Opinion |

Netanyahu's Right: The Occupation Can Actually Go on Forever

All the prophecies of doom that were a source of hope for those who believed the Israeli occupation must come to an end have dissipated.

Gideon Levy
Gideon Levy
Israeli forces search Palestinians in Hebron, September 20, 2016.
Israeli forces search Palestinians in Hebron, September 20, 2016.Credit: Hazem Bader, AFP
Gideon Levy
Gideon Levy

Render unto Caesar the things that are Caesar’s: Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is right. He’s right when he says the world is in Israel’s pocket. He’s right when he says Israel has a bright future at the United Nations. He’s right when he appears cocksure, cheerful and optimistic as never before, certainly not as premier. He has every reason to feel this way. Netanyahu is right — and it’s a disaster.

We’re disappointed. It’s discouraging for anyone who believed in the world, who believed in President Barack Obama or in Europe, who believed in the power of public opinion in the West to impact governments. It’s disheartening for anyone who believed there would be no more colonialism in the 21st century, that a brutal military occupation could not continue into its third generation. All the prophecies of doom that were a source of hope for those who believed the Israeli occupation must come to an end have dissipated.

They promised us international pressure and sanctions; global isolation and a halt to U.S. aid; boycotts and ostracization. Instead, we got an occupation that has never been so entrenched, and an Israel that has never been so strong.

You promised it couldn’t go on forever, but we’ve discovered the opposite is true. And how. Why? Because Israel can, because it’s strong; because Israel is far from being isolated. Admit it, the Israeli occupation is more embedded than it was 10 years ago, and its end isn’t even discernible on the horizon. We must recognize that.

We must also recognize that the Palestinians are isolated, divided, and forgotten as never before since they first appeared on the world stage. The Arabs are bleeding, Muslims are reviled, migrants are feared — and the Israeli occupation only benefits from all this evil. The world has lost interest in a conflict that may be the most dangerous one for its own security, the one creating the widest shock waves. It has lost interest in a conflict it could bring to an end relatively easily.

There is no other conflict upon which there is such sweeping global consensus. No other topic unites the world like the Israeli occupation does. From India to Africa, Beijing to Washington and Moscow, everyone says they oppose it — yet hardly anyone does anything about it. It’s a mass of contradictions. No other country is as dependent on the support of the international community as Israel, yet Israel allows itself to defy the world as few dare.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu at the UN General Assembly, September 22, 2016.Credit: Mike Segar/Reuters

The only remaining players are civil societies and organizations such as the boycott, divestment and sanctions movement. They haven’t given up, they are working with great determination to combat a situation in which millions of people live under a cruel foreign occupation. But they are on their own.

It turns out that the power of public opinion in Western democracies is limited, certainly when it comes to Israel. Even the international media is gradually shifting in Israel’s favor — which is to the occupation’s benefit — or losing interest, which also works in its favor. Universities are in uproar, the European left is up in arms, American liberals protest, yet their governments plod on. They pay measly lip service yet still invite Netanyahu amid much pomp and circumstance — as happened recently in the Netherlands, that country with such a liberal and enlightened image. Why invite someone who has declared that he has no intention of bringing the injustice to an end? And then there’s that U.S. military aid deal.

This marvel — a country so dependent on the world while behaving as if it didn’t exist — has no logical explanation. All the familiar arguments, from guilt over the Holocaust to anxiety over Islamists, are insufficient to explain conduct that flies in the face of the international community’s declared values and interests. We must recognize this. We must also recognize that Netanyahu is right when he promises the UN General Assembly that, in a few years, many more countries will vote for Israel. We should recognize that the world won’t lift a finger to free the Palestinians (and Israelis) from this malignant occupation. We must recognize that Netanyahu has good reason to be smug.

The ball now lies back in Israel’s court, where, alas, there is indifference and it’s almost deserted.

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