The most popular explanation for the source of the idiom “let the cat out of the bag” comes from medieval con jobs in which cheap kittens were supposedly substituted for popular piglets, but that’s patently absurd. Cats in bags don’t behave in any way remotely resembling little piggies. Anyone who bought a cat that masqueraded as a pig must have been drunk or deaf or blind or all of the above.
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Benjamin Netanyahu’s latest pledge not to remove any Jewish settlements anywhere ever is a case in point. The last thing that can be said is that Netanyahu let the cat out of the bag. A prime minister whose most generous vision for peace is a besieged Palestinian autonomy; who insists the Israeli army should control the West Bank forever; who routinely describes the Palestinian leadership as hateful supporters of terror; who even tried to pin blame for the Holocaust on a Palestinian mufti; who has never shown a hint of sympathy for the millions of people who live under Israeli occupation or made any effort to communicate with them — this is not a prime minister who seeks peace. Perhaps he’s being a little more candid because he knows the U.S. president is, to put a fine point on it, otherwise engaged, but otherwise nothing has changed.
Some leaders on the right have already abandoned the traditional masquerade ball altogether and no longer feel the need to pretend that there are circumstances in which they would accept peace. For them, as Netanyahu says of his criminal probes, “there will be nothing, because there is nothing here.” But many right-wingers are still insulted if you accuse them of not wanting peace. They’re still waiting for the “secure peace” that Netanyahu promised voters in 1996. Most Likudniks realize it’s poppycock but there are enough naive voters out there to make a difference, so Netanyahu spares them the complete candor they deserve.
If he and his right-wing colleagues were truthful, they would admit that they have no idea where their polices will lead. They know where they’re coming from, not where they’re going. They know what they oppose, but have no idea what they support. They waver between full annexation, with or without granting the Palestinians full citizenship, to having isolated Palestinian municipalities that oversee their own sanitation and education, and go all the way to the Geronimo school of leaping in the void, which is the prevalent government policy. This is the engine of the train that is proudly, patriotically and confidently forging full speed ahead into the unknown.
Honest patriots, as Netanyahu and his colleagues view themselves, would look the public in the eye and tell the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth. That Israel is strong enough to make peace, but they’re not interested. That their policies will inevitably lead to Bantustans, apartheid or a perpetually conflicted binational state. That one day the Palestinian Authority will collapse and be replaced by Hamas, ISIS or Allah knows who. That one day Trump won’t be president and the world will no longer be transfixed by ISIS, but that the bridges to the liberal world, including parts of American Jewry, will remain burned. And that as it has for the past 50 years, the Israeli blood feud over the occupation will continue to divide and polarize Israel, to destroy its democracy and to radicalize its leaders and public opinion.
The final inconvenient truth is this: The conflict with the Palestinians has been good for Netanyahu and much of the right. It built Netanyahu up, enabled him to ignite and incite, brought him into the Prime Minister’s Office and is now granting him blanket clemency for his transgressions, because the leftists and Arab enemies are at the gate. The endless clash between left and right over the territories created the breach through which the settlers and the Orthodox conquered and then subdued Israel. In fact, as far as achieving peace with the Palestinians is concerned, Netanyahu and the right have a conflict of interests that is as clear as black and white, in or out of the bag.