The Blame Game
In two articles within the past week, Nahum Barnea, respected columnist for Yedioth Ahronoth and winner of the Israel Prize for his distinguished writing, has lacerated Israel for diplomatic failure in the recent collapse of Israeli-Palestinian negotiations. “A radical minority,” he claimed, “is helping turn Israel into an apartheid state.” Repeating the outrageous recent warning from Secretary of State John Kerry that Israel would soon emulate South Africa if it did not follow his advice, Barnea claimed (ynet news, April 29) “to speak on behalf of another population groaning under an occupation -- the Israelis.”
Barnea rejected the inescapable conclusion that Palestinian Authority president Mahmoud Abbas once again fled the diplomatic scene rather than recognize Israel as the nation-state of the Jewish people. Instead, he focused blame on the favorite target of the Israeli left: Jewish settlers. The major contribution to the diplomatic failure, he asserted, came from the “settler lobby.” Whenever negotiations “showed signs of life,” new settlement construction plans were revealed by Housing Minister Uri Ariel, who “sabotaged, undermined and detonated” the peace process without Prime Minister Netanyahu lifting a finger to stop him.
With the announcement of new construction in Gilo, a community of 40,000 Jews located within the Jerusalem Municipality (and a site of Israelite settlement since 1200 BCE), Abbas abandoned diplomacy. This was another victory for the “radical and reckless” settlement lobby that has the power to “shape the face of Israel.” The Jewish state, Barnea predicted, will become an apartheid state, boycotted and besieged internationally. Then “the world will force Israel to become a binational state, a state of all its citizens,” terminating its existence as a Jewish state. All because authorization was granted for the construction of 1,200 new apartments in a Jerusalem neighborhood.
Barnea’s doomsday scenario turned out to be a warm-up exercise for further castigation of Israel. Three days later, in an article (ynet.news, May 2) that quickly went viral, he revealed the content of his exclusive interview with unnamed “senior American officials” who explained “the real reason” for the collapse of negotiations. Their disclosure “is the closest thing to an official American version of what happened.” Lest the Americans be suspected of hostility to Israel, Barnea pointedly noted, “Israel is very dear to them, but the wounds are deep.”
To be sure, there had been no agreement to freeze settlement construction for the duration of the negotiations. (The Israeli government had learned the lesson of a ten-month settlement freeze during a previous round of talks that went nowhere.) Nonetheless, his American sources asserted, Israeli ministers had used construction plans to “sabotage the success of the talks.”
Secretary Kerry was praised for his persistent attempts to persuade Prime Minister Netanyahu to temper his positions and move forward. (No such effort with President Abbas was mentioned.) As for President Obama, he “does not have the time for such a long-term effort -- and besides, there are many rifts between Obama and Netanyahu.” With a detached American president, and neither the Israelis nor Palestinians displaying “a sense of urgency,” not even Kerry’s valiant efforts sufficed. As one of Barnea’s American sources bitterly noted, “I guess we need another intifada to create the circumstances that would allow progress.”
Barnea seemed justifiably surprised. Given the history of failed negotiations for a peaceful resolution of the conflict dating back to the euphoric Oslo Accords of 1993, he wondered why American officials had expected otherwise. They responded: “we willingly pushed our lack of faith aside.” In translation, they were blind to a fundamental reality of history: unrelenting Palestinian refusal to accept the reality of a Jewish state.
In the 21st century, Barnea’s American sources warned, “the world will not keep tolerating the Israeli occupation.” Abbas’s refusal to recognize Israel as a Jewish state was incomprehensible to them, but hardly consequential. Once Israel “hardened its demands,” refused to end its “occupation,” and committed “an intentional act of sabotage” with the Gilo construction announcement, the talks collapsed.
Israelis on the left, Barnea conspicuous among them, will continue to flagellate Israeli settlements in biblical Judea and Samaria as the primary obstacle to the peace that Palestinians rejected decades before the first settlement was built. The largest Jewish settlement in the Middle East, after all, is the State of Israel. Celebrating its sixty-sixth anniversary of independence, it has no intention of self-destructing for hollow promises of peace, whether to appease frustrated American diplomats or to placate its own true believers in peace now.
Jerold S. Auerbach is author of the recently published Jewish State Pariah Nation: Israel and the Dilemmas of Legitimacy (Quid Pro Books)