What do you want from Benjamin Netanyahu? For the first time, the prime minister promised last July that he wants to forge an agreement within a year with Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas on the establishment of a Palestinian state alongside Israel. Since that day, the Israeli right wing has simmered with consternation. Virtually not a day passes without its leaders contributing another brick to the building of Palestine.
True, it won't happen according to the original plan and timetable framed by the architect, Netanyahu & Co. But the Palestinians have never been closer to attaining international approval for the establishment of their own state.
"We could close the Foreign Ministry," an aide close to Abbas told me last week, smiling from ear to ear. "Bibi [Netanyahu] and [Foreign Minister Avigdor] Lieberman are doing all the work for us." When a representative of Israel's government dedicates the "culture hall" at the West Bank settlement of Ariel and a large majority of Knesset members authorize the expansion of the Har Homa neighborhood (seen as a settlement by the entire world ), who really believes that Israel is serious about two states or the division of Jerusalem?
When the prime minister is not even willing to peek at Abbas' map (including land swaps ) that represents his proposed final-status arrangement, why shouldn't a country like Chile join its neighbors, which have already announced that they recognize a Palestinian state based on the 1967 borders?
When Israel's foreign minister states that the prime minister's announcements about a final-status accord within a year are just prattle, why should the queen of England refuse to recognize the credentials of the ambassador of Palestine?
When the Civil Administration appropriates Palestinian land for "security reasons," to build an illegal outpost, how should the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations justify U.S. President Barack Obama's objection to a resolution denouncing the settlements? When Israel can't be bothered to apologize for the killing of a protester who demonstrated against a stretch of the security fence built on her own land, CNN does not need Saeb Erekat to enlighten viewers about the dangers of the status quo.
Palestinian diplomats do not need to sweat in order to delegitimize the occupation of the territories. In a post-colonial era, even a former furniture salesman like Netanyahu finds it impossible to pitch the control of one people by another people as a legitimate arrangement. He himself admits that the alternative - a binational state - would come at the expense of the democratic character of the Jewish state. The fact is that in order to mobilize international support for a Palestinian state outside of the Green Line, he and other right-wingers are doing more than assisting the Palestinians; they are even prepared to erode Israel's legitimacy within the 1967 borders.
One of Israel's most important assets since June 1967 has been its ability to maintain its reputation as a democratic state, even as it continued to be an entity of occupation and settlement. The special status of being an isolated democratic island in a hostile region conferred to Israel special support in the international community. The American president even told Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak that he should curb his criticism of Netanyahu's foot-dragging, since in Israel's democracy the prime minister has to take his coalition partners into account.
Yet for several months now the coalition (aided and abetted by a few MKs from the Kadima party ) has proven to the world that Israel is unworthy of special consideration. The loyalty law, along with the forgiving attitude toward the rabbis' letter and the cabinet decision to create a detention camp for refugees, negate any advantages Israel has accrued in the international arena through its reputation as a democracy. You can't adopt laws that discriminate against a fifth of your population on an ethnic and religious basis and expect that the world will discriminate in Israel's favor, to the detriment of neighbors who are of similar bent.
For the Netanyahu-Lieberman-Barak coalition, it's not enough to have recruited legions of supporters for a Palestinian state. There are indications that the way they have delegitimized human rights organizations has awakened the Israeli left from its slumbers. Activists who gave up on the fight against the occupation are now learning that the occupation has come to them, to their homes. Some have decided to hit the streets, once again. Hundreds (including some members of President Shimon Peres' family ) recently signed a petition congratulating states that have recognized the Palestinian state.
So perhaps, in the end, Netanyahu really will establish Palestine.
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