No Peace Partner in Netanyahu's Eyes, Only Wild Beasts

Only someone who acknowledges the humanity of his enemy can fight him when necessary, and make peace with him when possible.

Carolina Landsmann
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Netanyahu and IDF chief Eisenkot touring Israel's eastern border, February 9, 2015.
Netanyahu and IDF chief Eisenkot touring Israel's eastern border, February 9, 2015.Credit: Kobi Gideon / GPO
Carolina Landsmann

“Explain the logic of the conversation to me this minute. No, you won’t drag me there. You explain to me what you were talking about, I’m talking about what you said,” said Simcha Goldin, father of Hadar Goldin, an IDF soldier who was killed in action in Gaza during Operation Protective Edge, to Razi Barkai, on Niv Raskin’s morning news program on Army Radio.

The altercation between the two took place after an interview by Barkai on his radio program “What’s Burning” with Internal Security Minister Gilad Erdan, over Israel’s refusal to return the bodies of the Palestinian fighters to their loved ones. Here is what Barkai said: “Imagine Israeli families … that are waiting desperately to receive the bodies of their loved ones.”

Barkai’s words were interrupted by Erdan’s cries of shock. Barkai tried to explain – “in terms of the families’ feelings” – but it was evident that Erdan couldn’t believe his ears – in other words, not just that this was Barkai’s opinion, but that such an opinion is even possible. There is no question: Erdan’s insides, just like those of Simcha Goldin, are incapable of coping with a comparison between the feelings of bereaved Jewish mothers and those of bereaved Arab mothers. In that sense Netanyahu’s assertion – that we are surrounded by “wild animals” – is an accurate formulation of the Israeli zeitgeist, the essence of the stirrings of the Jewish soul in its land.

“There isn’t just pain – there’s good pain and there’s bad pain,” wrote former Likud MK Moshe Feiglin on his Facebook page in response to Barkai’s words. “Anyone who feels pain at the death of wicked people echoes their message. Anyone who compares the pain is legitimizing evil – and encouraging the next murder.”

Those who want to think out of the Oslo box and that of direct negotiations between Israelis and Palestinians, those who want to wake up from dreams about peace, those who wish to shatter the illusion of two states, or reject in advance the hallucinations about a state of all its citizens, or about a binational state – all those people no longer argue about facts or political viewpoints. They have abandoned the historical and political facts and have switched to talking about feelings.

In the past Israelis recognized that there is a Palestinian, or Arab, perspective, but due to historical circumstances this perspective is that of the enemy. They could stay loyal to the Israeli narrative without negating the possibility of a Palestinian one. “Let us not blame the murderers. Who are we to complain about their intense hatred of us?” said Chief of Staff Moshe Dayan in 1956, when he eulogized Roi Rutenberg, a young kibbutz member who was murdered by Arabs near the Gaza Strip.

Today it seems Israelis reject in advance the possibility that the Palestinians even have a perspective. Beneath the surface something very profound has changed in Israeli society. Israeli common sense has changed beyond recognition – most Israelis believe that the feelings of the enemy are different in nature from theirs; that the pain is not the same pain; that there is no minimal common denominator between Jews and Arabs, for example a human common denominator that could be the basis for the imagination of a better future.

Only someone who acknowledges the humanity of his enemy can fight him when necessary, and make peace with him when possible. But the ugliness of Israel on the battlefield in Netanyahu’s era – disproportionate harm to civilians, firing at hospitals and schools, commerce in bodies – is the ugliness of Netanyahu at the negotiating table.

All the existing ideas for proposals of solutions to the conflict assume that the Israeli-Arab conflict is fundamentally a conflict between human beings. That seemed also to be the assumption at the basis of the Israeli viewpoint that “there is no partner.” Now it turns out that anyone who thought Israel’s claim is that Abu Mazen doesn’t want to sign an agreement, or that Yasser Arafat before him didn’t really want to, has missed the deeper significance of the Israeli perspective – it’s becoming clear that what they are actually saying is that there is no partner in principle. That is, no more than that a wild animal could be called a partner.

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