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Where can Netanyahu possibly go from here?

  • 27 October 2015

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:

'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