Benjamin Netanyahu must be excoriated. One can understand those who are dying for him to just go away. It’s clear his time is almost up. But one cannot say he hasn’t done anything.
In his dozen years as prime minister he has changed the face of Israel in ways that he considers wildly successful. Some of the changes he’s made could be rolled back if only some worthy liberal leader was given the chance – a hope that for now seems far-fetched.
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But there is one big, fateful change, the fruit of Netanyahu’s calculated policy, that is irreversible. Against the stance of the entire world, the United States, the Palestinian Authority and even against the declared position of most Israelis, Israel’s ninth prime minister has managed to remove the possibility of a viable Palestinian state from the agenda. He has irrevocably destroyed the two-state solution. Whether reelected or not, Netanyahu will be remembered as a revolutionary statesman; the man who shaped the country in his image.
It is very easy to detail the damage done by his governments, the destruction they sowed. But don’t say he didn’t do anything and that he was just here to survive. His supreme goal was and is to perpetuate the occupation, preserve Jewish superiority, and eradicate all resistance to both, in Israel and the world.
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His success was greater than expected. Contrary to those who claimed the world wouldn’t let him, contrary to those who thought it would lead to awful bloodshed, contrary to those who predicted Israel’s status would be fatally undermined and it would be boycotted, ostracized and isolated, Netanyahu proved otherwise. He showed that Israel can thumb its nose at the whole world, and even at a large portion of its citizens; that the occupation and the settlers are stronger and more determined than any other force. Netanyahu proved it is possible not only to maintain the occupation, but to sabotage the chances of ending it without paying any price.
He could have joined the negotiation ritual of all his predecessors, none of whom had serious intentions of ending the occupation; be portrayed as a peace seeker, as they were, to earn the world’s praise and win prizes without doing anything, like his predecessors. But Netanyahu stood up to that masquerade. He told the truth: There won’t be two states, only one. He swam against the tide and succeeded.
The first contribution to his success came from the leaders of the supposedly opposing camp, those who spoke of peace and promised the moon. Without Labor and the Zionist left, Netanyahu could not celebrate his achievement; the right must be grateful to the occupation’s founders in the Zionist left and to those dragged their feet in cowardice until Netanyahu came and decided things for good.
The awareness that Netanyahu has won is starting to seep in. But few in Israel or the world are willing to admit to his success because it is also their historic failure. They are continuing the same old discourse about negotiations, two states, dismantling settlements and ending the occupation – the way they spoke before Netanyahu – as if nothing has happened. Prisoners of past paradigms, too scared to admit failure and terrified by what remains, they continue to declaim old slogans. But at least some of the declaimers understand that Netanyahu has left only two options – democracy or apartheid; equality or segregation; Jewish or democratic.
On the face of it this is bad news; dividing the land was the most convenient solution. But in retrospect, we should be grateful to Netanyahu for taking this solution off the agenda, because it was a mirage. The events of 1948, the refugees, the return and equality would not have been resolved by the two-state solution; it would have been an interim arrangement. Netanyahu posed the truth; now the only question is what type of regime will prevail in the one state that has been here for decades and will probably be here between the river and the sea forever. Netanyahu was the one-state visionary. The struggle for its character lies with those who will follow him.