boycotting Israel is Wrong (New South Press, 2015). Nothing is gained from blaming Israelis or Palestinians exclusively for the current mess. I am personally no fan of Netanyahu. I was already writing critiques of his hardline views when Ms. Hamad and many Eureka Street readers were still in primary school. His suggestion that the Mufti of Jerusalem Haj Amin al-Hussein rather than Adolf Hitler bears responsibility for the Holocaust is historical nonsense. But Hussein was not a good man as I noted previously in “A HISTORICAL CONTROVERSY: THE MUFTI OF JERUSALEM, THE PALESTINIANS AND THE HOLOCAUST”, Australian Journal of Jewish Studies, Vol 12, 1998, pp.81-102. One of the most forgotten episodes in Middle Eastern history is the awful farhud or pogrom that killed over 170 Jews in Baghdad in mid 1941 – that is seven years before the foundation of the State of Israel. There is no doubt at all that the Mufti and 400 other Palestinian extremists, who were living in Iraq at this time, directly incited this violence These Palestinians were mainly doctors, teachers and politicians who had moved to Iraq after the failed 1936-39 uprising against the British. One of these Palestinians, the poet Burhan al-Din al-Abbushi, wrote incendiary verses accusing the Jews of killing and violating Arab women and children in Palestine. These verses were read publicly in mosques and schools, at demonstrations and on the radio, and appear to have provoked much anti-Jewish hatred. I cite this episode to remind readers that the blurring of national rights and religious fanaticism has a long history in the Middle East well beyond the borders of Israel and Palestine. As for today’s events, I look forward to Ms. Hamad providing some constructive suggestions for resolving the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. A peaceful negotiated two state solution that will end all violence not only between Israelis and Palestinians, but between all Arabs and Jews is long overdue.

philip mendes | 27 October 2015  

Peace will not come to Palestine until UN resolutions on Israeli occupied Gaza are accepted. This will never happen while USA vetoes every resolution about Israel's actions in Palestine in the UN Security Council. There is no hope of this changing, even under a new President like Hiliary Clinton. Such is the raw power of the Jewish lobby and its big money businesses in USA. However, public opinion in USA & in the western world is changing. Self determination for Palestine is built on people power and lobbying here & in other western democracies about respecting the rights of Palestinians.

John Cronin, Toowoomba | 27 October 2015  

Readers who think that Mr Mendes’ belief that a ‘peaceful negotiated two state solution’ ending ‘violence between … all Arabs and Jews’ is in any way realistic might care to listen to the thoughts of one Israeli, Miko Peled, whose family has had more than a little involvement in Palestine ever since the establishment of the Israeli state. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=TOaxAckFCuQ

Paul | 28 October 2015  

Just a quick cautionary note after reading 28/10 comment by Paul. No matter who we are or where we live, "if we do not learn the lessons of history, we are doomed to repeat them" - whether we are a settler in Gaza or a European descendant living in Australia. Read the Pope Francis biography by Austen Ivereigh. Fr Jorge Bergoglio as he was, and now Pope Francis is a man of peace & lives gospel values. That is the only road to lasting peace - and the same truths about forgiveness & reconciliation are contained in the Islamic & Jewish faiths. These truths are very hard to put into practice - but, such forgiveness between people and different races is the universal Truth which is essential for any peaceful coexistence.

John Cronin, Toowoomba | 28 October 2015  

Thank you Paul for reminding us about MIKO PELED. Truly a wonderful man & a true humanitarian. Many of us heard him speak here in Melbourne. And why I enjoy hearing him speak is that he reminds me that not all Israeli Jews behave as atrociously as the vast majority do. It is said that colour TV lost the Americans their war on Vietnam. Let us hope & pray that the miracle of the internet & cameras & videos in phones will result in Justice & then Peace in Occupied Palestine !!

David Hicks | 28 October 2015  

My last "2 bob's worth". I agree with David Hick's comments on 28/10. Anyone who takes a balanced look at the behaviour of Israeli soldiers and their paid agents (via the internet news & on social media) versus that of the Palestinian people in Gaza, will soon see that the Israelis are behaving atrociously and unjustly in Gaza. They are acting in direct contavention of the Geneva conventions & of the long-standing UN resolutions against their occupation & then defacto annexation and settlement of Palestinian land.

John Cronin, Toowoomba | 29 October 2015  

On Wednesday, Sam Sokol of The Jerusalem Post spoke with Yad Vashem’s chief historian Dina Porat who told Sokol “while the mufti ‘definitely’ played a role in the Holocaust, he was in no way one of the primary movers behind the adoption of the Final Solution and such comments are likely to ’cause some damage unless they are urgently clarified.’ The destruction of European Jewry had been on Hitler’s mind since the First World War and it was “his obsession,” Porat said. “The mufti had nothing to do with fomenting or developing the Final Solution.” In 1939, years before Hitler and the mufti met in Berlin, the Nazi leader had already publicly stated that should the Jews “succeed in plunging the nations into a world war yet again, then the outcome will not be the victory of Jewry, but rather the annihilation of the Jewish race in Europe,” Porat said. She said further that the process of putting Jews into ghettos and the beginning of the mass murder of Jews in the Soviet Union occurred before the pair’s November 1941 meeting in Berlin..

Father John George | 02 November 2015  

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