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Aviad Kleinberg
Bibi on the tree
Op-ed: PM Netanyahu's deterministic approach to Mideast conflict breeds diplomatic blindness

In his speech at Bar-Ilan University this week Netanyahu repeated his favorite claim – the occupation is not the root cause of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

 

The prime minister said: "When asked what the root of the conflict is, people usually have an answer at the ready: The occupation, the territories, the settlements and so on – it is all the same. Israel 'taking control of the territories,' the area of Judea and Samaria after the Six Day War, the settlements – this is what sustains the conflict, this is what created the conflict for the most part. And I ask, is it really?

 

"In my opinion, if one must choose a process by which the conflict started in actual fact, I would set the date at 1921 on the day on which the Palestinian Arabs attacked the immigration hostel in Jaffa. Clearly this attack was not about territory or settlements; it was against Jewish immigration to the Land of Israel," he said.

 

Netanyahu also mentioned the Arab rejection of the Partition plan, which predated the occupation, as well as the Arab hostility toward the State of Israel prior to 1967.

 

Indeed, the conflict between the Jewish settlement in the Land of Israel and the Arabs did not begin in 1967. The Arabs viewed the Jewish settlement and the Jewish state as foreign bodies, and they began to fight them as soon as it became clear that the Zionist movement's political goals included the establishment of a political entity in areas they considered to be Arab and where the Arabs were a majority until the Independence War of 1948.

 

The roots of the conflict lie in the fact that the Arabs are not a mob, they are part of a national movement, and these two national movements, the Jewish and Palestinian, demand sovereignty over the same territory. So if Netanyahu was trying to make a historic point, he was right. The roots of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict are not in the occupation of 1967.

 

Legitimate national rights

The thing is that political disputes do not remain roots. They grow stems and branches and produce rotten fruit. It is convenient for Netanyahu to go back to 1921 and 1947, just as it is convenient for him to go back, again and again, to Haj Amin al-Husseini and his cooperation with the Nazis. A long time has passed since al-Husseni was the leader of the Palestinian nation; the Nazis have passed from the world, and the year is 2013, not 1921.

 

Netanyahu's deterministic perspective breeds diplomatic blindness. The sea is not the same sea, the Arabs are not the same Arabs, and even the Jews are not the same Jews. The State of Israel does not have only 600,000 citizens anymore; it is a regional power with more than eight million citizens and it has peace agreements with two countries it used to fight. The Palestinians are not led by al-Husseini, but by Mahmoud Abbas, and the Arab League is not calling for the annihilation of the Zionist entity, but for peace with it (people can argue over the terms of course). Things change. Iran was once our ally, and today it is a dangerous enemy. Who knows what tomorrow will bring?

 

Most of those who oppose the occupation do not believe that the problem was the conquest of the territories during the Six Day War. The problem was the undeclared decision to annex these territories to Israel without granting civil rights to their non-Jewish residents. This policy created a reality that ignores not only the legitimate national rights of the Palestinians (rights which Netanyahu recognizes – "two states for two peoples"), but also their basic human rights.

 

Many in Israel and outside the country cannot ignore the acts of injustice, theft, discrimination and oppression the continuation of this policy entails. The occupation does not explain everything, and the end of the occupation will not solve everything, but it will advance us toward a solution. Root canal is not always necessary. Sometimes it is enough to climb down from the tree.

 

 

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