With 'Ethnic Cleansing' Video, Netanyahu Serves No One but Himself

Netanyahu knows that the Palestinian refusal to allow enclaves of Israelis – not 'Jews' – in their state is neither ethnic nor cleansing; he just wanted to spark a storm.

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Netanyahu and Abbas.
Netanyahu and Abbas. Credit: AP
Haaretz Editorial

Unfortunately, Israeli-Palestinian peace is not threatening to break out tomorrow. There is no evacuation of West Bank settlements on the horizon; the future of the settlements isn’t even on the national agenda.

So one wonders why Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu initiated a public, political and diplomatic discussion of this issue, by declaring in a video he posted Friday that evacuating settlements would constitute the ethnic cleansing of Jews. On the verge of signing a $40-billion aid deal with the United States, Netanyahu knew and apparently wanted his remarks to spark a storm. Why?

One possible reason lies in the foreign policy arena. Less than two months before the U.S. elections, Netanyahu might want to convey a tough line to the next administration and provoke the outgoing one of President Barack Obama. It’s also possible that Netanyahu tried to preserve the dignity of Russian President Vladimir Putin by not refusing to meet Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas under his auspices, but wants to force Abbas into torpedoing such a meeting by making remarks that preclude any dialogue.

Another answer might be found in the domestic political and personal realms. Polls show the public is losing confidence in Netanyahu, especially after the Shabbat train-work debacle in Tel Aviv that left tens of thousands of people without transportation last Sunday. Some of Netanyahu’s support is sliding toward the center, to Yair Lapid, who is rising in the polls, and some of it rightward, to Education Minister Naftali Bennett and Defense Minister Avigdor Lieberman. Perhaps Netanyahu was trying to bring back his right-wing voters with simplistic, empty propaganda, as is his wont when under pressure. (“They’ve forgotten what it means to be Jews,” “The Arabs are coming in droves.”)

It’s also possible that in anticipation of decisions to be made in the police examinations of cases relating to both Netanyahu and his wife, Sara, it was important for the premier to change the subject and divert attention from the reports on the disquiet in the police and prosecution over the protection being granted him by the attorney general.

Netanyahu knows, of course, that the Palestinian refusal to allow enclaves of Israelis – not “Jews” – in their sovereign state is neither ethnic nor cleansing. As a member of Ariel Sharon’s government, Netanyahu supported the “cleansing” of the Gaza Strip of its settlers, and the Likud movement he heads evacuated settlers from Sinai in return for a peace treaty with Egypt.

Netanyahu’s demagoguery is not only problematic on grounds of morality and decency; it is damaging to Israel. It identifies the entire State of Israel with the occupation, undermines its legitimacy and solidifies the notion of a binational state.

Netanyahu is unnecessarily provoking the American administration and the rest of Israel’s friends. Once again he is acting like a politician and not a statesman, putting political considerations over what’s best for the State of Israel.

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