Netanyahu Reneges on Freeze

Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu announced his bad faith as he began the first direct talks between Israel and the Palestine Authority in 2 years, implying that he would call off the 8-month freeze on new settlements in the West Bank. His negotiating partner, President Mahmoud Abbas, had made cessation of new settlements a prerequisite for direct talks, on the sensible grounds that you can’t really negotiate with someone who is actively stealing from you. After Netanyahu’s statement, Abbas is left looking like a fool for having agreed to come to Washington for this parley.

Peace talks can be dangerous, and the ones President Barack Obama is more or less imposing on Israel and the Palestine Authority are especially perilous. Talks are dangerous because they can raise public expectations, and when they are dashed, can produce violence born of profound disappointment. That consideration is one reason that it is irresponsible of far-right Likud politicians like Netanyahu to only pretend to enter peace talks, talks they have no intention of honoring or of following through on issues, to which agreement is sought by the US and the Palestinians.

How little Netanyahu is interested in real peace with the Palestinians is demonstrated by his running interference for squatters like those at Ariel who have simply usurped Palestinian land on the West Bank. Anyone seriously interested in the hell that Israelis have made the lives of Palestinians in the West Bank simply must read Saree Makdisi’s elegantly-written book, Palestine Inside Out

See also this recent report by Aljazeera English on Israeli human rights violations:

The furor over the Talibanization of Israel at the hands of its ultra-Orthodox population is mainly important for its political implications. An Israeli singer was recently sentenced to 39 lashes for singing in front of an audience wherein men and women were mixed. About 8% of Israelis are ultra-Orthodox or Haredim, a percentage that is likely to grow to 18% by 2030. The spiritual leader of the ultra-Orthodox Shas Party, Rabbi Ovadia Yosef, made waves this week when he included in his blessing for Rosh Ha-Shana, the Jewish New Year, a prayer that a plague should strike the Palestinians and wipe them out, including Mahmoud Abbas. He said, “Let Abu Mazen [Mahmoud Abbas, president of the Palestinian Authority] and all these evil folk perish from this world. May God smite them with plague, them and these Palestinians.”

Apologists for Israel quickly pointed out that the rabbi routinely expresses such wishes on anyone with whom he disagrees or of whom he disapproves, including gays, non-Orthodox Jews, etc., etc. They also pointed out that Muslim ulama or clergymen say similar things about the Israelis all the time. Both of these points are correct, but they miss the point of the controversy and misjudge why an alarmed US State Department condemned these sentiments.

Netanyahu presides over a coalition of parties in a ruling coalition, which could easily fall apart. Shas has 11 seats and 4 cabinet posts, and were it to withdraw from the government, Netanyahu would have a very slim majority left. If Shas left and took other ultra-Orthodox politicians with it from small parties, that step could cause the government to fall.

Netanyahu’s bark is worse than his bite and he might well be willing to pull a Begin and reach a historic agreement with the Palestinians, if left to his own devices. But if Rabbi Yosef’s murderous venom, a mirror of what one sometimes hears from some Hamas figures, was intended to pressure Shas to oppose the resumption of direct talks,or to dig in its heels about any concessions Netanyahu might be tempted to make, then his words could well sink the talks. He isn’t just another fanatical cleric; he is influential with a party that in turn helps prop up the incumbent. (Hint: Hamas is opposed to the direct talks between Abbas and Netanyahu.)

The good will and wisdom of the Obama administration in steadily applying pressure on both sides to come to the negotiating table exists in one world. The baleful irrationality of Rabbi Yosef and of his Hamas counterparts is more like the real world in the Mideast. Though note that Hamas’s boycott of the talks cannot stop them from taking place, whereas if Shas left Netanyahu’s government they might well be able to help bring him down and stop the talks that way.

14 Responses

  1. “Abbas is left looking like a fool for having agreed to come to Washington for this parley.”

    To call him a fool is generous. He is a traitor.

  2. Netanyahu is not the only problem, he’s just the current face of Israeli leadership.
    The state of Israel has had the same agenda for decades; create the state of Israel by eliminating the Palestinians. The fanatical Israel government is focused on the enemy of ‘their’ state and will target the Palestinians throughout this process until they are killed or transferred to another state. This peace deal is a ruse. Only Congress can help the President, but the great majority are in the pocket of special Israeli interests.

    We are going to witness the same ordeal from Israel for years to come.

    The Israel ‘peace’ strategy is to make the agreement impossible for the Palestinian negotiator (currently, Netanyahu intends to restart the settlement building). After the Palestinians realize they are being taken advantage of, as they have nothing to bargain with Israel, violence will erupt out of frustration, and Israel will send the IDF into the occupied territories to punish the Palestinians and turn their society into a prison.
    Operation Cast Lead was a clear example of where Israel kills the civilian population, and it is swept under the rug in the US (Goldstone Report). It’s sickening to witness how the media can act so blase, when it is crucial for the US public to understand how it government will aid and abet state-sponsored terrorism, in the illusion of fighting terrorism.

    The major problem is the US Congress: they are the enablers of this crime. If our national news media were not so biased on this single issue, there would be a growing movement to end this international crime in the Middle East, that ultimately damages the US interests.

  3. How out of touch with the 21st century are these extremists of either strip – Moslem or Jew – who want to separate the sexes, who believe in whipping people, etc.?

    What does it say about Netanyahu that he makes common cause in his coalition with these people? What does it say about Israel that these small parties hold even that much power?

    It is time for those who hold to the center to repudiate these people wherever they are -whomever they are – Jew, Moslem, or Christian fundamentalist. They are nasty evil people espousing hatred in the sheeps clothing of religion – and mostly appealing to other sheep in the process.

  4. I am going to be watching my local news news tomorrow and WHAOOO.. Israel and the palestinians are here having peace talks?! Our president truly delivered on his promises. We withdrew from Iraq and are solving the middle east crisis. In 7 days God created the world and in 7 days our president Obama solved our middle east problems. I know who I am voting for this coming election.
    Pssssst: Hass and Natanyahu already determined on July 8-2010 who’s at fault in the failing of these talks. This is their version:

    link to

    The entire video of the event at the end is also worth viewing.

  5. For Ovadia Yosef to use the High Holy Days to wish death on anyone offends me as a Jew. That should be the first thing he repents on Yom Kippur.

    While it’s true that people he hasn’t consigned to death or damnation “must be people he ain’t met,” that doesn’t make it any less offensive, and if anything, that reflects even more poorly on those who appointed him to positions of spiritual leadership (n.b: he was also Sephardic Chief Rabbi of Israel).

  6. It is amusing that Juan Cole, who famously defended Ahmadinejad by claiming that his statement to wipe Israel from the face of the earth was a mistranslation, relies on Yahoo to translate the words of Rabbi Yosef. YNet today gave a more accurate translation: link to

    Yosef did not wish a plague on all Palestinians, only the ones who “persecute Israel.”

    Since Cole cares so much about accurate translations, I trust that he will correct this and apologize.

    • Dear Elder,

      As I understand it, one was a gross distortion. Words were twisted to mean what Ahmadinejad did not say.

      In contrast, you imply the Rabbi was misunderstood in terms of scope, not substance. He wished the destruction of “only a few”*, not “all”. Or to use the language of the Obama administration,

      “Targeted assassination” (drones?): GOOD!
      Mass extermination (nukes?): BAD!

      *It might transpire that the Rabbi’s defenders, rather than Mr. Cole, may find it useful to make amends should it be determined that, “all the evil people who hate Israel” is a surprisingly large constituency, approximating “all” (Palestinians).
      (Though I’d suggest the “evil” be dropped, unless the argument then becomes that the Torah mandates non-believers to “love thy oppressor”).

    • Haaretz, an Israeli newspaper, also reports exactly what Juan Cole says, and more:
      “Abu Mazen and all these evil people should perish from this world,” Rabbi Ovadia was quoted as saying during his weekly sermon at a synagogue near his Jerusalem home. “God should strike them with a plague, them and these Palestinians.”

      The Shas spiritual leader also called the Palestinians “evil, bitter enemies of Israel” during his speech, which is not the rabbi’s first sermon to spark controversy.

      In 2001, the spiritual leader of the ultra-Orthodox faction gave a speech in which he also called for Arabs’ annihilation.

      “It is forbidden to be merciful to them,” he was quoted as saying. “You must send missiles to them and annihilate them. They are evil and damnable.”
      link to

  7. I don’t see how Ovadia Yosef and HAMAS can be equated. HAMAS is not calling for plagues upon people and has agreed to a more or less permanent truce on the 1967 lines, as well as keeping a ceasefire before CastLead even when Israel was violating it.

    And why should anyone support these direct talks? They can’t work: Israel has already announced its intention to torpedo them by not even pretending any longer to freeze settlement construction – a point you made yourself. Being opposed to such nonsense has nothing to do with being opposed to peace, because peace must recognize realities, not deny them.

  8. […] Horowitz, a scholar who doesn’t seem to have any ax to grind (HT: Tom Mitchell). On the left, Juan Cole explains “how little Netanyahu is interested in real peace with the Palestinians” and offers […]

  9. Sloppy analysis. If Shas leaves the government would have to move to the left, certainly bringing in Kadima. It wouldn’t collapse the peace talks, it would help them.

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