Opinion Netanyahu Against the Rest of the World

Rarely before have Jews and Arabs been as united as they are in the face of the Iranian threat. But Israel's government is deliberately ignoring this historic opportunity to push the peace process forward. Indeed, Benjamin Netanyahu's government seems satisfied with the status quo.

"Day of Rage" -- A Palestinian prepares to throw a firebomb at an Israeli checkpoint.
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"Day of Rage" -- A Palestinian prepares to throw a firebomb at an Israeli checkpoint.

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One of the tenets of the Middle East conflict has always been that Israel's hawks are the only ones who can bring about a peace agreement -- the doves are too weak to make it happen.

A second is that Arab leaders need the conflict in order to justify their own wobbling and undemocratic regimes.

The third tenet is that the enemy of my enemy is my friend.

With the farce that it is now playing out with its ally, the United States, Israel's government has simultaneously taken all three tenets out of play, and that isn't good news.

First, Israeli Interior Minister Eli Yishai made a fool of Joe Biden, the US vice president and a proven friend of Israel who last week ensured the Jewish state of the United States' "absolute, total, unvarnished commitment to Israel's security." In response, Yishai ensured the approval of 1,600 new apartments in parts of East Jerusalem claimed by the Arabs.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu then apologized for the unfortunate timing of the announcement and claimed he hadn't known anything about the 1,600 apartments. The prime minister? Unaware of city's single largest current construction project?

The "incident" was "hurtful," Netanyahu said, before appointing senior officials to investigate the events "to ensure procedures will be in place to prevent those kinds of incidents in the future." Netanyahu also quickly hinted at the draconian punishment he had planned for his minister -- namely, none at all. "There was a regrettable incident here, which occurred innocently," he prematurely mused, before the commission had even started its investigation.

The first tenet has resolved itself: No one in the Israeli government is currently interested in peace talks -- neither the hawks nor the doves:

  • In January, Mossad agents chose Dubai, of all places, as the scene of the crime for the targeted assassination of Hamas leader Mahmoud al-Mabhouh. Dubai is one of the two Gulf emirates that has ignored the Arab boycott and received an Israeli minister.

  • In February, Netanyahu declared the graves of Rachel in Palestinian-controlled Bethlehem and Abraham in Hebron (who are sacred to both Christians and Muslims) to be "Zionist cultural heritage."

  • And in March, one week before ultra-Orthodox Interior Minister Yishai approved his 1,600 apartments, Labor Defense Minister Ehud Barak had authorized the construction of 112 new buildings in the Beitar Ilit settlement in the West Bank, where a 10-month moratorium on construction was supposed to be in place.

The second tenet no longer holds true, either -- with the reverse applying instead. It is no longer the Arab leaders who need the conflict to justify their regimes. Netanyahu needs it to hold together his disparate right-left government.

Jews and Arabs Have Never Been as United as they Are Today

Indeed, the Arab regimes today are more flexible than they have been in years. Just prior to Biden's visit, they unanimously called on the Palestinians to start a new round of negotiations with Israel. Many have come around on the issue and would very much like to see peace in the Middle East.

There's good reason, too: They are no longer the ones who profit from this war. These days, the Arabs fear the terrorists of al-Qaida and Iran's leadership, with its rabid rhetoric and nuclear program, as much as the Israelis do.

Never before since the time of Israel's creation were Jews and Arabs as united as they are in the face of the Iranian threat. It goes so far that Saudi Arabia's foreign minister has even spoken openly to his US colleague Hillary Clinton of the potential necessity of a military strike against Iran. In its research, SPIEGEL has learned that Western intelligence agencies believe that the Saudis would even open up their air space to Israeli jets for an attack on Iran -- unlike the Americans, who would not allow them to fly over Iraq, with good reason.

As alarming as this scenario would be -- it takes a remarkable degree of obstinacy and political autism to ignore this stellar constellation and thereby disregard the third and most simple of the three tenets. It leads to a sole conclusion: That the Israeli government is satisfied with the status quo in the Middle East. It is hard to believe, though, given the extent of death and suffering this conflict has caused.

It is true that Hamas isn't firing any rockets at the moment. The last suicide attack in Israel struck almost two years ago. But does anyone seriously believe the situation will stay so calm?

In protest over the settlement construction, Hamas has already called for a "Day of Rage." Hundreds of Palestinians protested on Tuesday in Jerusalem and skirmished with security forces. Tires and trash cans were set on fire. Police struck back with stun grenades and rubber bullets. Access to the Temple Mount, where violence has erupted several times since Friday, has also been restricted. Neither Jewish groups nor tourists were allowed to visit the contested holy site on Tuesday.

'Call When You're Serious About Peace'

The German chancellor is correct to describe Israel's settlement announcement as a "serious setback" and to speak of "negative" signals. It would have been even better if she had done that during her speech before the Knesset in 2008.

The settlements in East Jerusalem didn't just start growing last week. They have been growing, as Netanyahu boasted yesterday, for the past 42 years and they make fools of anyone who wants to help the Jews and Arabs find peace with each other.

Twenty years ago, US Secretary of State James Baker was in the same position that Hillary Clinton and her frustrated Middle East negotiator, George Mitchell, find themselves in now. He handed the Israelis the White House switchboard number and told them: "Call when you're serious about peace."

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