Lessons From the EU Guidelines: Israel’s Right-wingers Suffer From Learning Difficulties

Up-and-coming young Israeli right-wing politicians happily tour the world explaining that the West Bank belongs to the Jews. Instead of applauding them, the EU plans on issuing new guidelines on settlements. So what went wrong?

Carlo Strenger
Carlo Strenger
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Carlo Strenger
Carlo Strenger

Jews are said to be smart. And Israel has shown wonderful creativity, initiative and daring in many respects. There is just one point where Israel’s right-of-center political establishment suffers from truly staggering learning difficulties: they still believe that by continuing to colonize the West Bank, the international community will wake up one day and realize that Shiloh, Hebron and Nablus have belonged to Jews forever and that they are simply part of Israel.

Haven’t they noticed that since 1967 all foreign embassies are in Tel Aviv rather than in Jerusalem? Haven’t they noticed that Israel’s annexation of East Jerusalem has never been accepted? And why do they think that settlements like Itamar will fare differently from East Jerusalem in this respect?

This learning difficulty is particularly blatant among the up-and-coming young Israeli politicians from the right of the political map. They have discovered that it is “in” and “hip” to say that the two-state solution is dead, and that Israel should annex either all of the West Bank or, at least sixty percent of it. They now also seem to have gotten the very simple point that you can’t annex any part of the West Bank without giving its Palestinian population full political rights, because otherwise Israel would formally become an apartheid state, so they happily declare that all Palestinians will be Israeli citizens.

Our hip young rightists like Deputy Defense Minister Danny Danon and Deputy Transportation Minister Tzipi Hotovely, both from Likud, happily tour the world explaining that the West Bank belongs to the Jewish people, and that we have a divine contract called the Bible showing we got this land from God himself.

But instead of applauding them the EU is set to issue binding guidelines that all agreements between the EU and Israel are only valid within the 1967 borders and not in the West Bank. The implications for Israel’s economy are far-reaching. The EU is by far Israel’s largest trading partner, and cooperation with the EU on a number of economic and research projects is central for Israel’s economy.

So what went wrong? How come our young rightists misread the map to such an extent? The answer is pretty simple. These young politicians were born into the situation in which Israel ruled the West Bank. For them this is Israel, and they see the anomaly not in the occupation but in the world’s weird inability to realize that the West Bank is really part of Israel. They seriously think that if we just wait long enough the world will come to its senses.

Maybe we cannot expect more from the likes of Danon and Hotovely, whose political horizon is limited to the Likud central committee and running for Likud primaries; their hardline stance is increasingly popular in these forums, and their understanding of the world at large is minimal. Danon has already made a total fool of himself in his few international appearances, showing how little of the international scene he understands.

You might have expected more from Economy Minister Naftali Bennett who is certainly a gifted man. He has shown that he can build a business and develop it internationally, and that he can lead a party to electoral success. But alas, his understanding of international politics is fairly limited. He has just come back from a trip abroad, and triumphantly announced that Israel is not in the least isolated, and that the Israel-Palestine conflict doesn’t interest anybody. If this was his conclusion, we are in dire straits indeed, because it means that Bennett has very little sense for international politics.

As opposed to Mr. Bennett’s announcements the free world has not lost interest in Israel/Palestine. It is only getting impatient with Israel’s continuing colonization of the West Bank and beginning to realize that if the EU doesn't crank up the pressure, Israel will destroy the last chance for the two-state solution.

So let’s spell out the EU’s message to Israel. Since World War II a gradual system of international law has evolved that no longer allows annexation of territories won by conquest. Israel is in no way singled out in this respect, and the stance towards the West Bank is the same as it is in other conflicts around the globe.

As to the claim that Israel belongs to us Jews through a God-given promise, Bennett, Hotovely, Danon & Co seem not to have realized that most of the international community is not interested in long-term historical claims to sovereignty. Serbia had time and again announced that Kosovo was the heart of Serbia and that Serbia has historical claims to it ranging back to the seventh century.

It just happened that the Kosovars have no interest in being part of Serbia and voted for their own independence in 2008. So far 105 countries - most importantly most states of the free world, including the EU - have recognized Kosovo. The human rights paradigm does not put a premium on long-term historical claims whether based on religious documents or national narratives, but on the self-definition of actual human beings alive today.

Again Israel is in no way singled out here. But Bennett, Hotovely, Danon and their ilke need to realize that the international community has very little interest in their views about Israel’s biblical rights, but does care about Palestinian claims to self-determination. And the fact is that the UN recognized Palestine as a non-member state last year with an overwhelming majority.

The latest EU guidelines make crystal-clear to anybody who has eyes to see and ears to hear that the international community has no intention whatsoever of accepting Israel’s creeping annexation of the West Bank. Netanyahu reacted predictably by saying that Israel will not accept “external edicts on our borders.” He hasn’t realized that the international community doesn’t accept Israel’s unilateral edicts on Palestine through land expropriation and settlement building, either. The question is whether Netanyahu will wake up in time to prevent Israel from sliding not only into deeper political isolation, but also into economic decline.

Naftali Bennett, party chairman of Habayit Hayehudi.Credit: Reuters



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