Israel grasps at a crumbling narrative

Blaming the peace talks’ failure on Palestinian ‘rejectionism’ is nothing more than a flimsy attempt at flipping reality on its head.

With commentators now referring to the peace process as a “corpse,” Israeli talking heads and politicians are scrambling to manage the narrative of the dying animal.

The first task today is to finesse the blame laid squarely on Israel by U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry. One radio commentator spoke quite factually about “Kerry’s mistake.” But it’s hard to finesse an unprecedented shift of tone from an American administration. It isn’t exactly like America suddenly supported a negative UN resolution; it is, however, further than this or any other administration has ever gone in naming the facts.

Second, Netanyahu is trying to convey that Israel calls the shots: he has reportedly instructed members of the government to cut all contact with Palestinian Authority figures. One commentator observed that since the ministers don’t exactly phone Abu Mazen twice a week anyway, the directive is more declarative than meaningful: we steer the course and can project punishing silence. It’s not clear that anybody on the other side is terribly saddened by this. Netanyahu’s reported plans for further sanctions against the PA sound somewhat hollow, considering that if the PA crumbles, its security cooperation with Israel and the pretension of Palestinian autonomy goes with it.

He must be genuinely angry.

Netanyahu, the “preservation prime minister” was counting on this “preservation process” either continuing forever, or at the very least, breaking down due to Palestinian rejectionism.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu holds a joint press conference with US Secretary of State John Kerry following their meeting in Jerusalem, December 5, 2013. (Photo: Kobi Gideon/GPO)
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu holds a joint press conference with US Secretary of State John Kerry following their meeting in Jerusalem, December 5, 2013. (Photo: Kobi Gideon/GPO)

The Israeli political leadership has come to depend on the peace process as a surefire means of continuing the occupation, expanding the depth and reach of settlements (i.e., building in old areas, and winking while their unofficial soldiers, the settlers, break new ground), all while keeping the pesky international condemnations at bay. It’s no wonder a number of senior figures are expressing some sort of panic.

Third, there is no doubt that a “message box” has gone around the cabinet telling every minister to talk about the unacceptable unilateral Palestinian moves that destroyed the process. Sometimes obviously absurd statements can be flimsy attempts at flipping reality on its head.

Israel did not execute the fourth round of prisoner releases by March 29, as promised. Israel announced hundreds of new housing tenders in Gilo, a post-67 annexed neighborhood of Jerusalem that it knows is a provocation. Oh, and Israel unilaterally occupied the West Bank and Gaza, unilaterally annexed territory, unilaterally placed Palestinians under military rule, unilaterally began, continued and deepened the settlement project, giving the Palestinian inhabitants of the land neither rights nor independence, then unilaterally expanded its permanent presence through roads, urban infrastructure and territorial reach.

If this sounds tiresome and repetitive, it is.

Now, surely someone will ask: do the Palestinians not share a stitch of the blame? Why do you blame only Israel, exclusively?

I blame the Palestinians for violence. I also blame Israel for violence. I blame both sides for killing and attacking civilians, and it must also be pointed out that the Palestinians victims far outnumber Israelis.  Blame for the violence is definitely bilateral, but the violence is not at all symmetrical.

Nor is the conflict: it is profoundly illogical to blame the Palestinians, a people living under military rule for 45 years, for undertaking non-violent diplomatic action to improve their intolerable status. If the diplomatic process was accomplishing that for them, there may have been reason to wait.

But for Israel it was always, only, a preservation process.

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