The house that Bibi Ne­tanyahu built

Kuwait Times - - ANALYSIS -

Dr James J Zogby Pres­i­dent Arab Amer­i­can In­sti­tute

For half of the past two decades Ben­jamin “Bibi” Ne­tanyahu has served as Prime Min­is­ter of Is­rael. What­ever his ul­ti­mate fate (given the on­go­ing crim­i­nal in­ves­ti­ga­tions he is cur­rently fac­ing), it is clear that he has had a pro­found im­pact on Is­rael, the Pales­tini­ans, and the en­tire re­gion. There are those who have doubted that Ne­tanyahu had any core be­liefs, other than the de­sire to re­tain power. But even with his ma­neu­ver­ing and his pen­chant for pre­var­i­ca­tion, there are, in fact, core be­liefs that have di­rected his ca­reer.

Shortly af­ter his first elec­tion as Prime Min­is­ter, and be­fore his maiden ad­dress to the US Congress, a team of Rea­gan-era neo-con­ser­va­tives (many of whom ended up in se­nior po­si­tions in the Ge­orge W Bush Ad­min­is­tra­tion) wrote a pa­per for Ne­tanyahu to guide his re­marks be­fore Congress and to US au­di­ences. The pa­per, echo­ing many themes from Ne­tanyahu’s own writ­ings, was called “A Clean Break”. Since he was al­ready aligned with these views, he re­peated the pa­per’s themes and pol­icy pro­pos­als dur­ing his many pub­lic ap­pear­ances in Wash­ing­ton. “A Clean Break” can be seen as Ne­tanyahu’s road map to re­la­tions with the US and the Mid­dle East re­gion.

‘Land for peace’

The cen­tral themes of the pa­per were: end­ing the Oslo process and re­ject­ing “land for peace” for­mula; re­assert­ing Is­rael’s claim to the “land of Is­rael”; weak­en­ing the abil­ity of the Pales­tinian Au­thor­ity to gov­ern; and poi­son­ing the PA’s im­age in the US to dam­age its stand­ing, se­cur­ing Is­rael’s north­ern bor­der, by con­fronting Iran, pro­mot­ing in­ter­nal con­flict in Le­banon, and desta­bi­liz­ing Syria, strength­en­ing ties with US Repub­li­cans, in­clud­ing propos­ing end­ing US eco­nomic aid in fa­vor of mil­i­tary aid and buy­ing into the Rea­gan-era idea of a “mis­sile de­fense” sys­tem-a con­cept fa­vored by the GOP, and con­fronting Iraq and over­throw­ing Sad­dam Hus­sein’s rule.

Over the past two decades, Ne­tanyahu and his US al­lies, whether in or out of of­fice, pur­sued these same ob­jec­tives. To a great ex­tent, they have suc­ceeded. This un­holy al­liance be­tween US neo-con­ser­va­tives and Ne­tanyahu was no ac­ci­dent. They had long been part­ners. Back in the late 1970’s, Ne­tanyahu con­vened many of these same thinkers to Is­rael for a sum­mit at the Jonathan In­sti­tute-an event which some have called the birth of the Amer­i­can neo-con­ser­va­tive move­ment. Back then, their fo­cus was hos­til­ity to the Soviet Union and the “na­tional lib­er­a­tion move­ments” al­leged to be Soviet pawns. The ide­ol­ogy they spawned was de­cid­edly pro-Is­rael and anti-Arab, and ex­tremely hos­tile to all things Pales­tinian.

‘A Clean Break’

With the col­lapse of the Soviet Union, the Oslo peace process, and the elec­tion of Bill Clin­ton, the fo­cus of both the neo-cons (as they were called) and Ne­tanyahu shifted. See­ing US Repub­li­cans as his al­lies in the ef­fort to sab­o­tage the peace process, Ne­tanyahu’s Likud party set up a shop to pro­vide talk­ing points to GOP Mem­bers of Congress. Their goal was to make Repub­li­cans part­ners in their fight with the Clin­ton Ad­min­is­tra­tion/La­bor Party en­dorsed peace process. With the GOP take-over of Congress in 1995, fol­lowed by Ne­tanyahu’s elec­tion in 1996, the stage was set to kill the Oslo process. It was an un­holy al­liance of Likud and the GOP squared off against La­bor and the Clin­ton Ad­min­is­tra­tion. The goals laid out in “A Clean Break” were not so much prophetic as they were a road map in which the neo-cons and Ne­tanyahu laid out their plans for a new US-Is­rael part­ner­ship, a desta­bi­lized Arab World, and an end to Pales­tinian as­pi­ra­tions for in­de­pen­dence.

When­ever Ne­tanyahu met with re­sis­tance from Clin­ton, he turned to the Repub­li­can-led Congress for sup­port. He was dogged in his ef­forts to sab­o­tage peace and largely suc­ceeded. Even the one agree­ment Clin­ton fi­nally forced him to sign with Arafat only served to lock the Pales­tini­ans into an un­ten­able sit­u­a­tion by con­sol­i­dat­ing Is­raeli con­trol over much of the West Bank and their night­mar­ish pres­ence in the heart of He­bron. While the “break” en­vi­sioned in “A Clean Break’ was not as “clean” as the one he may have sought, the im­pact of Ne­tanyahu’s first term cre­ated con­di­tions that ul­ti­mately led to his hoped for end of the peace process.

Af­ter his re­turn to of­fice in 2009, he was forced to en­dure eight years of a Demo­cratic Ad­min­is­tra­tion, led by Barack Obama. Once again, he turned to his re­la­tions with a Repub­li­can-led Congress to re­sist pres­sures to make peace. With the elec­tion of Don­ald Trump cou­pled with Repub­li­can con­trol of Congress, Ne­tanyahu feels more com­fort­able. His al­lies in Congress are vig­or­ously push­ing his agenda. There are bills de­signed to: fur­ther pun­ish and dis­credit the al­ready weak­ened PA; deny fund­ing to UNWRA; out­law the BDS move­ment; and rec­og­nize, through clever slight of hand lan­guage, Is­rael’s con­trol over the “ter­ri­to­ries”.

The Trump Ad­min­is­tra­tion, which be­gan its ten­ure, propos­ing to de­liver “a great deal” to end the Is­raeli-Pales­tinian con­flict has re­port­edly low­ered its am­bi­tions to a pro­posal mir­ror­ing a long-dis­cred­ited 40-year-old Likud con­cept of “lim­ited Pales­tinian au­ton­omy” deny­ing Pales­tini­ans full sovereignty and any rights in Jerusalem, while re­leas­ing large areas of the West Bank to Is­raeli ex­pan­sion. Ne­tanyahu, the Likud, and their neo-con­ser­va­tive al­lies can rightly claim that the vi­sion they pro­jected for the Mid­dle East in “A Clean Break” is be­ing re­al­ized.

But, in re­al­ity, what they have cre­ated is an un­sus­tain­able mess that in­cludes: a weak­ened and de­pen­dent PA that was de­nied the abil­ity to gov­ern caus­ing it to lose le­git­i­macy; a frac­tured Pales­tinian polity, with Ha­mas in con­trol of a hu­man­i­tar­ian dis­as­ter in Gaza; an Iraq in sham­bles and in its wake, an em­pow­ered and em­bold­ened Iran and a metas­ta­sized ter­ror­ist threat that now chal­lenges many coun­tries; and a hard­ened, though di­vided Is­raeli elec­torate from which it is un­likely to see any new peace-ori­ented lead­er­ship emerg­ing. So this is the “House that Bibi Built”. It is his legacy. While Is­rael pro­ceeds along its merry way, each day build­ing more set­tle­ments, de­mol­ish­ing more Pales­tinian homes, dish­ing out more hard­ships to an em­bit­tered cap­tive peo­ple, far from be­ing the se­cure and sta­ble dream Ne­tanyahu en­vi­sioned, it is seething caul­dron wait­ing for the next ex­plo­sion.

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