Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas, or can we now call him President of Palestine Abbas, last week gave Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu the biggest gift he could possibly have thought of.
By going to the UN General Assembly and petitioning for observer state status, Abbas played straight into Netanyahu’s hand, as the latter can now do what he really wants to do: build in Judea and Samaria as he campaigns ahead of next January’s Knesset elections.
With just under two months to go before the polls, Netanyahu was looking for ways to build, and more immediately, for ways to stop Likud voters from migrating to parties further on the right, like the National Union Party headed by the up and coming Naftalie Bennet [who has his own quasi-two-state-solution: Israel annexes large areas of West Bank, the world eventually gets used to it].
By telling the world, over and over again, that the Palestinian statehood bid was a unilateral shot in the head to the Oslo Accords, Netanyahu paved the way for the announcement [was there really an official announcement?] for expansion of settlements in the West Bank as well as the controversial E1 area linking Jerusalem to Maale Adumim. And this couldn’t have come at a better time for Netanyahu: with Knesset elections set for January 22, Netanyahu can pull the rug out from under his more right wing competitors.
Now not only can Netanyahu build quietly, off the radar, he can now be seen to be building, thanks to Abbas’ move. This will help Netanyahu to stabilise the Likud faithful by showing that he too can expand settlement in the ancient Jewish homeland.
And talking of the ancient Jewish homeland, anyone who has been paying attention would have seen that this Netanyahu government has been methodically pouring its resources into connecting Jews with the land of their forefathers. If you’d been watching, then you’d know that this government has not been preparing the public for a compromise on the land, for a two-state solution. Far from it, this government has been connecting Jews to places like Hebron, Shiloh, Beit El, Eli, Ofra and many other areas beyond the green line. The government has been conducting renovation works at places of religious, cultural and historic significance for Jews, it has been promoting tourism to Judea and Samaria, it has organised school field trips, expanded Torah learning, approving university status for a ‘university centre’ in Ariel, and it has allocated huge budgets to restore and revitalise the Jewish connection to these places. Just as the Palestinians continue to argue that there is no Jewish connection to land in Judea and Samaria, and especially Jerusalem, Netanyahu’s government is working non-stop to make them eat those words. At its core, the belief is that Israelis themselves first need to believe, really, truly, believe, that they came back to their ancient homeland, that this land belongs to us, that we have more of a legitimate right to this land than the Palestinians. Otherwise, what are we doing here? And if the Israelis themselves don’t believe in it, then how can we expect the rest of the world to believe it? The other side of the coin of “the truth of our way” is that the Palestinians are hell bent on eradicating us and will never accept our presence here. And to back up these statements, the Israeli government doesn’t have to look far: it finds plenty of examples in the Palestinian media, in schools, in mosques etc.
Download the latest report on Palestinian Authority incitement hasataENG0212112
Netanyahu’s government has expended huge resources into “the truth of our way” – not because he wants to eventually give up those areas of land to the Palestinians, but the opposite. He wants the Israelis to get used to the idea that Eli, Shiloh, Hebron, Beit El and other places like them are akin to Tel-Aviv, Haifa, Holon, Hadera and every other city in greater Israel. And, as the song goes, first we take Manhattan, then we take Berlin…
In this he has found a willing partner in Abbas, who has done everything possible to avoid negotiations.
Peace agreements, by the way, are also not what they used to be. Every day, and twice on Sundays, there is an Egyptian talking about amending the peace treaty with Israel. The way Netanyahu sees it, this region is in turmoil and the situation emerging in Egypt, Syria, and other countries near us is far from favourable. Now is not the time for territorial compromise. Now is the time to display strength. Now is not the time to talk about Jews giving up land for peace. There is no talk of peace, because, frankly, there is nobody in a position of power on either side of this conflict who is willing and capable of making painful territorial and ideological compromise. The Israeli government believes that the Palestinians never intended to, do not now intend, and will never intend to enter into serious negotiations because serious negotiations require painful compromise: on borders, on refugees, on recognising Israel as a Jewish state.
The base calculation in Jerusalem hasn’t changed: if Mahmoud Abbas sees that staying away from peace talks with Israel costs him more than going into talks, he’ll go in. The question is, does Jerusalem really want him to. I believe Netanyahu does, eventually, want to come to an agreement with the Palestinians. But not now. Not while the Middle East is in a transitional period between the old order and the new. Not now when the entire Likud Knesset list is stacked with ardent right wingers; not now when Netanyahu is probably the most moderate politician in the Likud. And not now while Abbas continues to take his high road.
But Abbas is evidently not feeling any real cost yet from his UN move. Only Israel is making him pay: continued settlement expansion makes Abbas look weak in the eyes of his own people and helpless to stop Israel; withholding taxes from the Palestinian Authority will hurt the PA when it can’t pay salaries; and the final nail in Abbas’ coffin from Israel will come if and when Israel annexes certain areas of Judea and Samaria. This move may come if and when Abbas petitions the International Criminal Court against Israeli officials for their activities in the West Bank. That could be a signal for Israel to annex the areas of the major settlement blocs as well as areas of Jewish historical significance. Put on your seat belts folks, it’s only going to get bumpier.