Netanyahu’s March of Folly

The Netanyahu government has succeeded in getting Israelis used to anti-democratic measures and the PM's policies are pushing Israel into further isolation.

Many were fooled by Netanyahu’s Bar-Ilan speech in 2009, and thought that a new Netanyahu had emerged: more pragmatic, and more open to new ways of thought. His actions, however, tell a different story. A few days ago, Akiva Eldar reported on these pages that the IDF Civil Administration is currently pushing for taking over further land in the West Bank. Much of these lands are around the existing settlement blocs, and some of them are of particular importance, because they would make territorial contiguity of a future Palestinian state impossible.

Moreover, the Civil Administration is also trying to redefine the land of outposts that are currently illegal - even according to Israeli law - as state-owned land, thus legitimizing these settlements. Eldar also points out that these redefinitions are leading to the point where a land-swap between Israel and Palestine will become impossible. In brief: Netanyahu never believed in a viable Palestinian state, and he never changed his mind.

Netanyahu - Daniel Bar-On
Daniel Bar-On

His course of action is inevitably reminiscent of historian Barbara Tuchman’s famous book “The March of Folly”. She described how from Troy to the Vietnam War, regimes time and again systematically pursued policies that led to catastrophic results.

If she was still alive, she could easily add a new chapter on Israel’s policies since 1967 - starting with Golda Meir’s refusal to respond to Sadat’s peace proposals, a disastrous mistake that led to the Yom Kippur War, and so far ending with how the Netanyahu government is pushing Israel into unprecedented isolation, and possibly into another terrible war.

Netanyahu’s real goals have never changed since the 1990s, when he presented his long-term view in books, articles and op-ed pieces. As he wrote in his book A Durable Peace, he believes that Palestinian sovereignty should be limited to four cantons surrounding major Palestinian cities, on an area of no more than 40 percent of the West Bank. His current actions indicate, that he continues to move toward settling as much land as possible. The goal, it seems, is to prevent Palestinians from applying the principle of the right of return, even to a future Palestinian state.

Of course no Palestinian leader would ever accept Netanyahu’s plans, and Netanyahu knows this as well as anybody else.

It is less clear how he envisages the near and far future. His government has already indicated that it will revoke the Oslo agreements if the Palestinians seek UN recognition for their state in September. This might indeed suit Netanyahu - if he wants to make a Palestinian state impossible, he might actually like the idea of rescinding all previous accords. In his view, this gives Israel full freedom to do as it wishes in the West-Bank.

Under this scenario, the Palestinians have two choices: one is to use UN recognition of Palestine to go to international courts and to claim that Israel is now an illegal occupier of the lands of a sovereign state. It seems though, that their legal means are limited if they don’t receive full UN membership - which they won’t because Obama has decided to use the U.S. veto power in the UN Security Council - and without a Security Council recommendation, full membership is not possible according to UN statutes.

Nevertheless, the plot would thicken. At least 130 countries are likely to recognize Palestine, and in their view, Israel would now be an illegal occupier. They are likely to want embassies in Palestine, and they will argue that East Jerusalem is Palestine’s capital.

Many of these states might now claim that, since Israel is an illegal occupier, they will take steps against it, for example by no longer granting Israelis entry to their territories without visas. Ideas that can be found in the press are that they will not grant entry to settlers in the West Bank, or Israelis will have to fill out forms stating whether they are serving or have served in the West Bank.

Alternatively, they may come to the same conclusion as Al-Quds University President and long-time peace activist Sari Nousseibeh in his book, “What is a Palestinian State Worth?”, that the two-state solution is dead. The Palestinians might dismantle the Palestinian Authority and either ask the UN for protectorate status, or simply demand full Israeli citizenship, given that the occupation has become a status quo that is no longer likely to change.

In either case, Israel’s already deep isolation will intensify to new depths. Public opinion in the West will increasingly push toward sanctions on Israel, and it is unclear how long governments will be able to withstand such pressure, and Israel will pay a heavy price politically and economically.

Will this lead to Netanyahu’s downfall?

I am not sure. His support for the boycott law shows that he is already building the case that sanctions or boycott on Israel is not his responsibility. His government, in the short timeframe of two years, has already succeeded in getting Israelis used to anti-democratic measures. His rhetoric has heated up to paranoid tones. He will claim, with generous help from Avigdor Lieberman, that Israel’s left is to be blamed along with global anti-Semitism.

He will use the proven right-wing tactic of claiming that Israel’s left (that hardly exists anymore) is the fifth column that supports a world-wide conspiracy to bring Israel down – and he may convince voters that he is Israel’s only protector, never mind the facts.

Along the lines of Barbara Tuchman’s “March of Folly”, all of this will lead Israel into catastrophe. Former Mossad Chief Meir Dagan warned months ago that Netanyahu and Barak are perfectly capable of attacking Iran to avert the political disaster that will follow the recognition of Palestine, and warned of the terrible cost Israel will pay for such an attack. Even if Netanyahu’s folly won’t go that far, Israel will suffer a heavy price in terms of political and economic isolation.

And none of it is necessary. The Israeli Peace Initiative, endorsed by former leading figures of Israel’s security establishment, including Lipkin-Shahak, Mitznah, Amy Ayalon, Danny Yatom and Yaakov Peri belies Netanyahu’s flat assertion that the 1967 borders are indefensible. The Palestine Papers documenting negotiations between Olmert’s government and the Palestinian Authority show that the adage that there is no Palestinian partner for peace is simply untrue.

But nothing seems to be able to stop Netanyahu’s March of Folly – and Israelis will pay the price for the madness.