War, Peace, and Netanyahu

The Frontline documentary "Netanyahu at War", broadcast on January 5, 2016, portrays Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin (“Bibi”) Netanyahu as a “stubborn” peace partner “slow-walking” implementation of the Oslo Accords. The documentary also is replete with commentary on Bibi’s pessimistic worldview. Bibi sees “a world hostile to Jews,” has a “fatalistic” understanding of the world, and adopts a concept of a “fortress Judaism.” 

But additional context into the events below vindicates his actions and worldview.

Jewish history. History is chock full of examples of a hostile world targeting the Jews: the expulsions from the Holy Land by the Assyrians, Babylonians, and Romans, persecutions during the Crusades and the Black Death, the Spanish Inquisition, pogroms in Eastern Europe, expulsions from Europe and the Arab world; and the Holocaust, to name a few. 

The Arabs have waged perpetual conflict through rejection of Israel’s right to exist. Wouldn’t these many wars, five of which occurred since the Oslo Accords, be considered “hostile” to the Jewish state, to say the least?  Isn’t some sort of “fortress” necessary to combat such threats?

Jewish history justifies Bibi’s worldview as not pessimistic or fatalistic, but realistic. Given the above events, how is such a worldview unreasonable? One would expect the leader of Israel, the once-again established sovereign homeland of the Jews, to govern with the preservation of the Jewish people as his or her primary concern.

Operation Entebbe/Yonatan Netanyahu. Operation Entebbe was a seminal event in shaping Bibi’s worldview as it also marks the death of his brother, Yonatan “Yoni” Netanyahu. Yet the documentary glosses over the operation, oddly not mentioning it by name. 

Entebbe was a successful counterterrorism operation in Uganda against Palestinian and German terrorists who hijacked a plane that included Israeli passengers. (The hijackers had separated Israelis from non-Israelis, and later released most of the non-Israeli hostages). The operation demonstrated that Israel was willing to take great risks to rescue its civilians that were in danger, in a world indeed hostile to Jews. Out of 106 hostages, Israeli forces led by Yoni rescued 102. 

Yoni was the only Israeli commando killed in the operation. The documentary merely mentions that he was “killed in action,” and died “a violent death.” The use of “killed in action,” implies war as the cause of death, not terrorism. In this way, the documentary whitewashes terrorism. Additionally, the missing context behind Entebbe and Yoni’s role in it misses an opportunity to substantiate Bibi’s worldview.

The 1990s. The documentary spends an inordinate amount of time on a specific protest, when Benjamin Netanyahu addressed a crowd of thousands from a balcony in Zion Square in Jerusalem in 1995, and on right-wing rejection of the Oslo accords in the 1990s generally. While providing this backdrop, the documentary seeks to show Bibi’s tolerance for opposition to Oslo. 

This simplistic portrayal trivializes the national movement in Israel that was growing weary of the relentless terror campaign orchestrated by Palestinian groups at the time Israel and the PLO signed the Oslo I and Oslo II Accords (September 1993 and September 1995). According to the Israel Ministry of Foreign Affairs, 195 Israelis were murdered by Palestinian terrorists at the height of the “Peace Process,” i.e. from 1993 through 1996 (which is proportional as a total percentage of the population to if terrorists had killed 7,840 Americans during that same period).

Incitement from Palestinian leaders and media continued during the “Peace Process” as well. While championing peace in English, President Yasser Arafat in a speech to Arab diplomats in Stockholm on January30,1996, advocated genocide in Arabic, calling for a Palestinian state as a replacement for, not complementary to, Israel:

We plan to eliminate the State of Israel and establish a Palestinian state. We will make life unbearable for Jews by psychological warfare and population explosion.  Jews will not want to live among Arabs. I have no use for Jews. They are and remain Jews. We now need all the help we can get from you in our battle for a united Palestine under Arab rule.  

Palestinian violence against Israel was so relentless and distrust of Arafat so great, that even Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin himself considered abandoning the Oslo process, according to his daughter and Moshe “Bogie” Ya’alon, former chief of staff to the IDF.

Bibi’s positions on Oslo and Rabin. Also quoting Bibi speaking during the above-mentioned 1995 protest, the documentary portrays Bibi as hostile to Oslo and Rabin. But further scrutiny of what he said shows that Bibi held rational, consensus positions. The documentary shows Bibi calling Yasser Arafat “a murderer,” but Arafat was of course in the business of murder, heading a terrorist organization responsible for murdering scores of Israelis and inciting a whole society to do the same. The documentary also shows Bibi stating, “We will never divide Jerusalem,” but fails to indicate Rabin also believed in a unified Jerusalem under Israeli sovereignty. The documentary at least twice mentions that that Bibi issued harsh language against Rabin. However, this assertion is substantiated (both times) with portrayals of Netanyahu refusing to divide Jerusalem. Again, Rabin also held the position of not wanting to divide Jerusalem. Bibi was merely holding Rabin accountable to what Rabin had previously promised Israelis. Bibi’s views of Jerusalem and Arafat were actually not controversial.

Frontline’s forgotten decade. As mentioned above, several in the documentary accuse Bibi of being a “stubborn” peace partner “slow walking the peace process.” Interestingly, the documentary skips from 2001 (with a mention of 9/11) to when President Barack Obama was elected in 2008. What happened in those seven years is critical to shaping (and vindicating) Bibi’s worldview, and should upend any belief that Bibi was the source of a lack of peace. In those seven years, the Second Intifada continued to rage (September 2000 through February 2005), Prime Minister Ariel Sharon oversaw the disengagement from Gaza (September 2005), Hizb’allah instigated the Second Lebanon War (July to August 2006), Prime Minister Ehud Olmert offered a peace agreement to President Mahmoud Abbas (September 2008), and Hamas instigated the first Gaza War (December 2008-January 2009). These events served to shatter the Oslo concept of “land-for-peace” as a viable option for peace between Israel and its Arab neighbors -- Israel left southern Lebanon in 2000 only to be attacked by Hizb’allah in 2006, and left Gaza in 2005 only to be attacked by Hamas three times since (2008/9, 2012, and 2014). 

Accusing Bibi of “slow walking the peace process” is unfair, at least without a similar accusation directed at the Palestinian leadership. Prime Minister Ehud Barak offered Arafat a deal in 2000 that he rejected, Olmert offered Abbas a deal in 2008 that he rejected, and both times the Palestinian presidents gave no counter-offer. So how is the lack of peace Bibi’s problem? Bibi’s “slow-walking” was the result of the fact that from signing the first Oslo Accord in September 1993 to the present, Israel has faced four wars with the Palestinians plus sustained Palestinian terrorism in the interim. Bibi’s “slow walking” was the effect, not the cause, of a lack of peace.

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