Opinion

Occupation? What Occupation?

Just 30 years into his political career, Netanyahu finally told the truth: Millions of people whose rights are trampled day after day, whose lives are intolerable, are of no interest to Israel’s prime minister

Israel Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu attends the weekly cabinet meeting at his office in Jerusalem October 28, 2018.
Oded Balilty/Pool via REUTERS

On Monday, during the closed-door part of the Likud legislative caucus, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said the following: “Nations respect morality up to a known limit and they respect power much more. We reject the understanding of the occupation. If the occupation were the issue, there are a number of states that have occupied other states and no one says a word about them. Big, well-known states. No one said a word about Turkey and Northern Cyprus.” Of course these remarks drowned immediately in the shallows between the latest boorishness of Likud MK Oren Hazan and the sexism of Yesh Atid MK Elazar Stern.

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Just 30 years into his political career, Netanyahu finally told the truth (whispered and behind closed doors, of course): The occupation isn’t the issue. Populations under occupation aren’t important. Millions of people whose rights are trampled day after day, whose lives are intolerable, are of no interest to Israel’s prime minister. He doesn’t bother with such things. Power is the only thing that matters. Jewish power. And on that score, Netanyahu is in fact satisfied. “It’s important to raise [these issues] because people have spoken of a tsunami, that the Palestinian issue must be solved,” he said at the meeting. “That shouldn’t stop us in face of the enormous diplomatic success that we are creating.”

In last week’s local elections, residents of Kiryat Arba voted out Mayor Malachi Levinger, yet once again in Hebron there was no elections no election. In the south Hebron hills, human beings built settlement outposts on stolen land, while the population of Khan al-Ahmar is slated for eviction. Settlers have the right to build in order to accommodate “natural increase,” while the population of the territories is barred from planning construction, “in accordance with instructions from the political level,” as the head of the Civil Administration recently admitted. A “population” is devoid of humanity and can be trampled on or “exchanged,” the way you’d exchange a purchase in a store.

Something should be said about that power to which Netanyahu aspires like some Hollywood villain. Power is more that the sum of a country’s economic and military strengths. Israel’s economy and its military strength depend on its alliances and these alliances depend, in part, on its values. The Israel of the Declaration of Independence is a state that acquired sufficient power to enter an alliance with the United States and European states. Netanyahu’s Israel crawls after any local tyrant willing to relocate an embassy.

Strong states are not drawn to aid Hungary’s Viktor Orban, whose campaigns drip with anti-Semitism, or Brazil’s Jair Bosonaro, who talks about bringing back the military junta in his country. But apparently, the confluence of interests at the basis of such alliances also hides a confluence of values. Prime ministers here once flirted with an alliance of minorities; now we’ve progressed to an alliance of pariahs.

Netanyahu’s remarks drew little attention. No one asked him to clarify and explain how they could be reconciled with the lies he spouted in the Bar-Ilan speech. Maybe because no one expects him to tell the truth.

Elections in Israel rise and fall on the future of the territories, and the prime minister believes it’s legitimate to maintain ambiguity. It’s easy to understand this, considering the policy that he supports. It’s more difficult to understand why the public submissively accepts this kind of treatment.

Netanyahu may have been talking about international relations, but he promotes the same immoral and power-drunk policy on the political level too. If we’re not careful, Israel will increasingly come to resemble Netanyahu: a paranoid state that talks about “loyalty” but longs for flattery, a state whose citizens are all potential enemies. We are standing on the edge of the abyss, and reflecting back at us from the bottom is Netanyahu’s face.