Israeli-Palestinian Blame Game Is On, but the Outcome Is Known in Advance

Both sides are practicing clever claims and crushing retorts, but basic reality will clinch it: Israel is the occupier and Palestinians are the occupied. Period.

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U.S. President Barack Obama speaks at a trilateral meeting with Benjamin Netanyahu, left, and Mahmoud Abbas, in New York, U.S., Sept. 25, 2009.
U.S. President Barack Obama speaks at a trilateral meeting with Benjamin Netanyahu, left, and Mahmoud Abbas, in New York, U.S., Sept. 25, 2009.Credit: Bloomberg
Chemi Shalev
Chemi Shalev

The term “blame game’ was coined, or at least popularized, by former U.S. President Ronald Reagan. Writing in 2002, the late and great master of current English usage, William Safire, traced the first use of the term to a speech that Reagan gave two decades earlier, in which he tried to deflect growing criticism of rising unemployment: “In recent weeks, a lot of people have been playing what I call the ‘blame game’,” Reagan said.

In the Israeli-Palestinian arena, the blame games have become a tradition, and they are set to begin in earnest once again, unless the moribund Israeli-Palestinian peace talks are resuscitated soon. In fact, the preliminary rounds of the blame tournament have been going on for quite some time, alongside Secretary of State John Kerry’s last-ditch efforts to extend the peace talks. While they’re exchanging positions, demands and concessions, both sides have also been jockeying for position for the main event, ready to put the onus on the other the moment the whistle blows and the battle begins.

In Jerusalem they’ve been stocking up on time-tested claims of rampant Palestinian violence, incitement and rejectionism, while Ramallah is replenishing its arsenal of charges against occupation, "price tag" attacks and human rights violations. Back from their long strike in the nick of time, Israeli hasbara experts can start practicing their lines about how the Palestinians showed their true colors by refusing to recognize Israel as a Jewish state, while Palestinians are busy printing the maps that will prove the extent of Israel’s annexationist settlement drive.

One of the most heated bouts will be played out in Washington, of course. Both sides will be vying for an American verdict that firmly convicts the other. Israel will enjoy a home-court advantage and is certain to draft Congress to its team, if only to counteract some administration officials’ burning desire for payback for the indignities they have suffered, in their eyes, at the hands of Benjamin Netanyahu and others in his government. As of mid-week, at least, the administration was hedging its bets.

But you shouldn’t be holding your breath in anticipation of the results. While the game may have some sporting value in Washington and in a few other capitals such as Ottawa or Canberra, in much of the world the fix is on, the verdict is in and the outcome is a foregone conclusion. No matter how much effort and creativity Israel puts into its hasbara campaign, and even it were to present a truly compelling case against Mahmoud Abbas’, the international jury is certain to find for the his side. It’s best to prepare yourself in advance.

First of all, it’s in the nature of the beast: no matter how successfully Israelis and Diaspora Jews convince themselves that Israel is the victim and the underdog; no matter how extensively (and cynically) Israeli leaders peddle this perception; and no matter how justifiable such a view may be in the longer view of history - the world just won’t buy it. For most people, the physical evidence is irrefutable: Israel is strong, the Palestinians are weak; Israel is the occupier, the Palestinians are occupied; Israelis live in the “only democracy in the Middle East,” the Palestinians remain disenfranchised and stateless.

Israel has also done more than its fair share in recent years to build up reservoirs of bad will among large sectors of Western public opinion: the jury is predisposed to rule against it. The growing numbers of unabashed xenophobic and/or theocratic and/or anti-democratic politicians who have been making their way to the top in Israeli politics provide ample fodder for Israel’s detractors. Unjust as it may be, Israel’s self-inflicted image of arrogance, insensitivity and even racism, in some cases, often offsets the negative ramifications of Palestinian adherence to violence and armed struggle.

Yes, and there is also anti-Zionism and anti-Semitism and lots of double standards, though these have been thriving in recent years, most Jews forget, against the backdrop of Israel’s 47-year occupation.

Of course, once Israelis and many Diaspora Jews understand that international public opinion is blaming them rather than the Palestinians, despite what they perceive to be the overwhelming and incontrovertible evidence on their side, they will only grow more insular, more isolated and more convinced not only that the “world is against us”, as their leaders keep telling them, but that it is inherently Jew-hating as well.

And once the Palestinians begin to gain acceptance to international organizations and the campaign for boycott, divestment and sanctions starts to really take off, Israelis will increasingly pin the blame on traitors in their midst, informers from within, Jewish back-stabbers bought and paid for by hostile money from malevolent foreigners abroad. And they will dig in their heels even more.

It’s a depressing vicious circle, an inevitable scenario, a tragedy just waiting to happen. Unfortunately, far too many Israelis and Diaspora Jews still find it easier to walk down this treacherous path than take a long, hard look in the mirror, once and for all. 

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