“If you are prime minister, there will be no Palestinian state?” a reporter asked Binyamin Netanyahu on the eve of his election victory.
“Indeed,” was the reply.
For Barack Obama, the casual yet brazen answer was the latest in a string of insults from a man who has openly flaunted his contempt for him.
The implications of Israel’s elections, however, go far deeper than the ongoing personality clash between the two leaders. In March 2009, the US/Middle East Project, a bipartisan panel of Middle East policy experts (including Obama’s former Defence Secretary Chuck Hagel) warned the newly-elected president that, far from being a distraction from the war on terror, the Israeli-Palestinian conflict “was a gift that keeps on giving” to America’s enemies, and that only a two-state solution to the conflict would “drain the swamp in which the disease [of Islamic extremism] thrives and mutates.”
Three months later, in his address to Cairo’s al-Azhar University, Obama acknowledged that the situation of the Palestinians had become intolerable, denounced the construction of Israeli settlements and pledged to pursue a two-state solution to the conflict whereby Israelis and Palestinians could live in peace and security.
To be fair to Netanyahu, he had been nothing if not consistent. Even in 2009 when he publically endorsed the establishment of a Palestinian state, he never refuted the claims of his closest associates that he was deceiving the Americans. As an alternative to Palestinian statehood, he advocated an “economic peace” whereby Israel would help foster Palestinian economic development.
The showpiece of this initiative was the construction of Rawabi, a new town built to house up to 40,000 middle class Palestinians. Financed by the Qatari government and Palestinian entrepreneur Bashar Masri, and sporting a shopping mall, 12,000-seat amphitheatre and blocks of modern condominiums, Rawabi represents in microcosm Israel’s occupation at its most benign. When, a year ago, the first 600 apartments were due to be handed over to their new owners, Israel refused to supply the town with water. Today the development is tottering on the verge of bankruptcy as investors cancel contracts, workers are laid off and construction has ground to a halt.
In two years the Palestinians of the Occupied Territories will enter their fiftieth year living as the indigenous non-citizens of a Jewish state that excludes them from any influence over their water and electricity supply, the checkpoints and curfews that regulate their lives, and which homes will be demolished and lands confiscated to make room for Jewish settlements.
Last summer Israeli security forces killed more than 2,200 Palestinians in the Gaza Strip, at least two-thirds whom (according to the UN) were civilians. The Israeli military refer to such operations as “mowing the grass” – a metaphor rooted in the understanding that, under a regime of permanent subjugation, the problem of Palestinian resistance cannot be solved but only chastened through the regular application of violence.
Last year, the US and Australian governments stood alone against the rest of the UN Security Council in opposing a Jordanian resolution calling for an Israeli withdrawal from the Occupied Territories by the end of 2017. The reason given for their vote was that such resolutions circumvent the bilateral negotiations through which a peaceful solution must be found.
According to Freud, the difference between an error and an illusion is that the latter involves the suppression of reality through wishful thinking. For the past 22 years, the only substantive outcome of a succession of tortuous US-mediated peace negotiations has been to foster the illusion of progress against the backdrop of Jewish settlement expansion.
On April 1 Palestine will join the International Criminal Court, an organisation established as a court of last resort for the prosecution of war crimes and crimes against humanity. In response to this move, Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman announced that Israel would “demand of our friends in Canada, in Australia and in Germany to simply cut funding to [the ICC].”
In the light of Netanyahu’s rejectionism, sources within the Obama administration are reportedly reconsidering their support for Israel in international forums, where the US has traditionally used its influence to block resolutions censuring Israel’s violations of Palestinian human rights. Given Australia’s commitment to the war against the “Islamic State”, the Australian government would be wise to do likewise.
Netanyahu’s emphatic commitment to Jewish settlement expansion and resounding electoral victory guarantees that the Palestinians’ subjugation will endure as what the US/Middle East Project described as a “major source of global Muslim anti-Americanism” for the foreseeable future. Supporting the work of the ICC in the investigation of Israeli (and Palestinian) war crimes will not bring an end to the Israel-Palestine conflict, but will at least enhance the standing of Palestinian moderates who advocate non-violent resistance to the occupation, and mitigate the perception that Australia’s support for Israel is grounded in a deep-seated anti-Muslim hostility.
Bishop George Browning, is President of the Australia Palestine Advocacy Network. He served for many decades as an Anglican Priest in Australia, most recently as the Bishop of Canberra and Goulburn. He is currently undertaking a doctorate regarding climate change and the Church. George has been a frequent visitor to Palestine and host of Palestinian leaders in Australia.