NBC’s Meet the Press interview showcased how effectively the Israeli PM has made Iran the sole focus of US Middle East policy
Interviewer David Gregory called him the “leader of the Jewish people”. That’s certainly how the Israeli prime minister would like to see himself, and he wouldn’t be the first.
Israeli leaders have long claimed the mantle of voice of the Jewish people around the world and protector of the Diaspora. Part of that is rooted in the idea of Israel as a safe haven, and the desire of every Israeli government to draw in new citizens. A few years back, Ariel Sharon tried to tell Jews in France that they were so persecuted they needed to move to Israel for their own protection. This at a time when Hamas and Islamic Jihad were blowing innocents to pieces in Jerusalem restaurants and on Tel Aviv buses. There was no rush to the El Al flight from Paris.
But there is also the global aspect. Netanyahu stood before the United Nations last year and claimed to speak for hundreds of generations of Jews across the world. It was an attempt to elevate himself above a mere political leader to claim to represent the full weight of Jewish suffering in justifying his government’s stance towards the Palestinians.
Gregory’s slip – he later corrected himself by tweeting that it would be better to call Netanyahu the leader of Jewish state – was revealing of a mindset in certain sections of the American press that has a hard time dealing with the fact that Israel’s prime minister might not be the leader of an entire people, but just another politician less worried about the common good than shoring up his power.
That was where Meet the Press was revealing on a second point. It threw up evidence of just how successful Netanyahu has been at putting his political interests before those of Israel’s future, which should lie in keeping the ever-dimming prospect of a two-state solution alive.
There wasn’t a single mention of the Palestinians during the 15 minute interview. Gregory didn’t ask about them, and Netanyahu didn’t talk about them. Thus the fate of several million people living under varying degrees of an occupation that continues to plunder land, maintain discriminatory laws and administrative procedures – such as rationing water to Arab villages while their neighbors in the Jewish settlements have unlimited supplies – remains in limbo. Netanyahu’s government, meanwhile, pays lip service to the creation of a Palestinian state while pursuing policies intended to stave off the day of its birth.
Just last week, the prime minister moved to expand 40 West Bank settlements built on land confiscated illegally – Israel admits it was illegal – from Palestinians by military order. Hardly the actions of a man or a government that only wants peace, as is so often claimed.
As prime minister, Netanyahu’s great achievement, as he would see it, is to have made the Palestinians all but invisible – first at home, and then abroad.
Locked behind the land-grabbing West Bank barrier and caged in the Gaza strip, Palestinians have all but ceased to touch the lives of most Israelis. The occupation no longer demands an exacting price, so far as many Israelis are concerned. Yes, there is the inconvenience of military service; and there are unseen costs, such as financing the settlement project. But on the whole, Netanyahu has enabled Israelis to pretty much forget about the Palestinians if they choose to. And many do.
Now, the Israeli leader has made the Palestinians disappear from the international stage, too, with the “will he, won’t he” drama of threatening to bomb Iran.
Three years ago, Netanyahu was humiliated by Barack Obama with a public scolding to stop settlement expansion. Even a year ago, the Palestinian bid for statehood at the UN at least put the issue on the agenda, even if Washington sided with Israel by strong-arming members of the security council into blocking it. In two weeks, the Palestinians return to the UN to try again on recognition, this time with the general assembly.
But, as Meet the Press showed, there’s not much talk of that while Netanyahu draws Washington’s energies into trying to prevent him from attacking Iran before the US election. Whether he ever meant to is open to debate.
But the effect has been clear. When the Israeli prime minister was last in Washington, there was barely a mention of the Palestinians after his meeting with Obama. And barely a word was breathed about the Palestinians at this year’s meeting of the most influential of the pro-Israel lobby groups in Washington, American Israel Public Affairs Committee (Aipac). The focus was firmly on Iran.
Netanyahu has everyone where he wants them. The Palestinians behind the wire and most of the rest of the world looking the other way.
(www.guardian.co.uk / 18.09.2012)