What Does Netanyahu Mean When He Talks About Peace?

How can Netanyahu speak of regional peace and at the same time expand Jewish settlement in East Jerusalem?

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A view of Silwan from the City of David excavations.
A view of Silwan from the City of David excavations.Credit: Moshe Gilad

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu insisted that his recycled speech before the UN General Assembly be colored not only in the shades of war, despair and intimidation, but also in the hues of opportunity and peace. Thus he peppered his address with promising phrases such as “historic compromise” and “new opportunities.”

Only a few hours after his speech, however, the Netanyahu government continued to prove that any phrases or declarations that deviate from its prophecies of doom about Israel’s future are nothing but empty slogans.

The occupancy by dozens of Jewish settlers of seven buildings in the East Jerusalem Arab neighborhood of Silwan, facilitated by the right-wing Elad organization and under heavy police security, received the blessing of Economy Minister Naftali Bennett. Bennet, a member of Israel’s inner cabinet, said he viewed it as “an event of historic proportions,” proving that words like “historic compromises” and “peace” are a “normality” fee. That is, a fee that Netanyahu must pay so as not to be seen by the Israeli public and the international community for what he really is, an enthusiastic supporter of annexing the territories and of handing the State of Israel, including its resources, its taxes and its security forces, to the settlers.

The seizure of the homes in Silwan, where some 500 Jews now live, is another nail in the coffin of the peace process. That’s essentially its purpose — to make any territorial compromise in Jerusalem as difficult as possible in order to shoot down any chance for an agreement between Israel and the Palestinians.

Netanyahu knows that no dominant power in the region would sign a peace treaty with Israel without the evacuation of the settlements. Neither the coalition against the Islamic State, nor water and gas agreements nor any kind of regional cooperation will ever obscure the damage caused by the occupation.

Even if Netanyahu were to seek peace in Saudi Arabia, it is not clear with whom he would make peace, in light of the fact that Israel’s illegitimate colonialist policies infuriate not only the Arab world but also Israel’s closest friends.

Given the sensitive situation in Jerusalem, where tensions are higher than they have been in years, this was a destructive move. The tension in the city increased sharply after the murder of Mohammed Abu Khdeir and Operation Protective Edge, leading to violent demonstrations and requiring significant police resources to keep the situation “under control.” The expansion of Jewish settlement in East Jerusalem could exacerbate the tense situation and spark another round of violence. Is that what Netanyahu means when he talks about peace?

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