How Khaled Meshal's Call for Israel's Destruction Played Into Netanyahu's Hands

The Hamas leader's speech was good for Netanyahu, because he could, once again, present Israel as the innocent victim that is never understood by the international community and diffuse attention from his own actions that aggravate the international community.

Carlo Strenger
Carlo Strenger
Carlo Strenger
Carlo Strenger

Benjamin Netanyahu’s most reliable ally is Hamas. That may sound like a strange proposition, but let me explain.

In the last weeks, Benjamin Netanyahu has pulled two of his more expectable stunts.

First: After the UN recognized Palestine as a non-member state, Netanyahu announced that Israel would build 3,000 housing units in Area E-1. Netanyahu has his limits, but he isn’t stupid: he didn’t doubt for a minute that Israel’s allies in the Western World would react harshly, because E-1 is seen as critical for territorial contiguity of a future Palestinian state.

Second: At the beginning of this week. Netanyahu was in Germany, where, predictably, he had a tense meeting with Chancellor Angela Merkel. Afterward, there was a public event, to which the Germans had invited, among others, Prof. Rivka Feldchai, a noted intellectual historian who in the past has called upon Israeli soldiers to refuse serving in the West Bank on grounds of conscience. Netanyahu requested his German hosts to take Prof. Feldhay off the list.

It doesn’t matter whether Netanyahu thinks Feldchai had crossed a red line or not by encouraging conscientious objection. He disregarded both the principle of academic freedom and Prof. Feldhai’s freedom of expression as a citizen. International etiquette would have required Netanyahu to swallow his pride and to sit at the same event with Prof. Feldhai, but he vetoed her presence.

It cost him dearly: The two academics who attended the event, Prof. Reuven Amitai, dean of the humanities faculty at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, and Prof. Steve Weiner, of the Weizmann Institute of Science in Rehovot, publicly slammed Netanyahu for violating the principle of academic freedom - and I wholeheartedly compliment them on their courage and integrity.

Prof Joseph Klafter, President of Tel Aviv University and Prof. Menachem Ben-Sasson, President of Hebrew University and Chair of Israel’s Association of University Presidents wrote letters protesting Feldhai’s exclusion from the event. Klafter rightly pointed out that Israel fights all attempts to impose academic boycotts on Israel - and then Netanyahu boycotts our own academics, undermining Israel’s image in the world.

As said before, Netanyahu may have his limits, but he isn’t stupid: he could have predicted the reaction. So, assuming that Netanyahu knew that both the announcement of E-1 and the exclusion of Feldhay from the event in Germany would draw heavy fire, why did he do it? The answer is to be found in Kissinger’s immortal comment: “Israel doesn't have a foreign policy, only a domestic one”.

Neither Chancellor Merkel, the EU, nor the foreign media matter to Netanyahu. Naftali Bennett, the new leader of Habayit Hayehudi does matter to him, however, because there is only one thing that really worries Netanyahu these days: he knows he won’t lose votes to the center-left bloc in Israel’s upcoming elections, but he may lose votes to Habayit Hayehudi.

Bennett, whom Netanyahu dislikes to begin with, has outflanked him on the right. He suggests annexing areas B and C of the West Bank, ostensibly to calm down the situation and to create clear facts on the ground - de facto to kill any possibility of a peaceful settlement with the Palestinians.

Bennett, a clear shaven, suave high-tech success story, shows Israel’s right-leaning voters what a good Jew is supposed to be: who cares if the international community sees annexation of the West Bank as the last straw that would turn Israel into a pariah state? A good Jew doesn’t bow to the Gentiles!

Netanyahu needed to keep up with the Bennetts. He therefore showed Israel’s right-wing electorate that he doesn’t care about international opinion any more than Bennett, and flagrantly slaps our allies in the face flaunting any international convention.

After Netanyahu had, once again, increased Israel’s isolation, Netanyahu’s most reliable ally, Hamas, saved his skin. Khaled Meshal, for the first time in 45 years, stepped onto the ground of the Gaza Strip. After kissing it, he spoke at a huge rally, and told a huge audience that soon they would meet again, not just in Jerusalem, but in Haifa, Jaffa, and Safed as well, and declared Israel’s existence illegitimate.

If I were paranoid, I would assume that Arthur Finkelstein, Netanyahu’s trusted strategic adviser, had told Netanyahu to pay Meshal a fortune to make this statement at this time. It gave Netanyahu what he needed: beaming self-righteously, he reprimanded the international community for condemning Israel for its actions and not saying a word about Meshal’s demand to destroy Israel.

Never mind that the international community would have done well to actually condemn Meshal’s speech. It was good for Netanyahu, because he could, once again, present Israel as the innocent victim that is never understood by the international community and diffuse attention from his own actions that aggravate the international community.

Then again, Meshal needs Netanyahu, and must make sure to continue supporting him by voicing extremist views. It would be very bad indeed for Hamas if Israel had a government willing to head for a peace agreement with his archrival, Fatah leader and Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas. Netanyahu is good for Meshal, and Meshal is good for Netanyahu – and they take good care of each other.

Hamas chief Khaled Meshal in Gaza City in December 2012 - launched to Palestinian stardom after Israeli assassination attempt.Credit: Reuters

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