September 20, 2018

Ethnic cleansing? Really, Netanyahu?

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has a new PR strategy that involves posting clever YouTube videos.   

Except exactly one day after Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu released a video declaring that removing Jews from their homes in the West Bank is “ethnic cleansing,” his minister of defense, Avigdor Lieberman, announced he was removing Jews from their homes in the West Bank.

As the very much missed Jon Stewart would say: “Wha-wha WHAT?”

Lieberman is no Peace Now-nik. But the Israeli High Court ruled that the illegal West Bank outpost of Amona must be evacuated, and Lieberman said he would follow the court’s ruling. Israel, he said, is a nation of laws.

So this is interesting. Assume, one day, there is a peace agreement with the Palestinians. Will Israeli families be made to abandon their settlements because the Palestinians are engaged in ethnic cleansing, or because the Israelis want to abide by international law? 

Wait, don’t answer. There’s more.

Because the very idea that the prime minister asserts — that the Palestinians want a Judenrein Palestine — is debatable.

In 2009, then-Palestinian National Authority Prime Minister Salam Fayyad spoke at a conference in Aspen, Colo. Asked if Jews would be able to live in a future Palestine, here’s what he said:

“In fact the kind of state that we want to have, that we aspire to have, is one that would definitely espouse high values of tolerance, co-existence, mutual respect and deference to all cultures, religions. No discrimination whatsoever, on any basis whatsoever. Jews to the extent they choose to stay and live in the State of Palestine will enjoy those rights and certainly will not enjoy any less rights than Israeli Arabs enjoy now in the state of Israel,” Fayyad said.

Oh, you say, but that’s Salam Fayyad. He’s like the Palestinian Elijah — more aspiration than reality. Except here’s Hanan Ashrawi speaking to the Times of Israel, reiterating what many Palestinians have told various media over the years:

“Any person, be he Jewish, Christian or Buddhist, will have the right to apply for Palestinian citizenship. Our basic law prohibits discrimination based on race or ethnicity.”

The Palestinians refuse to allow Israeli settlers to stay as Israelis in a future state, because they see the settlements as illegal, as do the majority of international bodies. But if the settlers want to stay as Jews loyal to Palestine, these leaders are saying “welcome.” 

“If Netanyahu argues that these positions are against Jews, we say to him that two Jews were elected in 2009 as members of Fatah’s Revolutionary Council: Ilan Halevi and Uri Davis,” senior Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erekat said to the Times of Israel in 2014. “Our position is against settlements, considering them illegal and contrary to all international laws.”

So it turns out that Bibi’s very premise, that the Palestinians want Jews out, isn’t exactly true. A two-state solution would end Israeli sovereignty and control in Palestine, not necessarily a Jewish presence. It would separate the two sides legally, but not ethnically. Jews would be able to live and prosper in Ramallah. Palestinians would be able to live and prosper in Haifa — as tens of thousands of them already do. A two-state solution is not ethnic cleansing. It is border-setting.

The alternative to that solution is one that I can’t imagine Bibi really wants, though more and more Palestinians (and a few Jews) do. They want one state, from the Jordan River to the Mediterranean Sea.  And within that one state, they want each person to have one vote.   

Just to be clear on the details, that land, comprising the pre- and post-1967 borders of Israel, currently is home to 5.8 million Arabs and 6.2 million Jews, according to Arnon Soffer, a geography professor and one of the founders of the University of Haifa.

If Bibi wants to guarantee the rights of Israelis to live anywhere on that land, now would be a good time to say so, before Russian President Vladimir Putin goes through all the trouble of hosting a peace conference. In short order, Israel would be a very different state than what its founders intended, or it would cease being a democracy.

The late Israeli prime ministers Ariel Sharon and Yitzhak Rabin thought it was best to divide the land, as did every Republican president and presidential candidate until, you know, Donald Trump. 

The rule of law matters to Israel —  or else why evacuate Amona?  And international law, demographics, security and economics matter, or else why evacuate Israelis from Gaza, or maintain Oslo?

The point is, YouTube is easy; peace is hard.


ROB ESHMAN is publisher and editor-in-chief of TRIBE Media Corp./Jewish Journal. Email him at robe@jewishjournal.com. You can follow him on Instagram and Twitter @foodaism and @RobEshman.