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For years, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has paid lip service to the idea of two states for two peoples in the Holy Land. But recently, he and members of his government have been lashing out at recognition of independent Palestine, with one senior diplomat saying that a Palestinian state would be a "terror-ocracy."
In October, Sweden recognized an independent Palestine, and the European Union postponed a vote on the question yesterday. MPs in the UK, Ireland, and Spain have also voted for recognition of Palestine in the past six weeks, and it appears that the rest of Western Europe is not far behind.
Mr. Netanyahu lobbied hard for the EU postponement, saying yesterday that recognizing a Palestinian state is a "big mistake for peace."
"These twin needs of mutual recognition and solid security arrangements on the ground which are so essential for peace, these are not addressed by the European countries that unilaterally give recognition to a Palestinian state. I think that's a big mistake for peace, it encourages the Palestinians to harden their positions, not to compromise on mutual recognition, not to compromise on the things that are needed to achieve genuine security. I think these European positions actually push peace away and I believe that they make reaching a solution much harder," he said.
Israel's ambassador to the UN, Ron Prosor, likewise suggested that an independent Palestinian state would be an intolerable menace to Israel on Nov. 24. In a speech at the UN, he said the fact that some Palestinians celebrate attacks on Israel is evidence that there should not be a Palestinian state, and that anyone who advocates for an independent Palestine is advocating for the destruction of Israel.
Imagine the type of state this society would produce. Does the Middle East really need another terror-ocracy? Some members of the international community are aiding and abetting its creation.
... We will never apologize for being a free and independent people in our sovereign state. And we will never apologize for defending ourselves. To the nations that continue to allow prejudice to prevail over truth, I say “J'accuse.” I accuse you of hypocrisy. I accuse you of duplicity. I accuse you of lending legitimacy to those who seek to destroy our State. I accuse you of speaking about Israel's right of self-defense in theory, but denying it in practice. And I accuse you of demanding concessions from Israel, but asking nothing of the Palestinians.
In the face of these offenses, the verdict is clear. You are not for peace and you are not for the Palestinian people. You are simply against Israel.
Prosor's speech captures the flavor of isolation and paranoia that comes from Netanyahu's government when discussing a Palestinian state. Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas has probably done more for Israeli security than any Palestinian leader ever, and has repeatedly denounced armed struggle as a tool for achieving Palestinian national aspirations, despite more than a decade of failure at achieving a state through negotiations. Yet he's become one of Netanyahu's favorite punching bags of late. A Nov. 19 cartoon in the Israeli newspaper Haaretz captured the mood: Netanyahu is looking at a poster he's having made of the Palestinian leader, disappointed: "Can you lengthen his fangs a tad?"
Reuters reports that Netanyahu's more bellicose rhetoric is tied to looming elections, in which he'll rely on the Israeli far right for support.
While the head of Israel's security service says Abbas is not inciting unrest, and centrist politicians have warned Netanyahu against alienating the only partner Israel has in stalled peace negotiations, the prime minister shows no sign of letting up in his criticism of the 79-year-old Palestinian (Abbas).
The reason, in large part, is politics.With Netanyahu's 20-month-old, right-wing coalition looking increasingly shaky and talk of early elections growing, all the constituent parties are trying to shore up their base. The threat to Netanyahu comes from nationalist groups on the far-right, and so he has sought to head off their challenge.
As well as demonizing Abbas, he has pushed a highly contentious bill that would establish Israel as the Jewish nation state, legislation critics say puts religion ahead of democracy and marginalizes the Arab minority. He has resumed demolishing the homes of Palestinians suspected of terrorism, a tactic halted in 2005 after the Israeli army said it was counterproductive, although surveys suggest many Israelis support it.
The destruction of the family homes of Palestinians alleged to have been involved in attacks resumed this summer after a nine-year hiatus, following the kidnapping and murder of an Israeli yeshiva student in the West Bank. Al-Monitor argues that such collective punishment is inhumane and counterproductive as a deterrent.
In February 2005, a military commission of inquiry was appointed to look into the issue. At the time, the military establishment not only concluded that there was no proof that the practice was an effective deterrent against terrorism, but also called into question its legality and legitimacy.
EU states and human rights groups including Human Rights Watch have called on the Israeli government to halt the practice, which they say amounts to collective punishment, a war crime under international humanitarian law. B’Tselem argues the policy constitutes a punitive measure rather than a deterrent, and that irrespective of effectiveness “it contravenes basic moral standards by punishing people for the misdeeds of others.”
Meanwhile, Netanyahu's sponsorship of a bill that would change the way Israeli citizenship is defined, by stressing that only Jews have "national rights" inside the country, is drawing fire both at home and abroad.
Israeli President Reuven Rivlin, whose position is largely ceremonial, said that "the formulators of the (Israeli) Declaration of Independence, with much wisdom, insisted the Arab communities in Israel, as well as other groups, should not feel as the Jews had felt in exile."
On Monday, the US State Department gently chided Netanyahu's government for supporting the bill. "The United States position, which is unchanged, has been clear for years – and the president and the secretary [of state] have also reiterated it – is that Israel is a Jewish and democratic state in which all citizens should enjoy equal rights," a spokeswoman said.
Netanyahu shot back: "I don’t know a country that is more democratic, or a more vibrant democracy than Israel in the world, certainly not in our region."