The Art of Intransigence, From Shamir to Netanyahu

Netanyahu's policy on the settlements, and his demand that the Palestinians recognize Israel as the nation state of the Jewish people, demonstrate that Netanyahu is ex-PM Shamir without the mustache.

Akiva Eldar
Akiva Eldar
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Akiva Eldar
Akiva Eldar

It isn't hard to guess how Mr. Benjamin Netanyahu would react were Mahmoud Abbas, at a memorial service for Yasser Arafat, to say that "The Rais was correct when he said that the Jews are the same Jews and the sea is the same sea."

As the political reporter for Haaretz at that time, I had occasion to closely follow Shamir's "the sea and the Arabs" policy, the policy Netanyahu singled out for praise. The Cold War was over, the PLO had been expelled from Lebanon, the United States was demolishing Iraq, but Shamir was true to his beliefs: One grain of sand from the land of Israel was worth more than all the agreements with the Arabs put together.

I remember the shouts of joy in the Prime Minister's Office in the winter of 1988 when the news came in that Arafat hadn't provided the Americans with the declaration that was a precondition for starting a dialogue between the Reagan administration and the PLO leadership. The next day, when Shamir heard that Arafat had revised the wording of the declaration and was committing himself to ending the armed struggle against Israel, that joy gave way to overt disappointment. Shamir was afraid, and rightly so, that the dialogue between the Americans and the PLO would lead to negotiations over the future of "Judea and Samaria," and who knew where that might lead. He was afraid, and rightly so, that Washington would not view favorably the expansion of the Jewish settlements in the West Bank at the height of such negotiations.

It was Shamir who taught Bibi the method of pushing off the risk of concession without saying "no" to the Americans and inventing preconditions for the political process that the Arabs would undoubtedly reject. Shamir demanded that the PLO not be invited to the Madrid Conference that the administration of Bush senior convened at the end of 1991. Shamir demanded the Palestinian delegation be part of the Jordanian one and not include any representative from East Jerusalem. And just to be sure, he also demanded that every Arab nation, especially Syria, show up in Madrid.

To Shamir's great surprise, the Palestinians agreed to all the conditions and found indirect stratagem that made a laughingstock out of Israel, such as finding East Jerusalem representatives who also happened to have addresses is Ramallah. I remember the panic in the Prime Minister's Office after its staff read a piece I published in this newspaper about an American congressman who had visited Damascus bearing the message that Hafez Assad had decided to dispatch his foreign minister to the Madrid Conference. When I met Shamir a few days later, I couldn't resist, and said to him, "You're right, Mr. Prime Minister, you just can't trust those Arabs." Shamir, knowing what I meant, didn't laugh. He was not amused.

Netanyahu's policy on the settlements and his demand that the Palestinians recognize Israel as the nation state of the Jewish people demonstrate that Netanyahu is Shamir without the mustache.

Residents of the Palestinian village of Susya, on the slopes of the South Hebron Hills, are anxiously awaiting the decision of the Civil Administration on the appeal they submitted to stop the demolition orders against 52 structures in the village, as a result of a High Court of Justice ruling.

In the Susya case, unlike Beit El's Ulpana neighborhood, the government isn't asking the court for an extension of several months to make sure that the landowners have alternate housing set up. And Rabbis for Human Rights, an organization that's been working with the Susya residents, isn't optimistic that this case will follow the precedent set in Ulpana. Peace activists involved in Susya's struggle have already prepared another petition to the High Court and have solicited expert opinions. This document, whose key points are published below for the first time, will undoubtedly land on the desks of justices of the International Criminal Court in The Hague.

Prof. Eyal Benvenisti of Tel Aviv University wrote that the expulsion of Susya residents from their homes is no less than a war crime. An expert in international law whose opinion have been widely published and recognized by jurists all over the world, Benvenisti has determined that, on the basis of the facts presented to him, the demolition of "life sustaining infrastructures" in Susya will, in practice, mean the forced expulsion of a protected population. According to him, such an expulsion is contrary to the Fourth Geneva Convention to which Israel is a signatory, as well as the Hague Regulations. Both of these are recognized as common law and are therefore binding on Israel as well.

Benvenisti notes that there is an absolute prohibition on expelling protected civilians when there are no active hostilities. Considerations and constraints not directly connected to the welfare of the protected civilians being moved, or even essential military needs, cannot serve as a foundation to balance out the absolute right of protected civilians to remain where they are. "The absolute nature of the prohibition stems from the dark history of World War II, rife with the phenomena of expulsions for a host of different reasons," explains Benvenisti.

Until the Civil Administration decides whether to risk the serious accusation of war crime, the Israel Defense Forces are trying to keep Israeli peace activists out of the area. Last week the army detained veteran peace activist Ezra Nawi of Ta'ayush, who is dedicating his life to the cave dwellers of the South Hebron Hills. Nawi is accused of having entered a location designated as Area A (where the Palestinians have security and civil control ) contrary to military orders. Dror Etkes, who closely monitors Israeli activity in the West Bank, discovered that the road connecting Route 60 to the Jewish settlement of Negohot, located southwest of Hebron, goes through Area A for about 3-4 kilometers and settlement residents come and go on the road accompanied by IDF soldiers.

"When it comes to the settlers, 'security considerations' ... are exposed as being yet another method for selective enforcement," says Etkes.

A spokesman for the coordinator of government activities in the territories confirmed that the road runs through Area A, and noted that the road was there before the West Bank was divided into Areas A, B and C. According to the spokesman, the prohibition on entering Area A stems from security concerns, not political considerations.

Illustration by Amos Biderman
Former Prime Minister Yitzhak Shamir attending a press conference during an official visit in Paris.Credit: AP



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