Before leaving Israel for his meeting with President Joe Biden in Washington in late August, Prime Minister Naftali Bennett of Israel repeated his firm opposition to Palestinian statehood, thus confirming the permanence of the de facto apartheid that he and his government—like the preceding ones headed by Benjamin Netanyahu—intend to maintain in the Jewish State. Like Netanyahu and most Israelis, he considers the apartheid charge anti-Semitic slander—not because the alleged facts are untrue, but because if Israel does it, you cannot call it apartheid. Why? Because anything done in Israel in the name of its self-interest and for its Jewish citizens is permissible, no matter how clearly deemed illegal by international law.
It is this mindset that prompted Bennett to urge Israel’s last Knesset to adopt legislation that would allow the killing of Palestinians who have committed acts of terrorism, even when they no longer pose a threat. As reported in The Jerusalem Post, when admonished by Israel’s national security adviser that this would be a criminal offense, Bennett replied, “I have killed many Arabs and it’s not a problem.”
There was a time when the United States’ policy was based on the illusion that the Israeli-Palestinian peace process would lead to a two-state solution. That such a prospect continued to be entertained despite Israel’s burgeoning illegal settlement project, whose undisguised goal from the very outset was the prevention of a Palestinian state, is astounding. Equally astounding is that the illegal settlements were encouraged by Shimon Peres and enlarged by Ehud Barak—both Labor Party leaders.
One might have thought that President Biden would have told Bennett that the United States will strongly oppose Israel’s goal of denying Palestinians their right to national self-determination in the West Bank. One might also have thought that, while the goodies Israel’s Defense Minister Benny Gantz recently promised Mahmoud Abbas may have been sufficient compensation for that denial as far as Donald Trump was concerned, they would not have been for the Biden administration. But the best President Biden was able to get himself to say, as far as we know, is that he will continue to insist on a two-state solution—even though for all practical purposes the peace process was shut down when Israel refused to abide by the agreement that territorial negotiations must begin at the 1967 lines and asserted its right to unilaterally confiscate whatever parts of the West Bank it chooses, and it chooses all of it.
The decades-long toothlessness of the United States Israeli-Palestinian peace diplomacy has been deeply embarrassing from the very outset, for it has long been clear that strong outside political pressure would be needed to resolve this conflict since Israel had no intention of surrendering its hold on the territories it occupied. No one in the international community was in a better position to impose such pressure on Israel without harming its security than the United States, but, with the exception of Dwight Eisenhower, no American president ever tried. There was no reason for the US to have taken charge of the peace process if it lacked the political will and courage to use the unprecedented generosity of its economic and military support of Israel to achieve a just peace agreement.
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There have been many disappointments in the United States’ long diplomatic efforts to help achieve a peace accord, and perhaps none greater than with President Obama—for so much more was expected of him—when he lectured Palestinians in his speech at a United Nations General Assembly that they cannot turn to the UN but must plead their case for statehood directly to Netanyahu, the man who dedicated his life to denying Palestinians their statehood. I write these words despite the respect I continue to have for much of Obama’s presidency as well as for Biden’s current domestic initiatives and his withdrawal from Afghanistan.
Yes, I am aware of the rationalizations for Biden’s declarations of friendship with Bennett; Netanyahu would have liked nothing better than for that meeting to have gone badly and paved the way for his own return to office. But the Obama/Biden administration already reassured Israel in 2012 that America will continue to “have Israel’s back,” even as it warned that Netanyahu’s policies were leading to an Israeli apartheid.
Israel has been granted virtual impunity for its violations of agreements, mainly for domestic political reasons. But while American Jews will not switch from Democrats to what has become a Republican Party that is increasingly indistinguishable from fascist and anti-Semitic parties, they may no longer accept that a vocal minority define what is the Jewish position on the conflict and will increasingly push for a more just, values-aligned, and rights-based policy.
That is certainly true for the younger generations of American Jews, who have demonstrated against injustice and racism in the United States and are unwilling to stomach Israeli justifications—echoed by the old-line American Jewish establishment—for their anti-Palestinian racism and their disdain for international law. Nor do they believe Israel intends to end its occupation.
A recent example of the contortions leaders of the American Jewish establishment go to in order to remain in sync with Israel’s propaganda, no matter how ridiculous, were the hysterical attacks on the founders of Ben & Jerry’s for having decided no longer to sell its ice cream in the illegal Israeli settlements in the West Bank. Israel’s newly elected president, Isaac Herzog, set a new debased standard for Israeli propaganda by accusing Ben Cohen and Jerry Greenfield, longtime supporters of the State of Israel, of being terrorists.
In the Letters section of The New York Times, a spokesman for the American Jewish Committee described the founders’ decision as “applying economic and moral coercion to one side of a complex conflict” and ignoring “competing equities,” such as Palestinian rejections of peace proposals by Israel and the United States.
The accusation is untrue, and if it were true, it would be irrelevant. There are no “competing equities” that allow Israel to steal territory that does not belong to it, except perhaps the biblical story claiming that in a conversation God had with Abraham, He promised Palestine to the Jews. The last time I inquired, I was told that many, if not most, of committee members tend to be skeptical about conversations God is alleged to have had with our forebears. Why, then, would the American Jewish Committee expect Palestinians, particularly Muslims, who have their own sacred writings, to believe this one?
And if Ben & Jerry’s refusal to sell its ice cream in areas that are illegally occupied by Israel is considered taking a position on one side of this conflict, then surely its many years of having sold its ice cream in all areas that do belong to Israel must constitute having taken a position on the other side of that conflict.
But where Ben & Jerry’s sells its ice cream in Israel is not as pressing an issue as where Israel believes it is free to grab territory that does not belong to it, for it raises the question of how those illegal annexations differ from the Hamas Charter’s call for the confiscation of Israel’s territory.
While the leaders of Hamas’s Political Bureau have withdrawn the charter’s call for the elimination of Israel, as well as its ugly anti-Semitic content, the Likud’s official opposition to Palestinian statehood in any part of Palestine remains unchanged. It is also the unchanged mandate of the Knesset caucus Eretz Yisrael Hashleimah (the Complete Land of Israel Caucus), the largest caucus in the Knesset. The only difference between the Hamas Charter’s claim on all of Palestine and the Knesset caucus’s claim on all of Palestine is that for Hamas it has remained wishful thinking, while Israel has actually implemented its objective, at least de facto. Hamas’s leaders have also indicated that there are conditions that could allow them to accept the State of Israel within its pre-1967 borders if the international community were to confine it to those borders.
Since it has been Hamas’s intention to abort Israel’s existence that caused the United States, the United Nations, and Western democracies to treat Hamas as a terrorist entity, why have the US and the EU not treated Israel as they are treating Hamas? Israel has not only aspired to the same fate for the promised Palestinian state but, for all practical purposes, actually accomplished it.
Is it because of Hamas’s violence, like the frequent shelling of Israeli noncombatants that they repeatedly resort to? Not likely, for their violence has been more than matched by Israel’s atrocities against Palestinian noncombatants during Israel’s War of Independence. While Israelis achieved their independence, Palestinians are still fighting for theirs.
Israeli historians who have written about Israel’s atrocities during its War of Independence have insisted Israel could not have won that war without committing those atrocities. Even the liberal former star columnist of Haaretz, Ari Shavit—who in his widely admired book My Promised Land unflinchingly described atrocities committed by Israel’s military against the Palestinian civilian population in Lydda and elsewhere—declared that he shares the anger felt by Israeli military commanders toward “bleeding-heart liberals who condemn what the military did in Lydda but enjoy the fruit of their deeds.” He knows, he says, that “if it wasn’t for them, the State of Israel would not have been born.”
That the State of Israel would not have been achieved without the atrocities is a questionable claim, but if that is justification for Israel’s atrocities, why is it not justification for the Palestinians who are still fighting for their state? I ask this not because such atrocities are ever permissible but because I believe the only path to renewed diplomacy requires the reconciliation of Fatah and Hamas—which cannot happen without Abbas being replaced, and without the inclusion of Hamas along with the PLO in renewed talks.
Talking to Hamas is not a leftist idea but is, rather, advocated by some of the most respected and wisest Israelis. Efraim Halevy, for one, a former head of Israel’s Mossad, took the following position in 2003: “Hamas constitutes about a fifth of Palestinian society. Because they are an active, engaged and aware group, they have more weight. So, anyone who thinks it is possible to ignore such a central element of Palestinian society is simply mistaken.”
More recently, former Israeli president and lifelong Likudnik Reuven Rivlin declared, “I’m not opposed to talking to Hamas.”
Israelis who are determined to keep Palestinians under permanent occupation do have reason to oppose it. But their determination is doing far greater damage to Israel than Hamas could.