New Hopes, Looming Threats | EPW Editorial

by Oct 6, 2011All Articles

The extreme Right in Israel and the United States are standing in the way of justice to the Palestinians.
The new spirit of assertion by the hitherto supine al-Fatah leadership of Palestine and the degree of support it has received from governments across the world speaks of a dawn of hope for the Palestinian people. The bid for a unilateral declaration of independence from Israeli occupation, which the Palestinians hope will be recognised by the United Nations (UN), emerges from
the wider ferment in the Arab world. But because it involves Israel it will be judged by a different set of standards. It embodies the spirit of hope and resistance. Yet, it could just as well be the first stage in a new phase of confrontation, more bitter than anything in the past.
The dangers are embodied in the figure of Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu, who basks in the glow of adulation from the United States Congress and self-righteously demands the unquestioning loyalty of what he, with complete arrogance, calls the “civilised world”. Unqualified endorsement of the creeping annexation of all Palestine – save the Gaza which would continue
being the world’s largest open-air prison – is the minimum he demands as blood price for past atrocities the Jewish people have suffered in the heartlands of “civilisation”.

Netanyahu has, ever since assuming office as prime minister of Israel, sought assiduously to change the subject: from the need for justice in Palestine to the putative nuclear threat from Iran;
from the legitimate demand of those made refugees several times over by Zionist ethnic cleansing to the imperative that the world recognise the eternally Jewish character of Israel (and thus
Palestine). Netanyahu’s recalcitrance would be a sufficient threat to world peace if there weren’t greater hazards lurking in the cabinet of right-wing extremists he has assembled.

Avigdor Lieberman, foreign minister of Israel under the powersharing deal that keeps Netanyahu in office, is the other face of this hazard. A person who does not hesitate to use metaphors from
the animal world in referring to the Palestinians, Lieberman sees no irony in saying in the very next breath that “Israel is now on the front line of a battle involving not just the Jewish people but all western civilisation”. His warning to the Palestinians is an unabashed assertion of imperial mastery: the relative stability of the last two years, with high rates of growth and relatively unimpeded
movement, would be a thing of the past if the Palestinians were to persist with the intent to declare statehood.

What Israel demands, the US soon fulfils. In his speech before the UN General Assembly on 21 September, just hours after mass rallies were held all over occupied Palestine to celebrate the push towards independence, US President Barack Obama warned against the entire enterprise. It was, in part, a disavowal of much he had said at the same forum exactly a year before.
Acknowledging as much, he reaffirmed his belief in a Palestinian state, but underlined that this was a moral imperative that could only be realised “between Israelis and Palestinians themselves”.
The meaning is clear: the final contours of a settlement should set in stone for eternity the asymmetric power relations between the Israelis and the Palestinians. A Palestinian “state”, simply
because it involves a relationship of equality, is an unthinkable for Israel. What the world sees as a moral imperative is for Israel an existential threat. In addressing this dilemma, Obama has to
make frequent concessions to the demands of justice and just as frequently recant.

Obama’s inner councils are restive at the indignity of the situation but uneasily aware that there is no way out, given the conflict between the configurations of domestic politics and the  compulsions of maintaining a pretence of global leadership. Top cabinet officials in the US may denounce Netanyahu in private as an ungrateful and mendacious ally. But any such statement in public would unleash a firestorm of rage from the far-right, unrepentant despite Iraq and energised by recent economic woes.

The far-right extremist John Bolton, who even a Republican Congress found inappropriate for the post of ambassador to the UN, has resurrected the imperial fantasies the world hoped had died
with the Bush administration: extinguish the Iranian threat through the use of force, pull out of the UN and cut all funding if it goes ahead with recognising a Palestinian state. His advocacy of a muscular US military posture around the world – fanciful in the context of current economic realities, but still anchored in a semblance of rationality – blends with the messianic visions of those who are today the leading contenders for leadership of the Republican Party. Israel is no mere ally in this perception, but a divinely ordained cause, nothing less than a fundamental act of commitment to good over evil. Clearly, the prospective alignment of the extremist factions in the two countries could soon become an active threat to world peace.

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