“It’s the end of the masquerade.”
That’s how Israeli journalist Gideon Levy characterized the pre-election musing by Likud leader Benjamin Netanyahu that he would not agree to the establishment of a Palestinian state alongside Israel.
It was something less than a full statement, more like an answer to questions from a not-unfriendly journalist, but it angered the Obama administration, with one official saying the U.S. will “re-assess our options.”
It also fit Levy’s argument that no Israeli leaders had ever intended to agree to a Palestinian state.
“For 24 years at least, Israeli politicians, one after another, misled the Israelis, the world and Palestinians in claiming that the occupation (of land captured in 1967) is about to end,” he told some 300 at Concordia University last month.
Levy, a columnist and editorial board member at Ha’aretz newspaper, was kicking off a speaking tour of Canada, sponsored by Canadians for Justice and Peace in the Middle East.
For the record, here is what Netanyahu actually said in the interview: “I think that anyone who is going to establish a Palestinian state today and evacuate lands is giving attack grounds to the radical Islam against the State of Israel.”
“Anyone who ignores this is sticking his head in the sand.”
Asked whether he meant that a Palestinian state would not be established if he were re-elected prime minister, Netanyahu replied “Correct.”
Though it was hardly a formal statement, and Netanyahu has backtracked after his party won most seats in the election, Levy argued that the facts speak for themselves.
First the alleged obstacle was Yasser Arafat, founder of the Palestine Liberation Organization, who was seen as “too strong;” then his successor, Mahmoud Abbas, was seen as “too weak.”
“In between there was terror, and when there is terror you don’t expect Israel to negotiate,” he said.
Then came Hamas and Gaza. “You can’t expect us to talk to those Islamists, those fundamentalists.”
“Now there is ISIS, and here we have another excuse because ISIS is on the border.”
Meanwhile, the so-called “status quo” persists, which is not because more settlements are being built all the time on lands occupied since 1967.
Expansionism “has only one purpose – to prevent any kind of peace settlement.”
Can Israel continue to flaunt international law and “the majority of public opinion in the world” or will it be “a wake-up call for changing the international discourse,” he asked?
“For people like me, the only hope is from the outside… We are now getting the most nationalist, religious, right-wing government that Israel has ever had.
“It is on the world’s shoulders to decide if this is acceptable in the 21st century, if this reality is legitimate, and could continue to be supported, financed and encouraged by the free world.”
With 600,000 Israelis living in the West Bank and East Jerusalem, the chances for realizing a Palestinian state are “really very, very low.”
The alternative is a “one-state solution,” which has been functioning since June 1967, with three regimes, he argued.
“One is the façade of a liberal democracy for its citizens, the second is one that discriminates against its Arab citizens, with some rules of democracy, and the third is half an hour away from our homes, one of the most brutal and cruel regimes in the world today.”
“It looks like an apartheid regime, it behaves like an apartheid. When two peoples are sharing one piece of land, one people has all the rights in the world, the other has no rights whatsoever. If this is not apartheid, what is apartheid?
“Israeli society is in total denial, but will the world tolerate another apartheid state in the 21st century, with democracy for some people and apartheid for the others?” he asked rhetorically.
“Can someone be half-pregnant, half-democratic? Can Israel continue to find excuses with the only excuse, the unofficial religion of Israel, namely security?
“What about the security of Palestinians?” he asked. None of the estimated 2.65 million West Bank Palestinians had the right to vote in the Israeli election. Meanwhile, the occupation and peace and two states or one were not discussed in the campaign, he noted.
Although Netanyahu is neither loved nor appreciated, he wins elections. “He understood that fear is the best way to be elected and re-elected.
“Everything in Israel is an existential threat,” he said, in a mocking tone. The Tel-Aviv-born son of Holocaust survivors, and an aide for four years to Shimon Peres, Levy said it was in the late 1980s when he visited the Occupied Territories that he started to realize that “this is the biggest story of Israel and there is almost no one to tell this story.”
This has not won him many friends in Israel, though he has received many awards for his journalism, and this past year he had to hire bodyguards to protect him and his family.
Levy continued for some 90 minutes, including a question-and-answer period, but one of his harshest judgments was this:
“Israelis don’t perceive the Palestinians as equal human beings like them – that’s the core of everything.
“As long as this will not change, nothing will change.”