Binyamin Netanyahu is coming to Winnipeg on September 9th, and the local Canada-Palestine Support Network (CanPalNet-Winnipeg) is helping to organize a peaceful information picket and protest. He is also making an appearance the next day in Toronto, which will be accompanied by the good folks of SPHR (Solidarity for Palestinian Human Rights). However, it is vitally important for activists to be clear about the reasons behind such a protest, and this requires us to be informed — not only about Netanyahu’s personal history, views, and policies when he was in power, but also about the nature of the Israel-Palestine conflict and the ongoing military occupation of Palestinian lands.
Netanyahu was Israel’s Prime Minister between June 1996 and May 1999. One of his first acts after election was to appoint Ariel Sharon and General Raphael Eitan to his cabinet. Sharon was the infamous Minister of Defence in charge of Israel’s invasion of Lebanon in 1982, and he is Israel’s current prime minister. Eitan was the Chief of Staff during the invasion of Lebanon. Both men were condemned by Israel’s own official Kahane commission report for their role in the Sabra and Shatila massacre, in which at least 800 Palestinian refugees (virtually all elderly men, women, and children) were slaughtered in Beirut.
Sharon’s personal history is well-known, at least among Palestinians, human rights activists, and anyone concerned about international law. He is widely considered to be a war criminal, and was indicted for precisely this by a Belgian court (more info can be found at www.indictsharon.net). Raphael Eitan, however, may require a quick review, if only to shed light on the figure who appointed him. Eitan founded Israel’s Tzomet (“Crossroads”) Party in 1983, a secular, territorial-maximalist party committed to Jewish sovereignty over what it calls “the whole land of Israel” — a vaguely-defined territory that includes all of present-day Israel, the West Bank and Gaza, and the Golan Heights. Eitan is a bitter racist, who has called Palestinians “drugged insects” and stated that the answer to the Intifada (uprising) is “a bullet in the head of every stone thrower.” While speaking to Jewish settlers in the Occupied Territories in 1988, Eitan was quoted as saying: “We must carry out a policy of expulsion and collective punishment. We must expel propagandists, inciters, young children who riot. First of all, to expel, at once, the whole political and information system of East Jerusalem.” An open advocate of collective punishment and ethnic cleansing, Eitan served as Minister of Agriculture and Environment throughout Netanyahu’s term.
Netanyahu need not be condemned by mere association, however. His own record is quite clear — before, during and after his term in office. According to scholar Nur Masalha, Netanyahu falls firmly within the legacy of Vladimir Jabotinsky, who founded the Zionist Revisionist movement (HaTzohar’) in 1925. (In fact, Netanyahu’s father had been Jabotinsky’s secretary in the 1930’s, and was so far to the right that he later condemned Menachem Begin for signing a peace treaty with Egypt. ) The Revisionists were a precursor to Israel’s present-day Likud Party (of which Netanyahu was leader), and were so-named for their advocacy of a “revision” to the British Palestine Mandate to include Transjordan as well as Palestine. Netanyahu has followed in the footsteps of these early Revisionists with his explicit opposition to any viable Palestinian State, with his preference for provocation and the mailed fist over negotiation, and with his stated desire to “transfer” the Palestinians elsewhere (not just those in the Occupied Territories, but Palestinian citizens of Israel as well).
Born in Jerusalem in 1949, much of Netanyahu’s life has been spent travelling between Israel and the United States. He held dual citizenship until at least 1982, and arguably still retains it (despite Israeli laws which bar citizens of other countries from the Knesset). Largely educated in the U.S. (including a B.A. and M.A. from MIT), Netanyahu’s two interests were business management and support for Israel. The former developed into a full-blown zeal for Reaganite “free market” dogma and neo-liberal gloabalization. The latter took the form of occasional Israeli military service. In 1967, when the June Six-Day War broke out, a teenage Netanyahu rushed to Israel and joined the army. He later left the army and returned to his studies in the United States, but rushed back again to fight in Israel’s October 1973 war. According to Israeli scholar and dissident Israel Shahak, Netanyahu “was ‘discovered’ in July 1982 by Moshe Arens (then foreign minister), who needed somebody with American manners to ‘explain’ the invasion of Lebanon to [the U.S.] Congress.” He was quickly appointed Israeli ambassador to the United Nations, and served in that capacity until 1988, when he resigned his commission and formally joined the Likud Party.
In 1989, while he was Deputy Foreign Minister for Likud, Netanyahu stated before an audience at Bar-Ilan University that Israel should have exploited the Tiananmen Square massacre (while international attention and media were focused on China) to conduct “large-scale” expulsions (i.e., ethnic cleansing) of the Palestinians. The Jerusalem Post quoted him to that effect on November 19, 1989. Netanyahu later denied making such a statement, but the Jerusalem Post produced a tape recording of his speech. He was also quoted in the newspaper Hotam advocating “mass expulsions” of Palestinians.
Netanyahu was one of the early peddlers of the “Jordan is Palestine” myth, a slogan designed to undercut support for a Palestinian State in the West Bank and Gaza, and increase support for policies designed to “encourage” Palestinians to leave their homeland. (“Encouragement” has always been understood by Israeli elites to mean “volunteering” to leave due to policy-induced economic hardship, or outright physical expulsion. The means have been less important in planning circles than the desired end.)
Netanyahu was an early and zealous opponent of the Oslo process, despite the fact that Israeli “dove” Amos Oz called Oslo “the second biggest victory in the history of Zionism,” and Palestinian intellectual Edward Said called it a “degrading spectacle,” a complete “capitulation,” and a “Palestinian Versailles.” Despite the fact that Oslo offered the Palestinians nothing substantive on the key issues of East Jerusalem, settlements, reparations, right of return, borders, security, and water, Netanyahu still called it “a crime against Zionism” for even hinting at the possibility of a Palestinian State west of the Jordan River. Netanyahu’s ideal “two-state solution,” which he spells out in his own book A Place Among the Nations, would allow Israel all of historical Mandate Palestine, and would “give” the Palestinians “a substantially larger state” called Jordan!
Netanyahu’s Actions in Government
Once in power, Netanyahu’s policies and actions were consistent with such views, and were designed to provoke Palestinian anger, and more importantly, to provoke reactions which could be used to justify greater repression, control, or mass deportations — all in the interests of Jewish settlement and Israeli expansion.
One of his first provocations was to approve the opening of a 488 metre tunnel under the al-Haram al-Sharif (where the Al-Aqsa Mosque is located) on September 23, 1996. Over the six days which followed, protest marches occurred in Jerusalem and spread throughout the Occupied Territories, culminating in clashes and gun fights which left some 55 Palestinians and 14 Israelis dead, and over 1000 wounded. It was the worst violence in the Occupied Territories since the 1967 occupation, and it was the predictable consequence of Netanyahu’s provocative and arrogant assertion of Israel’s dominion over one of Islam’s holiest sites. (Ariel Sharon knew exactly what he was doing when he repeated the provocation — accompanying a massive police and military force to the site of the Al-Aqsa Mosque, and declaring Jewish sovereignty over an “undivided” Jerusalem — almost four years later to the day. It was this act which triggered the second intifada in late-September 2000. )
One of Netanyahu’s other actions while in government was to approve plans (initiated under Peres’ previous Labor government) for the building of a new Jewish settlement called Har Homa (originally called Jabal Abu Ghneim). Built on land expropriated from Arab East Jerusalem — in violation of UN resolutions going back to Partition — the new settlement was strategically situated to complete a ring of Jewish settlements around East Jerusalem, isolating the city from the West Bank. Despite the obvious violation of the Oslo accords, in February 1997 the United States vetoed a UN Security Council resolution demanding that Israel abandon the Har Homa project. According to Nicholas Guyatt, who details the systematic expulsion of Palestinians from Jerusalem using “quasi-legal” channels, the goal of Netanyahu (and other Israeli leaders) was “to consolidate Israel’s grasp on Jerusalem ahead of permanent status talks [required by Oslo], where any notion of a shared capital will be undermined by a diminished Palestinian citizenship in the city.” Guyatt goes on to quote Eli Suissa, Netanyahu’s Minister of Interior, as saying, “It does not matter what means I or other ministers use,” we will expel the Palestinians and effect “a rise in the Jewish population.” In other words, “by hook or by crook we will get rid of you” — another in a long line of open admissions that Israeli policies constitute ethnic cleansing.
Samih Farsoun summarizes the pillars of Netanyahu’s policies on Palestine and the Palestinians as the “Five No’s:” 1) No Palestinian State; 2) No Palestinian East Jerusalem; 3) No withdrawal from Hebron; 4) No end to Israeli settlement in the Occupied Territories; and 5) No withdrawal from the Golan Heights (even in return for a peace treaty with Syria). According to Farsoun, this platform constituted “a direct rejection of the terms of negotiations largely based on UN Security Council Resolutions 242 and 338 (the land for peace formula), the Madrid Middle East peace conference, the Oslo Accords, and the ‘peace process’.” Rhetoric notwithstanding, Netanyahu’s campaign slogan “Peace with Security” was “an unmistakable euphemism for retaining occupied Arab landâ€¦” The result of his policies was unmistakable. According to Graham Usher, Netanyahu’s policies and actions led directly to “the worst violence between Israel and the Palestinians in nearly 30 years of occupation” — at least until the second intifada began in 2000.
What’s Netanyahu Doing Now?
Binyamin (“Bibi”) Netanyahu is still involved in Israeli politics, and has recently declared his intent to run for office again in the next general elections. He is perhaps the principal right-wing rival to Sharon in the Likud Party, though presently behind in the polls, and has regularly criticized Sharon for not going far enough to crush Palestinian dissent and ensure Israeli “security.” Despite this criticism, in April 2002 he was appointed by Sharon to continue representing, and advocating, on behalf of Israel to the U.S. government.
On April 10th, Netanyahu made a speech before the U.S. Senate that can only be described as a nauseating display of brown-nosing to power. In his statement, Netanyahu referred to Washington D.C. as “the capital of freedom,” and addressed the senators as “guardians of liberty.” He went on to liken Israel’s “struggle” on “the front lines of terror” to that of the U.S. attack on Al-Qaeda, Afghanistan, and the Taliban. Furthermore, Netanyahu called for the expulsion of Arafat, a stepping up of military operations in the West Bank and Gaza, ridiculed much of the world for condemning Israel’s occupation, and blamed Arafat for the absence of peace. Accordingly, Arafat alone “tore [the Oslo agreement] to shreds and soaked it in Jewish bloodâ€¦” And finally, he insisted that the real threat to “stability” in the region is not Israel’s brutal occupation, but rather international pressure on Israel “to show restraint.” Repeatedly throughout his speech, Netanyahu suggested that current Israeli military policy — which has resulted in over 1,700 Palestinians and 600 Israelis killed since September 2000 — is “restrained.”
On May 12, 2002, at the Likud Party Central Committee gathering, Netanyahu made a speech to the Party faithful, in which he stated: “We have refused to accept the baseless drivel that ‘there is no military solution to terror.’ As if there is any other solution to terror!” He went on to attack Palestinians and Arabs generally, singled out the Saudis, and condemned the Europeans (apparently all of them), as well as the United Nations — in essence, much of the world — as opponents of Israel, and by implication, as anti-Semites. Netanyahu’s closing remarks about Palestinian statehood reveal a good deal about his commitment to a meaningful peace, and the arrogance of Israeli decision-makers. He stated: “I, for one, have no desire whatever to rule over even a single Palestinian. The question is whether we can agree that they have sovereign authority, power that goes beyond self-ruleâ€¦If we agreed to such a State, we would be shackling the Israeli army in iron chains of our own making.” Netanyahu went on to say that the Palestinians could never have a real, sovereign State: “Not under Arafat or under any other leadership. Not today, not tomorrow, not ever.” “Let me say this once again loud and clear,” he concluded, “There will not be a Palestinian State west of the Jordan.” More importantly than rhetoric, however, Netanyahu successfully urged members of the Likud Central Committee to pass a resolution rejecting the concept of an independent Palestinian state. Even war criminal Sharon opposed the resolution, which passed by almost 60 percent.
What Exactly Are We Protesting?
One could go on and on. However, it is important to be clear about the reasons for protesting Netanyahu’s arrival and speaking engagements in Canada. To protest Netanyahu’s presence simply because he is an extremist, or because the policies he advocates are racist or constitute war crimes, would be to miss the point — at least, they miss the point if one views Netanyahu as an aberration in Israeli politics, or if one sees a noticeable difference between the Labor and Likud parties. From the standpoint of Palestinian rights and dispossession, there are few differences between Netanyahu’s Likud Party policies, and those of any Labor government before or after. According to Edward Said, Netanyahu may be “less presentable, [and] more embarrassing for supporters of Israel,” but he is also “less hypocritical” than Shimon Peres. Netanyahu openly, and proudly, sets in motion policies designed to facilitate the plunder and rape of Palestinian land, resources, and people, whereas Peres is more skilled at the art of hasbara — in other words, disseminating, and making palatable, information to the goyim. On any substantive issue, from Jerusalem to settlements, the actual intentions and consequences of Netanyahu’s policies were arguably no worse than under Rabin, Peres or Barak. For example, Ehud Barak’s so-called “peace cabinet” was a far greater promoter of settler growth in the Occupied Territories than Netanyahu’s government.
Nicholas Guyatt sums up the distinction (or lack thereof):
“Far from being a villain to Rabin’s hero, Binyamin Netanyahu’s
conduct since becoming prime minister has been broadly congruent
with the goals of Rabin and Peres. When he has clashed with the
Palestinians â€¦ he has been completely within the mainstream of
Israeli political beliefs. The problem in Israeli politics lies not with individuals, or even with party platforms, but with a series of deeper assumptions about the legitimacy of the settlement programme and the permanence of Israel’s annexation of Palestinian East Jerusalem.”
Thus, meaningful peace in Israel and Palestine cannot be achieved by voting out the Netanyahus and Sharons of Likud, in favour of the Rabins or Peres’s of Labor. According to Palestinian author and journalist Marwan Bishara (brother to MK Azmi Bishara), there is only one road to ending the violence and establishing a lasting peace — namely, decolonization and acceptance of the Palestinian right to self-determination in their own land. Whether decolonization takes the form of one, multiethnic, democratic State in all of historical Palestine, in which Jews and Palestinians have equal rights and decision-making powers, or whether it takes the form of two sovereign States with shared rights to Jerusalem, need not be rigidly decided in advance. What is beyond dispute, however, is that these are the only alternatives to an Israeli-imposed Apartheid. The Palestinians are not leaving — and growing numbers of people around the world are beginning to understand their struggle in terms of national liberation, and beginning to support their resistance, through organizations like the International Solidarity Movement. The only question that remains is one of immediate necessity: How are we going to help end Israel’s brutal, illegal, and sadly bi-partisan occupation of the West Bank, Gaza, and East Jerusalem?
With this in mind, please join CanPalNet-Winnipeg for a peaceful information picket to send a message that Netanyahu’s altogether-too-routine opposition to Palestinian human and national rights is not welcome in Winnipeg. The picket and protest will be held on Monday, September 9th at 7:15 PM, outside the Pantages Playhouse Theatre (180 Market). For more information, contact [email protected], or visit www.canpalnet.ca.
Alternately, for those in Toronto, feel free to join the SPHR (Solidarity for Palestinian Human Rights) for its picket of Netanyahu, on Tuesday, September 10th at 6:30 PM at the Toronto Centre for the Arts (5040 Yonge Street, just north of the Sheppard subway station). For more information, contact SPHR by e-mail at [email protected] or call (416) 772-4656.