How Much More of Netanyahu’s Chest Thumping Can We Take?

WORLD POLITICS--The powerful juxtaposition of the U.S. delegation in Jerusalem on Monday, May 14, opening up the new U.S. Embassy while Israeli military snipers picked off and killed 61 Palestinian demonstrators in Gaza again brings the Israel-Palestinian crisis to every newshound’s attention.


To better understand these two gripping events – totally at odds with each other – let’s assess Netanyahu’s long-term strategic goals, his tactics to reach these goals, and why his goals and tactics are built on a house of cards. 

The Strategic Goal:  According to many distinguished social scientists, such as Professors Ran Greenstein, Richard Falk, Virginia Tilly, Gershon Shafrir, Yoav Peled, and Andy Clarno, under Netanyahu’s leadership, the Israeli government is making its post-1967 occupations of Gaza, the West Bank, and East Jerusalem permanent.  

This means that Israel’s systematic construction of “facts on the ground” effectively preclude a two-state resolution of this conflict. It also constitutes the incremental creation of an apartheid state.  

While Israel still labels itself as a democracy, it is actually an ethnocracy. Palestinians residing within its 1948-1967 borders are second-class citizens, while Palestinians in East Jerusalem and the West Bank live under four forms of military occupation. As for the 2,000,000 Palestinians trapped in Gaza, they are subjected to indirect military occupation coupled with a permanent siege. 

Even some prominent Israeli politicians have come to the same apartheid conclusion, such as former Israeli Prime Minister and General, Ehud Barack: "As long as in the territory west of the Jordan river there is only one political entity called Israel, it is going to be either non-Jewish or non-democratic.  If this bloc of millions of Palestinians cannot vote, that will be an apartheid state."

Israel’s Primary Tactics to Construct and Maintain an Apartheid State:  

  • Cultivating the United States government as its primary foreign patron, increasingly eschewing Democrats and aligning itself with the Trump-wing of the Republican Party and Islamophobic Christian fundamentalists. 

  • Relying on the intense lobbying by AIPAC, the American Israel Public Affairs Committee, buttressed by the likes of gambling kingpin Sheldon Adelson and fawning son-in-law Jared Kushner. 

  • Depending on the U.S. government to provide Israel with $4 billion in annual military aid, use its veto power at the UN Security Council to protect Israel from sanctions, and allow $1 billion in IRS tax-exempt private philanthropy to back settlers. 

  • Soliciting political support from xenophobic regimes in Central and Eastern Europe, particularly Hungary, Poland, and Russia.

  • Circumventing any direct negotiations with Palestinians, instead cultivating an inside-out strategy solidifying an anti-Iran alliance with Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates. 

  • Selling enormous quantities of weapons to two emerging superpowers, China and India

  • Constructing Israeli Jewish neighborhoods, cities, and towns – euphemistically called settlements – in East Jerusalem and the West Bank. 

  • Moving Israeli Jews into these heavily fortified, totally segregated cities and towns, now numbering about 600,000 people. 

  • Erasing all former 1948-67 state boundaries, called the Green Line, from Israeli maps, media reports, and textbooks, while using the Biblical terms Judea and Samaria for these occupied Palestinian territories. 

  • Building a network of restricted, Israeli-only highways to connect these Jewish-only towns and cities to pre-1967 Israel. 

  • Maintaining direct and indirect military occupation over these conquered territories. 

  • Dividing Gaza from the West Bank by forming two rival Palestinian political authorities, one of which, the Palestinian Authority, has numerous police and intelligence agencies funded and trained by the United States.  

  • Funding an extensive public relations effort, dubbed hasbarahin Hebrew, to negate all criticisms of Israel with labels of anti-Semitism and Jewish self-hatred. It also brands all opponents, even those who turn to Gandhian tactics, like Gazans, as terrorists.  

  • Offering free political junkets to Israel for reporters, public officials, and police chiefs. 

  • Offering free propaganda-filled trips to young Jewish diaspora adults through Birthright.  

  • Lumping all Arab nations together, and then claiming they are anti-Israel because of their alleged deep and often hidden Jew-hatred -- even if Egypt, Jordan, and the PLO have fully honored their official peace treaties with Israel.   

  • Ignoring repeated peace proposals from the entire Arab world over the past 70 years, including the Saudi-initiated Arab Peace Initiative, fully supported by the Arab League and non-Arab Muslim countries, including Iran. These treaties would grant Israel full diplomatic recognition in exchange for compliance with United Nations land-for-peace resolutions. 

  • Relying on death squads, snipers, and heavily armed attacks, like Cast Lead, on Gazan Palestinians who protested long-term Israeli military occupation. 

  • Maintaining strong support from the Israeli Jewish public through intense nationalism based on Biblical interpretations, racism against Arabs, Islamophobia, xenophobia against Eritrean and Sudanese asylum seekers, and a procession of alleged existential threats, such as Iran and the non-violent Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions (BDS) movement. 

While this list of tactics is hardly inclusive, these are the two most important questions about them:

  • How long can the Israeli government successfully exercise these tactics? 

  • Can these tactics sustain a long-lived apartheid state? 

Many obstacles lie in the way, and like a wooden block game, one or more of the tactics could crash to the ground, undermining Israeli government efforts to perpetuate an apartheid state.

So, consider the following scenarios: 

First, the United States is a declining global power, and its hegemonic role in the Middle East is continually slipping, while the Israeli government’s demands for U.S. support continue to grow. More specifically, Iran freed itself of U.S. domination nearly 40 years ago, while U.S. government efforts to woo Syria’s Assad totally failed. Meanwhile, Turkey is withdrawing its ambassador from the United States and moving much closer to Russia. 

As for Libya, Iraq, Somalia, Yemen, and Afghanistan, U.S. efforts to topple their regimes have resulted in weak or totally failed states with new, spreading Jihadist militias. Other authoritarian U.S. allies, like Egypt and Saudi Arabia, present their own problems. Egypt has been unable to quell a long-term Isis insurgency in the Sinai Peninsula. As for Saudi Arabia, it has successfully curried the Trump administration’s favor by buying billions of U.S. weapons, but it has not demonstrated any military capacity to use them, other than participating in U.S.-managed bombing forays over nearby Yemen.  

If or when a U.S. attack on Iran finally happens, the already fragile alliances between the U.S. and its remaining Middle East client states might fray when a predictable global economic crisis and long-term war of attrition radiates out from the Persian Gulf in all directions. These events could simultaneously transform power relationships among large powers competing for position in the Middle East, while also generating new political forces within each country, similar to the Arab Spring. 

Second, Palestinians, especially in Gaza, seem to be losing their fear of deadly Israeli military force.  This is no different from parallel developments in other countries, where authoritarian regimes faltered when oppressed groups no longer ran from gunfire. This already happened in two other U.S.-supported regimes: South Africa and Iran. In the latter the Shah’s forces slaughtered hundreds of protesters at Jaleh Square in Teheran in 1978, but this only emboldened the regime’s opponents, and the Shah had to shortly flee the country for his life. History suggests these protests, if continued, will work in the Palestinian’s favor. In this regard, Prof. Richard Falk asserts that in most cases when a colonized people rose up, they eventually won.  

Third, the Israeli strategy of contracting out the occupation to the U.S. and EU subsidized Palestinian Authority (PA) could easily flounder. The PA has little respect on the West Bank, and Republican lawmakers have further undermined its authority by slashing U.S. aid and reducing funding for the UN refugee agencies operating schools and clinics in the West Bank and Gaza. 

Fourth, the Israeli government’s tactic of securing the Trump Administration’s support for it long-term occupation faces many barriers. Donald Trump is only supported by a third of the U.S. population, and even less within the American Jewish community. As for Israel’s courting of Christian fundamentalists because their millennialist interpretations of Biblical prophesy support Israeli domination over Palestinians, these allies also call for the mass conversion of Israeli Jews to Christianity in order to vanquish the anti-Christ and welcome a messianic era. Could this bizarre and opportunistic relationship backfire because it would drive a wedge between Israel and it mainstream supporters within American Jewish organizations and the U.S. foreign policy establishment? Absolutely. 

Fifth, the Trump administration has aggressively pushed this religious agenda when it chose two notorious, Dallas-based fundamentalist ministers to present the U.S. embassy ceremony’s two welcoming prayers. John Hagge and Robert Jeffries are both infamous for their anti-Jewish pronouncements, with Jeffries also frequently voicing his antipathy to Muslims, Mormons, Catholics, other non-Christian religions, and gays. According to Ha’Aretzcolumnist Chemi Shalev, this “Messianic U.S.-Israel axis showcased at the Jerusalem Embassy ceremony is a gut-punch for most American Jews.” 

Sixth, considering the Trump and Netanyahu administrations’ self-imposed isolation from the Democratic Party, there is no guarantee that carte blancheU.S. support for Israeli apartheid will continue unabated after the U.S. Presidential elections of 2020 or 2024. In fact, recent public opinion polls already reveal deep political cleavages among Democrats when asked about their support for the Israeli government’s policies. If/when Democrats regain control of the White House and Congress, U.S. policies regarding Israel and other countries in the Middle East, would be in flux and subject to major changes. 

Seventh, the inside-out strategy of dodging Palestinian negotiators and instead wooing Saudi Arabia, including its Jihadist proxies throughout the Middle East, means that Israel offers aid to Al Nusra, an Al Qaeda offshoot, in Syria. Considering the long antipathy of these zealous Muslim groups to Israel, allying with them because they are the enemies of Israel’s enemies – Hezbollah and Iran – is fraught with danger. If regime change succeeds in Syria, these Sunni religious extremists could become a Syrian ruling party whose hostility to Israel goes far beyond Shiite Iran’s verbosity. 

Eighth, Israel suffers from extreme economic inequality compared to other industrialized countries, and it is getting worse. Anyone who has visited Israel recently has heard locals complain about low wages and the high cost of living, especially housing. While the Israeli government has taken advantage of this situation by offering subsidized apartments to Jewish Israelis willing to live in occupied East Jerusalem and the West Bank, in the long run its key tools to placate the Israeli public’s economic plight are religion and exclusive nationalism. At some point, these ploys may not be sufficient to paper over Israel’s growing class divide. 

When, not if, this house of cards begins its collapse, change will quickly appear. Some liberal Israelis anticipate that this crisis will usher a final two-state resolution of the conflict, especially if the U.S. is replaced by another hegemon, such as China or Russia. More progressive Israeli and Palestinian groups, such as the new One Democratic State movement, have come to a different conclusion. They argue that a two-state solution is no longer possible because of Israeli “facts on the ground,” and the only remaining option is to transform an apartheid state into a binational state, such as Belgium or Canada. This is in contrast to other one state advocacy groups, which propose a one-person / one-vote state to supplant Israel and it occupied Palestinian territories. 

Unfortunately, there is no silver bullet that assures these outcomes. Considering that the collapse of an apartheid state would coincide with regional or even global warfare, other scenarios, some worse and some better, could easily remake the entire Middle East.  

(Jeff Warner is the Action Coordinator of LA Jews for Peace. Victor Rothman is a California-based policy analyst. Please send any questions to Prepped for CityWatch by Linda Abrams.