Netanyahu Uses His Gaza Formula to Rule Israel's Palestinian Arabs

For Palestinians in Israel, the West Bank and even Gaza, the national discourse has been pushed to the sidelines and remains merely declarative

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Palestinians watch the televised announcement of the Trump peace plan in Khan Yunis, Gaza, January 28, 2020.
Palestinians watch the televised announcement of the Trump peace plan in Khan Yunis, Gaza, January 28, 2020.Credit: AFP
Jack Khoury
Jack Khoury

The idea being floated in Likud in recent days, to operate direct flights between Israel and Saudi Arabia, is nothing more than a hot air balloon intended for propaganda, but there’s more behind it than a possible saving of tens of thousands of shekels for pilgrims to Mecca.

It stems from a clear policy Benjamin Netanyahu adopted toward Palestinians wherever they are – in the West Bank, the Gaza Strip and inside Israel. The formula – the stick and the carrot, is old and familiar, but now the carrot is thicker and the stick has been laid aside.

If the fight against Iran is in the military arena, here the magic word is money, even if it’s small change. The strategy is to keep the West Bank and Gaza Strip residents busy in their daily routine, achieve quiet and prevent any serious discussion of a peace arrangement and self-determination. This is by way of focusing attention on improving their standard of living in Israel and giving them small sweets, like a cheaper Haj trip – anything to keep them from dealing with their national aspirations.

Netanyahu and then minister of Diaspora Affairs Naftali Bennett visit a school in the Arab-majority northern Israeli town of Tamra in 2016.Credit: Sebastian Scheiner/AP

On Thursday, we were told that Defense Minister Naftali Bennett lifted the restrictions on exporting Palestinian agricultural goods to Israel and to other states. As with the tax collection arrangement with the Palestinian Authority a few months ago, each side reserves the right to claim that the other one folded. But apparently they both compromised.

This policy is proving itself. Despite all the threats, the Palestinian Authority is continuing the security coordination with Israel and preventing any possibility of going rogue. The atmosphere in the West Bank isn’t of resistance, but of frustration and disbelief in the possibility of change, as well as quite a bit of business. The public cannot deny the existence of the occupation, but life flows on, because everyone, in PA territories and in Israel, has an interest to make it flow on.


This formula works in Gaza as well. The sovereign, Hamas, speaks loftily of liberating all of Palestine, from the sea to the Jordan River, but is in fact negotiating with Israel and Egypt over perpetuating its rule. The debate focuses on the power supply, work permits, strawberries, fish and textile goods. Hamas wraps all this up with the familiar call to remove the blockade, and in Israel they talk of keeping the Gaza Strip cut off from the West Bank.

In the Israeli Arab community the situation is different, because after all these are citizens, but the policy is the same. Reality – the rising crime, the housing shortage – forces the Arab MKs to adopt a civil agenda. At the same time the state has advanced Plan 922, a multi-billion shekel development program for Arab society, and the cooperation between Arab local government heads and cabinet ministries grew closer. In the past year the national discourse has all but disappeared from the Arab parties’ agenda, despite the false claim that they’re mainly busy with the Palestinian issue.

For most of the Arab public, the most acute issues are violence, housing, education and making a living. Like in the West Bank and Gaza, the national discourse has been pushed to the sidelines and remains merely declarative.

In recent weeks the “deal of the century” has infused life into the national discourse, mainly due to the idea of a population exchange with the Palestinian state. Netanyahu, who raised the idea, got the message: “There’s a vague statement there that has no meaning,” he now states. “It won’t happen, it’s all a balloon they’re trying to inflate to bring people to vote for the Joint List.”

On election eve the prime minister prefers to talk about religion and money and promises trips to Mecca. This is how he rules the Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza and there’s no reason his method won’t succeed in Israel as well.

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