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Netanyahu’s Blueprint for a Palestinian Bantustan

How can the prime minister be considered a peacemaker if he never bothers to talk to Palestinians?

Chemi Shalev
Chemi Shalev
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Palestinian protester Mustafa Tamimi falls on the ground after being badly injured by a tear gas canister fired by Israeli troops during a demonstration in Nabi Saleh, West Bank, December 9, 2011.
Palestinian protester injured when IDF troops fire tear gas at protesters in the West Bank's Nebi Saleh, in December 2011.Credit: Haim Schwarczenberg, AP
Chemi Shalev
Chemi Shalev

In the mid-1970s, when South Africa granted “independence” to four of 10 black enclaves known as “Bantustans,” it made a point of signing mutual nonaggression pacts with them. Even though the South African army exerted almost total control over the Bantustan security forces – deploying them, in fact, to fight opponents of apartheid - the regime in Pretoria wanted to keep up appearances. It signed defense treaties in which each “side” pledged not to allow its “territory” to be used for aggression against the other.

For Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, however, even this modest camouflage is too much. In a speech this week marking the 50th anniversary of the Six-Day War, Netanyahu left no room for doubt: “In any arrangement, and even with no arrangement as well,” he stated, “we will continue to have security control over all of the area west of the Jordan River.” Netanyahu thus envisages not only that Palestinians in the West Bank will need Israeli permission to enter and exit their “homeland,” which was also the case for the Bantustans, but that the IDF will be allowed to continue setting up roadblocks, arresting suspects and invading Palestinian homes, all in the name of “security needs.” And that the world will continue to regard him as a leader seeking “true peace, a peace for generations,” as he proclaimed.

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Netanyahu is wrapping himself with hot air, but like Hans Christian Andersen’s emperor, he expects people to praise his new clothes. He is a master at formulating positions that most of the world rejects but are received enthusiastically by Israeli public opinion as well as by his fawning Republican fans in the U.S. He knows that demanding eternal control for the Israeli army in what is slated to be Palestinian territory is nothing less than absurd, just as he understands that the Palestinians won’t recognize the Jewish right to a state except in the context of a final overall agreement, and that no Palestinian leader can cut off funding to jailed Palestinian terrorists without being labeled a traitor. But there’s no muzzle on earth that can prevent Netanyahu’s mouth from uttering the sound bite that will excite his fans, knock out his enemies and, most importantly, maintain the status quo.

Netanyahu hates drastic change, and peace scares him most of all. The evidence is unequivocal: In the eight years of his second period in office he’s done nothing - or next to nothing, if we’re being generous - to advance a peace agreement. The statements he’s made and the decisions he’s reached were all meant to stave off internal or external pressure until the cavalry comes, or until the pressure dissipates in another way. Unlike Anwar Sadat, who came to the Knesset to talk directly to Israelis, or Mahmoud Abbas, who has consistently tried to convince Israelis directly of his desire for peace, Netanyahu doesn’t seem to acknowledge that Palestinians even exist, other than as inciters and terrorists. He doesn’t address them, he doesn’t maintain a dialogue with them, he doesn’t try to convince them that peace is worthwhile, and when he does, it’s only as a gimmick. He is deaf to their desires, blind to their burdens and completely mute on the stifling half-century of military rule under which they’ve lived. Small wonder that most Jewish Israelis, as a poll found this week, seem to be living in a la-la land in which there is no occupation and we’re the greatest, just like him.

Netanyahu is a master of propaganda and a grandmaster of procrastination. He knows how to refrain from crossing the red lines of the international community while he awaits a beneficial change in circumstances: the replacement of Barack Obama with Donald Trump is the best case in point, proving that Netanyahu’s patience paid off. But one thing that Netanyahu isn’t is a peacemaker. The arrangement that he is proposing is one in which the Palestinians live in a closed and non-contiguous enclave where they will be allowed to develop commerce and collect garbage. That’s the way it was in the short lifetimes of Transkei, Ciskei, Bophuthatswana and all the other Bantustans that South Africa set up under the illusion that in this way, they will save South Africa and its regime.

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