Prime Minister Netanyahu stirred up a cocktail of controversy on Friday when his latest attempt at creating a viral video did not get the reception he anticipated. In the two minute clip, Netanyahu opened by saying he was perplexed by the charge that “Jewish communities” in the West Bank are an obstacle to peace since it is clear that Arabs living inside Israel are not an obstacle to peace. He then alleged that the sole precondition the Palestinian leadership has demanded for a future state is that it be free of Jews, which he said is an example of ethnic cleansing. He went on to criticize this demand as outrageous, criticize the world community for not finding this outrage to be outrageous, and firmly state that those who say that Jews cannot live somewhere should think through the implications. Since the video has provoked responses all over the map from the right, the left, the Israeli opposition, and the U.S. government, here is your concise and handy guide to Jews in the West Bank, ethnic cleansing, and what Netanyahu is up to.
Netanyahu is right. It is outrageous that a future Palestinian state won’t allow any Jews to live in the West Bank! Yes, it would be if that were the case. If an independent Palestine forced out all of its Jews and barred any Jews from living there, it would certainly be a textbook case of ethnic cleansing, and there is no defensible argument to construct such a policy.
What do you mean, “if that were the case” – haven’t Palestinian leaders said there will be no Jews allowed? Nope. Netanyahu was in all likelihood referring to Mahmoud Abbas’s statement in 2013 that he would not accept the “the presence of a single Israeli – civilian or soldier – on our lands” in the aftermath of an Israeli-Palestinian final status agreement. As Matt Duss helpfully points out, PLO leaders have explicitly said that Jews are welcome to live in a Palestinian state while categorically ruling out Israelis living in settlements where they maintain their Israeli citizenship. To put this into some perspective, this would be like a presidential candidate saying that Syrian Muslims are welcome to come and live in the U.S. so long as they are not living in extra-territorial enclaves that are sovereign Syrian territory and they are subject to the laws and authority of the U.S. Makes sense, right? A presidential candidate would be on much shakier and more discriminatory ground if he, say, I don’t know, ruled out all Syrian Muslims entirely just because they are Syrian Muslims. Now, it is certainly possible – and even likely – that there are members of the Palestinian leadership who have said they would bar all Jews, Israeli citizens or not. Given the way that the Old City of Jerusalem was administered while under Jordanian control between 1948 and 1967, or the calls from various quarters to ban Jews from the Temple Mount entirely today, there is certainly some precedent that warrants suspicion. But given the public record of Abbas’s comments, it is clear that he was referring to Israelis living in Palestine as Israeli citizens under Israeli sovereignty. So much like Netanyahu’s rhetorical excess back in October regarding Haj Amin al-Husseini and the Holocaust, once again his imprecision with pesky little details has cost him some credibility.
So it comes back to settlements? Indeed it does. Note Netanyahu’s rhetorical sleight of hand in the video, where he begins by talking about Jewish communities in the West Bank, and then pivots to talking about Jews writ large. It is one thing for Israel to absorb the large settlements blocs into Israel proper once an agreement is signed, but it is quite another for Israel to maintain settlements that are in Palestinian state territory, that are only open to residents who are Jewish, and that are Israeli sovereign territory guarded by Israeli soldiers. That is what Netanyahu was actually arguing for in the video and positing that there is no reason that such an arrangement should be an obstacle to peace, when the reality is that describing it for what it actually is, as I have above, demonstrates precisely what an enormous problem it is. If Palestinians who before 1948 lived in territory that is now part of Israel wanted to come back and live in their old houses but as Palestinian citizens subject to the law and authority of the government of Palestine, they’d be dismissed out of hand, and rightly so. Once a permanent status agreement is signed, the Israeli government should make every conceivable effort to persuade settlers to relocate to Israel and provide compensation for them to do so, which will likely result in the evacuation of the overwhelming majority of settlers. Any settler who greets the IDF with violent resistance should be arrested and immediately moved out of the West Bank. But any peaceful, law-abiding settler who is willing to renounce Israeli citizenship and wants to remain in his or her home should absolutely be allowed to do so, but only as citizens of Palestine under the jurisdiction of the Palestinian government. In other words, settlers are fine; settlements are not.
So why would Netanyahu put out a video like that? This brings us to the essence of Netanyahu, which is that he subsumes all policy goals to political ones. There is a reason that Netanyahu has provoked the wrath and scorn of nearly every general and intelligence chief who has served under him. Why negotiate a new defense package when you have maximum leverage when you can instead shore up your rightwing base at home by giving a speech before Congress instead? Why keep an extremely competent and respected and supremely qualified defense minister during the midst of a wave of violence – and following an Iran deal that you say has put Israel at greater risk – when you can enlarge your coalition and neutralize an ultranationalist foe by making him defense minister despite a pitiful lack of qualifications? In this case, Netanyahu was coming off the debacle of shutting down train repairs on Shabbat in order to mollify his Haredi coalition partners and then having the public squarely blame him for putting politics ahead of soldiers trying to get home for the weekend, and then facing down polls that show Yair Lapid’s Yesh Atid party besting Netanyahu and Likud were an election to be held now. On top of that, the polls show Likud losing ground to its farther right coalition partner Habayit Hayehudi. In this instance, the obvious move for Netanyahu was to say something controversial that would fire up the rightwing base, provoke rebukes abroad, and thus benefit Netanyahu even further as he rails against foreign interference and vows to stand up to those who would smear Israel and try to discriminate against Jews. I’d be surprised if Netanyahu anticipated quite the depth of the pushback that he would face, but this is all part of his domestic political calculations.
So in conclusion, I agree 100% with the principle that Netanyahu espoused, namely that it is outrageous bigotry to prevent Jews from living in the West Bank. Unfortunately, in this instance Netanyahu was not speaking theoretically, and everyone should see through the smokescreen that he constructed in order to use anti-Semitism as a cover in defending settlements.
I’m a tad confused by the verbiage in paragraph three, namely: “…PLO leaders have explicitly said that Jews are welcome to live in a Palestinian state while categorically ruling out Israelis living in settlements where they maintain their Israeli citizenship….” and later in your post, namely: “…But any peaceful, law-abiding settler who is willing to renounce Israeli citizenship and wants to remain in his or her home should absolutely be allowed to do so, but only as citizens of Palestine under the jurisdiction of the Palestinian government.”
If I, as a United State citizen, choose to live in another country, I do not have to renounce my American citizenship to do so. I do have to respect and obey the laws of my host country and if I can’t do that I either need to relocate back to the US or mount some kind of peaceful, law-abiding protest per the rules of my host country. But I am not required to renounce my American citizenship.
Why would this be a requirement for any Israeli who chooses to live in a post-peace settlement West Bank? As long as the hypothetical Israeli isn’t living in an Israeli enclave operating under Israeli laws or seen as sovereign territory of Israel (and guarded by the IDF), but instead is obeying the laws of his or her host country of Palestine, why would it be necessary to renounce Israeli citizenship? Shouldn’t the rules be the same as for other countries where an individual can retain citizenship in their home country while still being a lawful resident of a new country?
Do you believe Abbas really wants a state? He gets billions from the foolish Europeans. The Palestinian leadership has rejected every offer to have a state because they do better financially the way it is. They will never give up right of return for descendants. A “right” they demand and that no group has ever had. Also a “right” Israel will never grant.
Palestinian promises are worthless. Joseph’s Tomb is an example of what happens to Jewish Holy sites when the Palestinians have control and make a promise to protect them.
For better or worse, it is not a matter for you to determine or of United States or Israeli law. It is a matter of the law of the country in which you want to reside. No country is required to allow citizens of other states to become permanent residents of their country except on terms it believes are appropriate. It would not be unreasonable for a country to consider the practical history of its neighborhood: e.g., if a state such as Estonia was concerned at having permanent residents who are Russian citizens as that might give rise to Russian acts to protect its citizens in Estonia.
Gee thanks. Jews who have a history of living in these lands for thousands of years may be able to live in their historic lands if Abbas determines they are not Israelis or Zionists. Abbas says a lot of stuff. He honors murderers and has created a school curriculum teaching Arab children that all of Israel is theirs. Did Matt Duss happen to mention the Palestinians are a product of Soviet intelligence and there has never
Been a Palestinian state.
Wow, what a spin of nefarious undercurrent! Netanyahu is trying to change the narrative, pure, simple and rightly so. He’s playing a long game and we (the donor countries) should all be questioning, no demanding, why the PA has been stalling for over 20 years.
I’m late to the party here. But I think you know better than this. Settlers are currently 10% of the Jewish population of Israel. They are disproportionately high fertility so that percentage is going to increase for about 2 generations even in there were a situation where Israel were slightly negatively disposed towards settlement (as contrasted with the current where they are moderately in favor).
There is not going to be a movement of the vast majority of them. Moreover they are both culturally and politically Israeli nationalists. They might be willing to live in self governing enclaves with some sort of autonomy but those areas would never be fully under Palestinian control. They would have leaky borders of both goods (including weapons) and people with Israel proper.
So what you would have is a fairly typical situation of a border that isn’t lining up with the ethnicities. The ethnics are troublesome as residents and loyal to a neighboring state. There are lots of situations like this in the world. When a state decides to drive that population out it is called ethnic cleansing.
Netanyahu isn’t wrong here in his definition. The idea of individual settlers who agree to be Palestinian converts is ducking the issue entirely. That’s not the population either one of them is talking about.