Israeli Hasbara, the Breakdown in Negotiations, and the Consequences
At this point, we can say that things are more or less over: President Obama announced on Friday that the American government is abandoning the Israeli-Palestinian negotiations, as neither side has been ready to make “tough decisions.” Basically, Obama was repeating what Secretary of State Baker once said to Israeli Prime Minister Shamir, following an earlier collapse of attempted peace negotiations: “Give us a call if you decide to get serious.” In response, Netanyahu’s office has already complained about the “soft” treatment that the Americans are allegedly giving the Palestinians.
Immediately, the Zionist regime (not my term: that’s how this administration defines itself) has initiated a hasbara campaign — basically, a PR attack — directed at the Israeli public. (“Hasbara,” literally, “explanation,” is the semi-official code in Israel for its propaganda efforts.) This campaign is being carried out by senior Israeli journalists, including figures like Ari Shavit — author of the recent My Promised Land — and Nahum Barnea — top political analyst of Yediot Ahronot, Israel’s widest read newspaper — who are repeating the Administration’s official hasbara line: Abu Mazen, President of the Palestinian Authority, was never ready for peace. He does not know how to do peace, and he always runs away at the crucial moment.
Shavit’s and Barnea’s texts are so similar that it is rather clear they have both been briefed by the same person or the same team. Both are telling the Israeli pubic not the actual facts, but what the Israeli administration wants the public to think the facts are. In contrast, Raviv Druker, is doing important journalist work by crushing this nonsense.
The Israeli government created a hasbara video clip, which can be seen below. According to the video (and according to the government and the supposedly left-leaning Israeli media), Abu Mazen’s refusal to accept an Israeli ultimatum to recognize Israel as a Jewish state is a “refusal to peace.” His signatures on such treaties as the one against torture, the Geneva treaty, the treaty for women’s rights, and other international treaties are also seen not only as a “refusal to peace,” but as a unilateral move. And the Palestinian Authority’s agreement with Hamas on the creation of an expert government and their decision to have elections is also seen as a refusal to peace.
A few remarks are in order. First, even if the hasbara video is in English and not in Hebrew, it is actually directed at the Israeli public. How do we know that? Because it refers to the head of the Palestinian Authority as “Abu Mazen” and not as “Mahmood Abbas,” which is how he is known to English speakers. As usual, the goal of the hasbara campaign is first and foremost to convince Israelis and only secondarily, if at all, to speak to international opinion. Second, Netanyahu’s government is playing its usual lose-lose game: when the PLO and Hamas did not get along, Israel said that there is no need to talk with the PLO because they did not control the Gaza Strip. Now, Israel will not hear of the Palestinian government having control over the Gaza Strip on the basis that it would constitute an “agreement with a terror organization.” (Here, for example, is the Ministry of Foreign Affairs’ announcement.) Third, the Israeli government is trying, even after John Kerry’s famous “poof,” to pretend as if it was not responsible for the failure of the peace talks, despite the fact that it did not fulfill the agreement it had signed regarding the release of Palestinian prisoners.
Tzipi Livni, Israel’s Minister of Justice and the current chief peace negotiator (if anyone still expects anything from her), is supporting Netanyahu. This is quite a turn: the journalist Raviv Druker cynically commented that a few years ago, when Hamas and the Fatah Party were on the brink of reaching an agreement that Netanyahu condemned, Livni accused him of isolating Israel. What has changed since then? Quite simply, Livni knows that her political future is already behind her — that her chances of getting elected again are very dim. She cannot leave the government and stay politically relevant, so she needs to function as Netanyahu’s public white washer, as Shimon Peres once was to Ariel Sharon’s government.
Yair Lapid, the Israeli Minister of Finance and the head of the Yesh Atid party, who promised his voters that he would not join a government that will not engage in peace talks (but who did, as Druker mentioned, exactly that), wrote an announcement this week that is even more hypocritical than usual, accusing the Palestinians of responsibility for the entire problem. In a paragraph he later omitted, Lapid went back in time explaining that the Palestinians are responsible for everything, ever since the Mufti spoke with Hitler during WWII. The national clown claims that the Palestinians should have agreed to take whatever they were offered and “take it from there.” The fact that they did not do so proves, to Lapid, that they do not want a state of their own.
The Facebook group Yesh Atid Times 1000 presented Lapid’s attitude well:
You should ask: Does Yair [Lapid] say that what the state we’ll now give the Palestinians is only the starting point for future negotiations? Does he actually say that the Palestinians should take one half now, and then conquer the second half later, in wars, and then perhaps occupy the conquered territories for years and years, build numerous settlements on them, withhold full citizenship and rights from their new subjects, spread hatred and despair, shit on international law, and then, when asked to give these territories back, they will say that they cannot do so because they have already settled the land, and, anyway the request is irrelevant because God gave the land to them a long time ago? No, this is not what he is saying. It is just you, the idiots, who are not getting it.
What is the purpose of the whole charade? Very simple: to repeat the very successful lie Ehud Barak spread in 2000, namely, that “we offered them everything and they chose war.” Furthermore, in order to ensure the Palestinians’ assigned role in this play, the Israeli Defense Forces (IDF) attacked the day following the announcement of the agreement between the Palestinian Authority and Hamas. This was, of course, supposed to be accepted as sheer coincidence. To the great disappointment of the Israeli government, even though our beloved armed pilots managed to wound a few children, the traditional Palestinian retaliatory bombing has not arrived yet. If and when it will happen, of course, the Israeli media’s coverage of it will omit the fact that we used million dollar equipment to hurt a few Palestinian children. In doing so, they will eliminate the context. Once again, Palestinian violence will erupt into Israeli lives without explanation. But who needs an explanation? We all know it’s in their blood.
This time, however, the “we offered them everything” maneuver will not work. That is, although it will most likely fool most Israelis who want nothing to do with the Palestinians, it will not fool anyone else. It is not without reason that Netanyahu’s office is unhappy with the American withdrawal, given that the goal of Netanyahu’s peace negotiations game is to reach the point where the Americans blame the Palestinians. Netanyahu has said that himself. And now the Americans, for the second time within one month, are not playing their intended role, and are instead blaming both sides. Even that is not fair towards the Palestinians, but it is fairer then what the Palestinians are used to.
Moreover, in opposition to the case of Ehud Barak, who actually made suggestions to resolve the conflict (not suggestions that the Palestinians could accept, but never the less suggestions), Netanyahu’s government did not even do this. It is becoming clearer all the time that the last nine months were a waste of time during which Israel refused to discuss permanent borders. We can learn as much from the Israeli response to Abu Mazen’s demands even before his agreement with Hamas. In response to Abu Mazen’s conditions, namely, the release of prisoners at the negotiations’ fourth stage and the continuation of the negotiations for three more months during which the permanent borders would be drawn, “state sources” said that “the meaning of Abu Mazen’s words were that he did not want peace, since whomever wants peace does not continuously pose demands that he knows Israel cannot accept.” The demand in question is the demand that Israel will uphold its commitments in treaties it has signed and will draw its borders; this is what “Israel cannot accept.” No one is even talking about retreating to these borders, but merely drawing them is something that Netanyahu’s Israel cannot accept.
The implications of the American withdrawal from the negotiations are, to a large extent, that Israel will be left to deal with the international outcomes of its policies, which is what Kerry has already warned will happen should the negotiations fail. Well, they failed. The attempt to get an Israeli withdrawal from the territories it conquered, and which it has been trying to annex for over a decade, is long gone. Now it is the time of what Israeli governments have been trying to postpone for over forty years: an international attempt to address and fix the conflict.
The Israeli peace camp, or what is left of it, needs to shake off the illusion that there is an Israeli government that can evacuate tens of thousands of settlers of its own free will, as well as the illusion that this Netanyahu-Bennett-Lapid government is able or even wants to do so. The Israeli peace camp needs to make clear to the Palestinians and to the world that it is standing behind any international pressure that will make Israel retreat to its borders. The Israeli right, with tactical help from the Palestinian right, has managed to prevent attempts to achieve any peace agreement. Now the only thing left to do is to force Israel to retreat without an agreement.
We must also remember that IDF’s instinct in such cases is to kill a few Palestinians, to remind them of what they have to lose. We saw this with the attack on Gaza. We must also remember that at some point, if enough Palestinians die, a Palestinian retaliation will occur. When the terror returns, do not let the blood flood your eyes. Repeat to yourselves, over and over: this war is for the settlements. These dead are for the settlements. Their blood is on Netanyahu’s hands. Their blood is on Bennett’s hands. Their blood is on Lapid’s hands. Their blood is on Livni’s hands. Their blood is on the hands of Israelis that prefer to bury their head in the sand, pretending that there is no such thing as an occupation, and thinking that occupied people can be trampled on forever. You cooked this stew, and now, you must eat it.
Translated by Hadas Cohen from the Israeli blog, “Ha’Haverim Shel George” (“Friends of George”), for Public Seminar.