Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is nobody's fool. He certainly knows that photos of policemen dragging away civilians who have come to protest the occupation and the siege do not enhance Israel's standing as "the only democracy in the Middle East." He undoubtedly understands that horse-trading over terrorists' dry bones does not help rebuild the shattered remnants of trust between Israel and the Palestinians.
He also presumably knows that open conflict with the U.S. president is detrimental to Israel's long-term interests. And this expert on America most likely took into account that his refusal to meet with a congressional delegation of supporters of the dovish American-Jewish organization J Street did not reveal him to be an enlightened leader.
Netanyahu knows what he is doing. This is exactly what he wants.
Everything used to be simpler. Hamas suicide bombers sowed terror and the right wing reaped hatred. Palestinian Authority President Yasser Arafat smuggled in a ship full of weapons and the right wing smuggled voters away from the left.
But when mothers do not fear letting their children roam the malls, it is hard to foster loathing. When PA President Mahmoud Abbas gets his Fatah party's governing organs to adopt U.S. President Barack Obama's formula for resuming negotiations, one must root around for new sources of hatred.
A spirit of reconciliation with the Arabs and international support might, God forbid, give voters the idea that "Judea and Samaria" are "occupied territories." Voters might think it makes sense to freeze construction in the settlements during negotiations over the fate of the West Bank and East Jerusalem.
But the flotilla and the fly-in, the conflict with the PA, the crisis with Obama and the clashes with the left are all serving Netanyahu's purposes. "They should break their bones," one person told a radio interviewer reporting from Ben-Gurion Airport on the reception given the peace activists - sorry, the "pro-Palestinian protesters" (or "provocateurs," as the best reporters put it ). An Internet talkback proposed the protesters be "tied up and put to sleep and then they can be sent as animal cargo." Another traveler at Ben-Gurion suggested, "Let them go to Syria."
The well-orchestrated campaign to promote the idea that the Palestinians and their international supporters are delegitimizing "the very existence of the State of Israel" has turned all critics of the most right-wing government Israel has ever had into Israel-haters.
We respond to force with more force. We respond to hatred with more hatred. Who cares if Abbas has reiterated publicly that he recognizes the State of Israel within the 1967 borders as the state of the Israeli people? Why pay the price to free Gilad Shalit if the captured soldier's terrble suffering and Hamas' cruel abuse of his family ensure a continued supply of Arab-hatred? Who cares whether a respected group of former security officials has called for immediate implementation of the Shalit deal?
If Netanyahu were concerned about the fact that Israel's international standing is collapsing, he would not have placed the country's foreign relations in the hands of the individual most deserving of the title Minister of Chutzpah. The prime minister has turned increased global support for a Palestinian state into a political asset. The government has turned domestic criticism of itself into something approaching betrayal of the country in wartime: "Quiet! They're shooting at us!"
The delegitimization of those who oppose the occupation and injustice is trickling down to the lowest-ranking police officer, as is hatred of the left. Israeli leftists from the Solidarity movement who stubbornly continue demonstrating in East Jerusalem's Sheikh Jarrah and Silwan neighborhoods, activists in Breaking the Silence and volunteers with Machsom Watch tell of harsh verbal and sometimes even physical violence against them by the security forces.
To oil the wheels of hatred, Netanyahu and his spokespeople use hate-filled Palestinian publications that differ little from "Torat Hamelech," a book by a settler rabbi, or the leaflets on the weekly Torah portion that flood synagogues throughout Israel. To deal with this phenomenon among the Palestinians, Abbas told the American administration he was willing to immediately resume the activities of the joint committee against incitement; he has also conveyed direct messages to this effect to the Prime Minister's Bureau.
But Netanyahu prefers to sell hatred of gentiles. He knows that Israelis feel warm and cozy in the bunker, as long as it includes cheap cottage cheese.
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