Category Archives: Benjamin Netanyahu

The Truth Behind Netanyahu’s Admission that Police Killing was a Cover-up

It is unprecedented. Three years after the Israeli government first began vilifying a Palestinian teacher to retrospectively justify his murder by Israel’s security forces, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu issued a public apology to his family last week. Yacoub Abu al-Qiyan was not a “terrorist” after all, the Israeli prime minister conceded.

And there was more. Israeli police, said Netanyahu, had portrayed 50-year-old Abu al-Qiyan as “a terrorist to protect themselves” and stop their crimes being exposed.

They shot him even though he posed no threat to anyone. Abu al-Qiyan was unarmed and driving at less than 10 kilometres per hour at the time. After shooting him, police left him to bleed to death for half an hour, denying him medical assistance that could have saved his life.

To cover up their role, police falsely claimed that he had tried to ram them with his car. The Israeli state prosecution service was deeply implicated in this affair, too, having reportedly blocked a criminal investigation, even though they knew what really happened.

Netanyahu said his government had been deceived by the serial lies back in early 2017, implying that that was why he wrongly accused Abu al-Qiyan of committing a “terror attack”.

Hail of gunfire

Such soul-searching and contrition on matters relating to the abuse and killing of a Palestinian are startlingly rare from any Israeli politician. But from Netanyahu, such comments rightly raise an eyebrow. What is going on?

In fact, Netanyahu is telling only partial truths.

Abu al-Qiyan was certainly no terrorist, nor was he a member of the Islamic State (IS), as police repeatedly claimed. He was a school deputy principal and a member of Israel’s large Palestinian minority. That made him – unlike Palestinians in the occupied territories – an Israeli citizen, though one with few of the rights enjoyed by the country’s Jewish majority. Palestinian “citizens” comprise a fifth of Israel’s population.

Bedouin citizens such as Abu al-Qiyan face the most discrimination of all Palestinian communities inside Israel. Nonetheless, he had managed to gain a PhD in chemistry, the first Bedouin to do so in Israel.

And, as Netanyahu correctly observed, Abu al-Qiyan was indeed a victim of extreme police brutality – something all too familiar to Palestinians, whether in the occupied territories or inside Israel.

When his car came under a hail of gunfire, he was hit twice by live rounds. As a result, he lost control of his car, which sped downhill out of control, hitting and killing a police officer. Abu al-Qiyan was then left to bleed to death as police and Israeli medical teams refused to come to his aid.

“Had he received treatment … he would not have died,” concluded Dr Maya Forman, who helped conduct the autopsy. That’s why Ayman Odeh, a Palestinian legislator in the Israeli parliament and the head of the Joint List faction, called Abu al-Qiyan’s killing a police “murder” last week.

Netanyahu was also right that Israeli police lied, both about who Abu al-Qiyan was and the circumstances of his death. But then again, that is standard operating procedure for Israeli security forces when Palestinian civilians die at their hands. Lack of transparency, cover-ups and impunity are givens.

Character assassination

Where Netanyahu was wrong was in suggesting that he was ever deceived by the police claims. He surely knew almost from the start that Abu al-Qiyan was not a terrorist, even while publicly calling him one.

How can we be certain? Because I and many others knew about the police deceptions soon after Abu al-Qiyan was shot and left to die. In February 2017, for example, a month after his death, I wrote an article setting out the lies I had been told by police, which had been rapidly exposed by forensic and video evidence – lies Netanyahu claims only just to have learned about. If I knew the truth three years ago, so did he.

In fact, the Shin Bet, Israel’s intelligence service, which is directly answerable to the prime minister, concluded within two days that the incident was not a terror attack.

Netanyahu wasn’t tricked. He colluded in the character assassination of Abu al-Qiyan after the Bedouin man’s assassination by police.

Indeed, Netanyahu and his ministers amplified those slurs to include the rest of Israel’s Palestinian minority. His public security minister at the time, Gilad Erdan, demonised the minority’s representatives in parliament, accusing them of condoning terrorism and inciting against police by denying that Abu al-Qiyan’s killing was justified.

Killing exploited

Whatever he says now, Netanyahu’s claim last week that “yesterday we found out [Abu al-Qiyan] was not a terrorist” did not end the lies; it continued and expanded them.

The only reason the prime minister decided to break with Israel’s decades-old policy of dissembling to ensure its security services enjoy impunity over the deaths of Palestinians was to help himself out of a jam. It certainly was not because he cared about a glaring injustice, or about Abu al-Qiyan’s vilification and the family’s suffering – both of which he very much contributed to.

Netanyahu’s goal was not to clear Abu al-Qiyan’s name, but to tarnish the reputation of Israel’s police and prosecution service – and for all the wrong reasons. The police force and prosecutors involved in the killing of Abu al-Qiyan, and the cover-up of that crime, are the same police force and prosecution service that will be acting against Netanyahu in December, when his corruption trial begins in earnest.

Netanyahu faces a string of charges that he committed bribery, fraud and breach of trust. His political survival now depends on his ability to breathe life into a narrative that the Israeli police and legal system are themselves corrupt and waging an anti-democratic war to bring him down.

This is the story he is trying to craft: if police and prosecutors could deceive even Israel’s prime minister for three years over the killing of an Israeli citizen, are they not also capable of deceiving the public by accusing Netanyahu himself of being corrupt?

Should Netanyahu succeed, he will demand that all corruption charges against him are dropped. Another Palestinian legislator, Aida Touma-Suleiman, tweeted that Netanyahu’s apology was worthless, calling it the “cynical use of blood for ominous political purposes”.

Trigger-happy fingers

Netanyahu has been helped, of course, by the fact that, though his claims of a supposed establishment campaign against him are preposterous, he is not wrong about the profound corruption and anti-democratic nature of Israel’s law enforcement and prosecution system.

They are indeed corrupt – just not not against him.

But when it comes to the treatment of Palestinians, whether those in the occupied territories or inside Israel, Israeli security services have trigger-happy fingers and contempt for Palestinian lives. Investigations rarely take place, and when they do, their findings are preordained. Prosecutors willingly turn a blind eye to police misdeeds, hastily closing such files, as they did with Abu al-Qiyan.

On Monday, Human Rights Watch (HRW) demanded the return of the body of Ahmed Erekat, a 26-year-old Palestinian shot by Israeli soldiers 10 weeks ago in violation of both Israeli and international law.

His death parallels Abu al-Qiyan’s own treatment. Erekat was shot dead by soldiers after what appeared to be a traffic accident at a checkpoint in the West Bank in which a soldier was lightly injured. Video shows Erekat emerging from his car, posing no visible threat, only to be gunned down by the soldiers. Medical crews were again blocked from approaching.

Efforts by Human Rights Watch to find out whether Erekat was armed, or whether Israel has conducted an investigation and, if so, what its findings were, have all gone unanswered.

Similarly, in late May Israeli police killed an autistic Palestinian man, Iyad al-Hallaq, shooting him reportedly at close range, after chasing him through the streets of Jerusalem’s Old City. There were at least 10 cameras in that area, according to local media, but Israeli authorities have claimed none were working at the time of the incident.

These and many similar incidents show that Palestinian life isn’t just cheap. It’s worthless in the eyes of the Israeli police and army – and in Netanyahu’s eyes, too. Abu al-Qiyan’s life has meaning to the Israeli prime minister now only because it can be exploited to keep him in power.

Dehumanising Palestinians

Abu al-Qiyan’s story isn’t an aberration. It sheds light on the way Israel’s entire state apparatus systematically dehumanises Palestinians, both in life and in death.

The context for Abu al-Qiyan’s killing in January 2017 were Israeli police efforts to implement an abhorrent decision by the Netanyahu government to demolish his village, Umm al-Hiran, in Israel’s south, in the semi-desert Negev region. The entire village, home to 1,000 Palestinian citizens of Israel, was due to be razed so it could be replaced by a new, exclusively Jewish community under nearly the same name, Hiran.

In fact, it was the second time these Bedouin villagers were being ethnically cleansed by their own state. Sixty years earlier – long before 24-hour rolling news coverage or social media – they had been expelled by the Israeli army from their ancestral lands to make way for another exclusively Jewish community.

Remember, the village of Umm al-Hiran is located in Israel, and its inhabitants are all formally Israeli citizens. Nonetheless, the politicians and courts had no interest in protecting the rights of these Palestinian citizens. The state’s official policy of “Judaising” the Negev – forcing out Palestinian citizens to make way for Jewish citizens – took precedence.

Years of struggle by the villagers, aided by international and local human rights groups, had come to naught. The country’s highest court had ruled: “The residents of Umm al-Hiran have no right to the place.”

Trying to avoid bad publicity, Netanyahu’s government sent in hundreds of members of a paramilitary unit, the Border Police, under cover of night to forcibly evict the villagers. They arrived with live ammunition, rubber-coated metal bullets, tear gas and stun grenades.

Car veered erratically

Abu al-Qiyan had decided to leave before the demolitions began to avoid any confrontation with police. Other villagers staged a protest in the village, alongside Palestinian members of the Israeli parliament and left-wing activists, watched by a handful of journalists.

Abu al-Qiyan packed his car with the last belongings from his home, and then headed along a dusty track to reach the main road. As is the case with dozens of similar Bedouin communities in the Negev, there were no paved roads in Umm al-Hiran, because – as part of its Judaisation policy – Israel has denied these villages all basic services.

As Abu al-Qiyan carefully navigated the track down a small hill in the dark, Israeli police opened fire, aiming in the direction of his car’s headlights. Dozens of shots were fired. He was hit twice, an autopsy report revealed: once in the torso and once in the knee, rendering him incapable of controlling the car.

A police aerial video of the incident shows that, after the shots, the car suddenly sped up and veered erratically down the slope. At the bottom, the car crashed into a group of police, killing Erez Levy.

Bleeding to death

There had been no reason to shoot Abu al-Qiyan, apart from the racist preconceptions of the Israeli police officers there that night. Their force has long cultivated an institutional view of Palestinians, including those who are Israeli citizens, as not fully human and as an “enemy”. That last observation was made not by me, but by an official, judicial-led commission of inquiry into a spate of other killings by Israeli police of Palestinian citizens.

Because the police officers arriving in Umm al-Hiran regarded its inhabitants as criminals – a view that has been expressed towards Bedouins by all Israeli governments, including Netanyahu’s – they could not interpret Abu al-Qiyan’s car speeding towards them in any way other than as a car-ramming.

Cause and effect were easily reversed in their minds. They shot Abu al-Qiyan without reason. They created the circumstances that led to the death of a fellow officer. But in the racist worldview of Israeli police, the bullets fired at Abu al-Qiyan were retrospectively justified by an imagined “terror attack” the same bullets had caused.

Complicity in Abu al-Qiyan’s racist murder was not confined to the police officers. Two doctors and a team of paramedics at the scene joined them in allowing Abu al-Qiyan to bleed to death. They were only 10 metres from him as his life slowly ebbed away.

One of the paramedics explained that they did not help Abu al-Qiyan because they were not ordered to do so by police, as though they needed an invitation. Justifying the inaction, a paramedic told an investigator: “Sad, it’s easy to talk now but in the field the signs were that it was an attack.” In those circumstances, leaving Abu al-Qiyan to bleed to death was acceptable, it seems.

Politician shot

The police lies came thick and fast, but were quickly exposed by video and forensic evidence. Abu al-Qiyan had not raced towards police in a terror attack. He had not had his headlights turned off, supposedly fuelling their suspicions. They had not fired into the air, or only at his car’s tyres.

The Israeli newspaper Haaretz recently reported on transcripts of an interview with the officer who shot first, known only as S. He admitted that his life had not been in danger and that he fired not at the vehicle’s tyres – the official story – but at the centre of the car.

Police claims that they had proof that Abu al-Qiyan was an IS supporter never materialised. Later, the Shin Bet intelligence service quietly closed its investigation, unable to find any signs it was a “terror attack”.

Police were caught out in another blatant deception over that night’s events. Ayman Odeh, the head of a parliamentary delegation for the Palestinian minority monitoring events in Umm al-Hiran, was left with a bleeding head wound.

Police claimed he had been hit by a stone thrown by villagers. In fact, as Odeh claimed and photographic evidence proved, police had fired rubber-coated metal bullets at him, as they had at the villagers. Had one of those bullets hit Odeh’s head a fraction lower, he could have been blinded.

Photos of the scene show a group of armed police relaxing and chatting next to Odeh, as he crawls in the dirt, stunned, with his head profusely bleeding. Despite his parliamentary privilege, Odeh was shot as he tried to assist Abu al-Qiyan. Eyal Weizman, the head of Forensic Architecture, which used video and other evidence to piece together that night’s events, has noted that had Odeh been allowed to reach Abu al-Qiyan, the teacher’s life could have been saved.

‘Blood on your hands’

In the following days, the demonisation of Abu al-Qiyan – and of Palestinian leaders, such as Odeh for disputing the police narrative – was led by the Netanyahu government.

Erdan, now Israel’s ambassador to the United Nations, called the villagers of Umm al-Hiran “violent thieves”. He accused Odeh and other Palestinian legislators of being equally responsible for the death of police officer Levy as the “terrorist” Abu al-Qiyan. “This blood is on your hands too,” he wrote on social media.

In a 2017 post praising Erez, Netanyahu said those “supporting and inciting for terrorism” – code for the Palestinian leadership in Israel – would face “all necessary force”, including even denial of citizenship.

The Netanyahu government’s demonisation campaign provided the excuse for further indignities suffered by Abu al-Qiyan’s family and his village. The family was denied compensation, and are today reported to be still living in mobile homes after their home was demolished following the 2017 incident.

In line with its policy towards “terrorists”, Israeli authorities delayed releasing Abu al-Qiyan’s body and refused a public burial. As his nephew, Raed, told me angrily five days after the killing, as he attended a funeral at which the body never arrived: “Not only did the police kill him in cold blood, but now they are holding his body hostage to try to make more convincing their ridiculous story that he is a terrorist.”

It has apparently taken three and a half years for Netanyahu to learn what Raed Abu al-Qiyan knew from the start.

Circle of complicity

Nothing that happened to Abu al-Qiyan that night – or in the weeks and months that followed – was exceptional. The police lies and the state cover-up were not an aberration, nor was the subsequent incitement directed at Israel’s Palestinian minority. Those are all the norm.

What is exceptional are the circumstances that allowed the truth to finally gain traction – differing from cases like those mentioned earlier of Ahmed Erekat and Iyad al-Hallaq.

Because Abu al-Qiyan was killed inside Israel rather than in the occupied territories, the actions of police were initially investigated, in part to try to prove he was a terrorist, even if the findings were never supposed to see the light. Because witnesses were present, including journalists and politicians, it was easier to piece together the real events and discredit the police account.

And now, because Netanyahu is in trouble and facing trial, he is ready to spill the beans to save his neck. He is using the truth about al-Qiyan to bury the truth about himself.

This moment of dishonest truth-telling should be grasped nonetheless, because it briefly exposes Israel’s treatment of Palestinians – even those who are nominally its citizens – in all its hideous, racist depravity.

It shows how wide, in a self-declared Jewish state, the circle of complicity is in a murder such as Abu al-Qiyan’s and the subsequent cover-up. That circle embraced police, prosecutors, doctors, politicians – and, of course, the prime minister himself.

• First published in Middle East Eye

The post The Truth Behind Netanyahu’s Admission that Police Killing was a Cover-up first appeared on Dissident Voice.

Netanyahu vs Gantz: Gaza Escalation as Reflection of Israel’s Political Rivalry

Only recently, the Palestinian group, Hamas, and Israel seemed close to reaching a prisoner exchange agreement, where Hamas would release several Israeli soldiers held in Gaza while Israel would set free an unspecified number of Palestinian detainees held in Israeli prisons.

Instead of the much-anticipated announcement of some kind of a deal, on August 10, Israeli bombs began falling on the besieged Strip and incendiary balloons, originating in Gaza, made their way to the Israeli side of the fence.

So, what happened?

The answer lies largely – though not entirely – in Israel, specifically in the political conflict between Israeli Prime Minister, Benjamin Netanyahu and his right-wing political camp, on the one hand, and their government’s coalition partners, led by Defense Minister, Benny Gantz, on the other.

The discord between Netanyahu and Gantz is concentrated on a fierce budget conflict currently underway in the Knesset, which has little to do with government spending or fiscal responsibilities.

Gantz, who is supposed to serve his term as Prime Minister, starting November 2021, believes that Netanyahu plans on passing a one-year budget to disrupt the coalition agreement and to call for new elections before the leadership swap takes place. Therefore, Gantz insists on extending the budget coverage to two years, to avoid any possible betrayal by Netanyahu’s Likud party.

Netanyahu’s plot, which was revealed by the daily newspaper Haaretz on July 29, is not entirely motivated by the Israeli leader’s love for power, but by his mistrust of Gantz’s own motives. If Gantz becomes the country’s Prime Minister, he is likely to appoint new judges who are sympathetic towards his Blue and White and, thus, eager to indict Netanyahu in his ongoing corruption trial.

For both Netanyahu and Gantz, this is, perhaps, the most crucial fight of their political careers: the former fighting for his freedom, the latter fighting for survival.

One issue, however, is acceptable to both leaders: the understanding that military strength will always garner greater support from the Israeli public, especially if another election becomes inevitable. A successive, fourth election is likely to take place if the budget battle is not resolved.

As a military showdown in South Lebanon becomes unattainable due to the massive explosion that rocked Beirut on August 4, the two Israeli leaders have turned their attention to Gaza. Moving quickly, as if on the campaign trail, Gantz and Netanyahu are busy making their case to Israelis living in the southern towns bordering the Gaza Strip.

Gantz paid the leaders of these communities a visit on August 19. He was joined by a carefully selected delegation of top Israeli government and military officials, including Agriculture Minister, Alon Schuster and Gaza Division Commander, Brig.-Gen. Nimrod Aloni, who joined via video conference.

Aside from the customary threats of targeting anyone in Gaza who dares threaten Israeli security, Gantz has engaged in election campaign type of self-promotion. “We have changed the equation in Gaza. Since I entered office, there has been a response to every breach in our security,” Gantz said, emphasizing his own achievements, as opposed to those of the coalition government – thus denying Netanyahu any credit.

Netanyahu, on the other hand, has threatened harsh retaliation against Gaza if Hamas does not prevent protesters from releasing incendiary balloons. “We have adopted a policy under which a fire is treated as a rocket,” he told the mayors of southern towns on August 18.

Netanyahu is keeping the Gaza war option open, in case it becomes his only recourse. Gantz, as Defense Minister and Netanyahu’s rival is, however, enjoying greater political space to maneuver. From August 10, he has ordered his military to bomb Gaza every night. With every bomb dropped on Gaza, Gantz’s credibility among Israeli voters, especially in the south, increases slightly.

If the current conflagration leads to an all-out war, it will be the entire coalition government – including Netanyahu and his Likud party – that will bear responsibility for its potential disastrous consequences. This places Gantz in a powerful position.

The current military showdown in Gaza is not entirely the outcome of Israel’s own political fight. Gaza society is currently at a breaking point.

The truce between Gaza groups and Israel, which was reached through Egyptian mediation in November 2019, amounted to nothing. Despite much assurance that besieged Gazans would receive badly needed respite, the situation has, instead, reached an unprecedented, unbearable phase: Gaza’s only power generator has run out of fuel and is no longer in operation; the Strip’s tiny fishing zone of barely three nautical miles was declared a closed military zone by Israel on August 16; the Karem Abu Salem Crossing, through which meager supplies enter Gaza through Israel, is officially shut down.

The 13-year-old Israeli siege on Gaza is currently at its worst possible manifestation, with little room for the Gaza population to even express their outrage at their miserable plight.

In December 2019, the Hamas authorities decided to limit the frequency of protests, known as Gaza’s March of Return, which had taken place almost daily, starting March 2018.

Over 300 Palestinians were killed by Israeli snipers during the protests. Despite the high death toll and the relative failure to ignite international uproar against the siege, the non-violent protests permitted ordinary Palestinians to vent, to organize and to take initiative.

The current growing frustration in Gaza has compelled Hamas to open up a space for protesters to return to the fence in the hope that it pushes the subject of the siege back to the news agenda.

The incendiary balloons, which have ignited the ire of the Israeli military recently, are one of several Palestinian messages that Gazans refuse to accept that the protracted siege is now their permanent reality.

While Egyptian mediation may eventually offer Palestinians a temporary fix and avoid an all-out war, Israeli violence in Gaza, under the current political arrangement, will not cease.

Certainly, for as long as Israeli leaders continue to see a war on Gaza as a political opportunity and a platform for their own electoral games, the siege will carry on, relentlessly.

How the Israel-UAE Deal puts the Bogus Peace Industry Back in Business

If there is one conclusion to draw from the agreement this week between Israel and the United Arab Emirates – with Israel temporarily “suspending” its threat to illegally annex parts of the West Bank, in return for “full normalisation” with the Gulf state – it is this: The peace industry is back in business.

But this time, unlike the interminable Oslo Accords signed a quarter of a century ago, there won’t even be the pretence that Palestinians are needed for “Middle East peace” to proceed. This is a process that takes place over their heads, a dialogue from which they are entirely absent.

This peace process is not between Palestinians and Israel, Washington’s client in the region. It is between Israel and oil-rich Arab states loyal to the US. It is a process that allows them to end the pretence that they are enemies of Israel. It means that they can stop feigning support for the Palestinian struggle for a state – even one on the last remnants of Palestinians’ homeland.

This is a peace process that effectively rubber-stamps the occupation and the many dozens of illegal Jewish settlements Israel has built to steal Palestinian land over many decades.

This is a peace process that moves the ostensible goal posts from permanently ending the occupation to simply postponing – for a little longer – Israel’s ambition to permanently annex those Palestinian lands it has already stolen.

In short, this is a peace process in which Arab states, led by the UAE, formally join Israel in waging war on Palestinians.

‘Outside-in’ strategy

In that sense, this is a continuation of the process begun by Jared Kushner, US President Donald Trump’s Middle East adviser and son-in-law, in developing the so-called “deal of the century”.

From the start, Kushner turned to the Gulf – to which he and the rest of the US political and economic elite have long been personally close – and sought to craft what became known as the “outside-in” strategy.

That meant recruiting as many Arab regimes as possible, starting with the oil-rich Gulf states, to sign up to the Trump “peace plan” and use their weight – and money – to strong-arm Palestinians into surrendering to Israeli diktats.

A White House dedicated to the politics of the used-car lot was bound to imagine that economics could be used to bludgeon Palestinians into compliance. That was why Kushner held an economic conference in Bahrain early last summer, even before he had a peace plan to unveil.

Saudis next in line?

Sensing how this was playing out, the Palestinian Authority under Mahmoud Abbas refused early on to engage with the Trump plan, and soon cut off all ties to Washington. It made no difference. This was a peace plan that did not need the Palestinian people to be involved in the haggling over their future.

The Trump plan, unveiled earlier in the year, offered Palestinians the promise of an eventual state on shards of the West Bank, after Israel had been allowed to annex swaths of their territory.

Now, Israel has put this move on temporary hold in return for normalisation with the UAE. Kushner says other states are expected to follow. Bahrain and Oman are likely to be close behind.

The agreement states: “The United States, Israel and the United Arab Emirates are confident that additional diplomatic breakthroughs with other nations are possible, and will work together to achieve this goal.”

The real coup would be Saudi Arabia, which is presumably waiting to see how the deal with the UAE is received. It is hard to imagine, however, that the UAE’s crown prince, Mohammed bin Zayed al-Nahyan, took this step without first getting the green light from Riyadh.

By contrast, the previous Saudi ruler, King Abdullah, championed a regional peace agreement in 2002 that offered Israel full recognition by the Arab states in return for Israel conceding Palestinian statehood in the occupied territories.

That offer exposed the true colours of Israel and Washington. Israeli leaders ignored the Saudi plan, and, taking their cue from Tel Aviv, US leaders refused to seize the opportunity to advance the bold Saudi offer as the basis for a peace agreement.

Biden jumps on board

Under Trump, things have rapidly worsened for Palestinians. Millions of refugees have been starved of aid; the US embassy has been moved to Jerusalem; Israel’s illegal annexation of the Syrian Golan Heights has been approved; and illegal settlements have continued to expand.

And yet, Israeli intransigence is paying off. The Gulf is ready to offer Israel normalisation not just without any meaningful concessions, but at the same time as the situation for Palestinians deteriorates significantly.

Trump has called the Israeli-UAE pact “a historic peace agreement between our two great friends”. Mike Pompeo, the US secretary of state, described the UAE’s normalisation with Israel as “a significant step forward for peace in the Middle East”.

But anyone who imagines that this is simply a floundering, implausible last move by a lame-duck president – assuming Trump fails to win the presidential election in November – is likely to be in for a disappointment.

Joe Biden, his Democratic challenger, has also excitedly jumped on board. He described the agreement as “a welcome, brave, and badly needed act of statesmanship”, adding that the alternative – annexation – “would be a body blow to the cause of peace”.

Bitter victory

In one sense, this is a victory, even if a very bitter one, for the Palestinian leadership. They denounced the agreement. Palestinians’ belated refusal to engage with the Trump plan – after long colluding in a US-dictated Oslo peace process that was designed from the outset to negate their right to live in dignity in their homeland – has flushed the real US-Israeli agenda out into the open.

Even with the best interpretation of the Oslo Accords, Palestinians were never going to be allowed the semblance of a sovereign state, even on the remnants of their original homeland.

They were to have no control over their borders, their airspace, the electromagnetic spectrum, or their diplomatic relations with other states. And of course, they were most definitely not going to be allowed an army.

The peace process was always about keeping Israel in control of the entire space, with a segment of Palestinians allowed to live there as a caged, dependent people. They could either willingly agree to their subordination, or face further repression from Israel to crush their spirit.

Now, all of this is no longer being disguised, even if politicians and diplomats in Washington and the Gulf wish to mislead the rest of the world that this should still be called a “peace process”.

Signs that they may get away with this monumental deception were evident in the responses of major European capitals, which welcomed the agreement. Germany called it “an important contribution to peace in the region”, while Boris Johnson in the UK said it was “hugely good news”.

The message sent by Israel, the US and the UAE is that committing war crimes and violating international humanitarian law can pay handsome dividends over the long run.

A shared agenda

The gains in this deal for the UAE and the other Gulf states – assuming, as seems likely, that they follow suit – are simple. The Sunni Gulf has long wanted fuller integration into the US-Israeli security nexus in the Middle East.

The US, Israel and the Gulf states share a deep hostility towards Iran and its Shia coreligionist factions in the region – from Lebanon and Syria to Iraq and Yemen.

Israel opposes these Shia actors because they have proved most ready to resist it, as well as Washington’s imperial designs, centred on control over the region’s oil.

The Gulf, meanwhile, as the birthplace of Sunni Islam and the supposed guardian of its honour, has a separate interest in securing its sectarian hegemony in the region. Gulf states have been developing close, if semi-covert, ties to Israel in recent years while engaging more actively in wars across the region, either through proxies in Syria and Iraq or directly in Yemen.

They have been keen to go public with normalisation so that they can gain greater access to US-Israeli intelligence and improved military technology, which would naturally flow from increased levels of trust.

Imperial agenda

Aside from the bland, positive diplomatic wording, the agreement does not veil this goal: A new “Strategic Agenda for the Middle East” will be developed to “expand diplomatic, trade, and security cooperation”. The US, Israel and the UAE “share a similar outlook regarding the threats and opportunities in the region, as well as a shared commitment to promoting stability”.

Repackaging its role in this entirely self-interested deal, the UAE can also still present itself as the champion of the Palestinian cause and the two-state solution, delaying annexation to another day.

The advantages to the Gulf run deeper still, however. Washington’s imperial agenda inevitably feeds and needs enemies, especially in an oil-rich region such as the Middle East, to justify endless wars and endless profits for its “defence” industries.

The Gulf states want to be on the right side of that military-industrial divide as the US moves into choppier waters ahead, facing oil shortages, a deterioration in the global climate, and the rise of China as a superpower.

Diplomatic coup

Washington’s interests in the deal, and Trump’s, are similarly clear. Pushing ahead with annexation has proved much harder than the Trump administration expected. European and Arab capitals were adamantly opposed to a move that would deprive them of the two-state cover story that, for more than two decades, had allowed them to pretend they were committed to Middle East peace.

And it became ever harder for Israel’s prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, to muster support from the Israeli public for annexation as the coronavirus pandemic rapidly changed priorities.

Months from a presidential election he is predicted to lose, Trump needed a diplomatic coup in the Middle East after promising so much and achieving so little with his much-trumpeted “deal of the century”. Now he has it.

This move will placate his large Christian evangelical electoral base, which is devoted to Israel and supports whatever it wants. Evangelical leaders lost no time in saying they were “elated” by the announcement.

It can also be spun, as his officials began vigorously doing from the outset, as an “historic peace agreement” – equivalent to the deals Israel signed previously with Egypt and Jordan. That can be used on the campaign trail to sell Trump to the wider electorate as one of the great US statesmen.

Sharpening the battle lines

But there are wider benefits for the bipartisan Washington foreign policy elite. They have long wished to cement ties between Israel and the Gulf states, having the US’ two most reliable regional allies publicly cooperating.

As the Gulf states have become more deeply and obviously enmeshed in wars across the Middle East – from Syria to Yemen – an agreement allying them to Israel helps Washington’s improbable narrative that they are really the good guys. It will sharpen the region’s battle lines and, it is hoped, convey greater legitimacy on these theocratic dictatorships.

The US hopes, too, that the agreement with the UAE – and other Gulf states later – will once again provide a plausible cover story as Israel entrenches its occupation, steals more Palestinian land and intensifies its repression of Palestinians.

It will allow Washington to revive its bogus claims of being an “honest broker”, seeking the best for Palestinians, even if their leaders are supposedly too dimwitted to understand what is good for them.

Pitting the Palestinian leadership against the Gulf – as well as other Arab states, such as Jordan and Egypt, that dare not antagonise their oil-rich neighbours – will further isolate Palestinians. They can now be presented more convincingly as entrenched opponents of peace, at best – or, if they resist, as terrorists.

Netanyahu bailed out

Lastly, Netanyahu, who is in deep trouble at home, hopes this agreement can dig him out of his hole. He is up against a wave of protests that have rallied large sections of Israeli society, including on the right. He faces an unprecedented corruption trial. His handling of the Covid-19 pandemic looks increasingly catastrophic. The Israeli economy is imploding.

In this context, his focus on West Bank annexation alienated much of the Israeli public, and even failed to satisfy sections of the settler community, who want all of the Palestinian territories, not just large parts. A deal with the UAE – and implicitly one with the rest of the Gulf – allows him to climb down from an unpopular annexation plan.

Netanyahu has long declared himself Mr. Security, the protector of Israel’s interests, and the only Israeli leader capable of making dramatic moves on the global stage. Here, he appears to have done both. It has even forced his political opponents to praise his achievement.

Netanyahu has managed to pull all this off while being able to argue that annexation is still “on the table”, placating his supporters among the settlers.

The agreement may yet set the stage for him to win a winter election he is widely reported to be preparing for.

No price to pay

The abandonment of annexation – temporarily or otherwise – will not, of course, interrupt Israel’s continuing capture of ever more Palestinian land in the occupied West Bank, nor its relentless campaign of ethnic cleansing.

Netanyahu has demonstrated to Israelis that he was right. Israel could violate international law, steal land, commit war crimes – and western and Arab states would stomach it all. Israel would have to pay no price for its behaviour.

Haaretz recalled on Friday that, when asked in 2018 whether concessions to Palestinians initiated in the Oslo Accords had gradually led to improvements in relations with the Arab world, Netanyahu responded that it was the “exact opposite”.

By first recruiting the West and Arab regimes to Israel’s side, he said, Israel would “become so strong” that it would force Palestinians to “understand that they have no choice but to compromise with us” – his term for absolute submission.

For Netanyahu, a strategic alliance with the Gulf – at the expense of Palestinians – has always been about more than just grabbing the occupied territories. It is central to his vision of an unreformed, maximalist, ethnic supremacist, Israeli state secure in the Middle East, serving as a regional hegemon alongside US global power.

Now, with this deal, Netanyahu believes he is in sight of the finishing line.

• First published in Middle East Eye

Don’t be Hoodwinked by Trump’s UAE-Israel “Peace Deal”

“HUGE breakthrough today,” crowed Donald Trump on twitter as he announced the new peace deal between Israel and the United Arab Emirates (UAE). The deal makes the UAE the first Gulf Arab state and the third Arab nation, after Egypt and Jordan, to have diplomatic ties with Israel. But the new Israel-UAE partnership should fool no one. Though it will supposedly stave off Israeli annexation of the West Bank and encourage tourism and trade between both countries, in reality, it is nothing more than a scheme to give an Arab stamp of approval to Israel’s status quo of land theft, home demolitions, arbitrary extrajudicial killings, apartheid laws, and other abuses of Palestinian rights.

The deal should be seen in the context of over three years of Trump administration policies that have tightened Israel’s grip on the Palestinians: moving the U.S. embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem, recognizing the Syrian [Note: DV editor] Golan Heights as Israeli territory, and creating a so-called peace plan with no Palestinian participation or input. While no U.S. administration has successfully brokered a resolution to Israel’s now 53-year-long occupation, the Trump years have been especially detrimental to the Palestinian cause. Palestinian leader Hanan Ashrawi wrote on Twitter that with this deal, “Israel got rewarded for not declaring openly what it’s been doing to Palestine illegally & persistently since the beginning of the occupation.” Indeed, with Donald Trump at the helm and son-in-law Jared Kushner as the primary strategist, even concessions for Palestinians have been done away with. To add insult to injury, while the deal had been couched in terms of a commitment by Israel to suspend annexation of Palestinian territories, in his Israeli press conference announcing the deal, Netanyahu said annexation was “still on the table” and that it was something he is “committed to.”

Among the most brutal aspects of this period for Palestinians have been the loss of support for their cause in neighboring Arab states. The Arab political party in Israel, Balad, said that by signing this pact, “the UAE has officially joined Israel against Palestine, and placed itself in the camp of the enemies of the Palestinian people.”

The UAE has previously held a position consistent with public opinion in Gulf and Middle East countries that the acceptance of formal diplomatic relations with Israel should only take place in exchange for a just peace and in accordance with international law. Back in June, Emirati ambassador to the U.S. Yousef al-Otaiba penned an an op-ed in the Yediot Ahronot newspaper, the Israeli equivalent to U.S.A Today, appealing directly in Hebrew for Israel not to annex the West Bank. However, by working out an agreement with Trump and Netanyahu to normalize relations, the country has now made itself Israel’s partner in cementing de facto annexation and ongoing apartheid.

The UAE’s change from supporting Palestinian dignity and freedom to supporting Israel’s never-ending occupation is a calculated move by UAE Crown Prince Mohammed bin Zayed, a shrewd Middle East dictator who uses his country’s military and financial resources to thwart moves towards democracy and respect for human rights under the guise of fighting Islamic terrorism. His support for Israel cements his relationship with the Trump administration. Trump has already gone out of his way to push billions of dollars in arms sales to the UAE, despite opposition from Congress because of high number of civilian casualties associated with the use of those weapons in Yemen.

Secretary Pompeo has also defended the UAE from credible reports that U.S. weapons sold to the UAE have been transferred in Yemen to groups linked to Al Qaeda, hardline Salafi militias and Yemeni separatists. The UAE was also stung by revelations of secret prisons it had been operating in Yemen where prisoners were subjected to horrific forms of torture, including “the grill,” where victims were “tied to a spit like a roast and spun in a circle of fire.” In Libya, the UAE has been criticized for violating a 2011 UN Security Council arms embargo by supplying combat equipment to the LAAF, the armed group commanded by General Khalifa Haftar with a well-established record of human right abuses. So this deal with Israel gives the UAE a much-needed veneer of respectability.

But it is impossible to understand the impetus for this deal without putting it in the context of the ongoing hostilities between all three countries and Iran. Following the old adage that “the enemy of my enemy is my friend,” in recent years Israel has been negotiating with various Gulf states, including the UAE, to push back against Iran’s growing influence in the region. As the communique announcing the Israeli-UAE deal asserted, the U.S., Israel and the UAE “share a similar outlook regarding threats in the region.” This dovetails with Trump’s anti-Iran obsession, which includes withdrawal from the Iran nuclear deal and his “maximum pressure” campaign designed to force Iran back to the negotiating table to make a “better deal.” In announcing the UAE-Israeli pact, Trump declared with ridiculous bravado that if he wins the elections, he’ll have a new deal with Iran within 30 days. Anyone who believes this must be almost as delusional as Trump.

The fact that this agreement between two Middle East countries was first announced thousands of miles away in Washington DC shows how it is more about shoring up Trump’s slumping electoral campaign and improving Netanyahu’s battered image in Israel than bringing peace to the Middle East. It also shows that Netanyahu and bin Zayed have a stake in seeing Trump win a second term in the White House. Instead of pointing out the hollowness of the pact, Joe Biden’s response was unfortunately to congratulate Israel and the UAE and try to take credit for the deal. “I personally spent time with leaders of both Israel and the U.A.E. during our administration, building the case for cooperation and broader engagement,” he said. “I am gratified by today’s announcement.”

The normalization of relations between the UAE and Israel, facilitated by the U.S., serves to prop up three repressive leaders — Trump, Netanyahu, and bin Zayed — and will cause further harm to Palestinians. It is both a shame and a sham.

The Likud Conspiracy: Israel in the Throes of a Major Political Crisis

Protests against Israeli Prime Minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, have raged on for weeks, turning violent sometimes. Israelis are furious at their government’s mediocre response to the coronavirus pandemic, especially as COVID-19 disease is experiencing a massive surge throughout the country.

Netanyahu warned protesters, thousands of whom have been rallying outside his residence in Jerusalem, against “anarchy (and) violence”. Scenes of utter chaos and violent arrests have been a daily occurrence in a country that is already in the throes of a political crisis, largely, if not exclusively, linked to the Prime Minister himself.

Desperate to create any distractions from his many woes at home, Netanyahu has been pushing for a confrontation with the Lebanese resistance group, Hezbollah. But that, too, has failed, as Israeli media has denied earlier claims that a violent confrontation was reported at the Israel/Lebanon border.

Hezbollah insists that it would be the group, not Netanyahu, that will determine the time and place for its response to Israel’s recent killing of Hezbollah’s influential member, Ali Kamel Mohsen.

Mohsen was killed in an Israeli aerial raid targeting the vicinity of the Damascus International Airport, likely another desperate attempt by Netanyahu to deflect attention from his troubled coalition government and his corruption trial to an issue that often unifies most Israelis.

The turmoil in Israel is not just about an obstinate, divisive leader who is manipulating public opinion, the media and the various political groups to remain in power and to avoid legal accountability for his corruption.

The Disunited Coalition 

Israel is suffering a crisis of political legitimacy, one that goes beyond the embattled Netanyahu, and his coalition with the head of the Kahol Lavan (Blue and White) centrist party, Benny Gantz.

The political marriage between Netanyahu’s Likud and Gantz’s Kahol Lavan last April was fundamentally odd and unexpected. The announcement that Gantz — who endured three general elections in less than a year to finally oust Netanyahu — was uniting with his archenemy has devastated the anti-Netanyahu political camp, forcing Gantz’s partners, Yair Lapid and Moshe Ya’alon, to abandon him.

But the new coalition government between the right and center became dysfunctional immediately after it was formed. Israel’s political marriage of convenience is likely to end in an ugly divorce.

The war between Netanyahu and his main coalition partner is now manifest in every aspect of Israel’s political life:  in the Knesset (parliament), in media headlines and on the streets.

When the new government assumed its duties after one of the most tumultuous years in Israel’s political history, the mood, at least immediately, was somewhat calm; both Netanyahu and Gantz seemed united in their desire to illegally annex nearly a third of the occupied Palestinian West Bank. Israel’s right wing camp was delighted; the center tagged along.

However, the international response to the annexation scheme forced Netanyahu to rethink his July 1 deadline. Now that annexation has been postponed indefinitely, Netanyahu is being denied a major political card that could have helped him replenish his fading popularity among Israelis, at a time when he desperately needs it.

On July 19, Netanyahu’s corruption trial resumed. Although the Prime Minister did not attend the opening session personally, his image — that of a strong commanding figure — was tarnished, nonetheless.

Gantz, who already agreed to the annexation plan, was too clever to fully associate himself with the risky political endeavor. That task was left to Netanyahu who knew the risks affiliated with a failed political scheme, but with no option except to follow through with it.

Awaiting the right opportunity to pounce on his beleaguered ‘partner’, Gantz found his chance in a report published by the Israeli daily newspaper, Haaretz.

The Budget Conspiracy 

On July 22, Haaretz reported that, “Netanyahu decided to not pass the budget for 2020 and to call a general election to take place on November 18,” to avoid the possibility of being forced to “handing over the keys to Defense Minister and Kahol Lavan Chairman, Benny Gantz” so that he, Netanyahu, may “attend legal proceedings” related to his corruption trial.

According to this claim, Netanyahu only agreed to swap the Prime Minister seat with Gantz come November 2021 just to buy time and to avoid a fourth election that would leave him vulnerable to an electoral defeat and to a corruption trial without a political safety net.

Despite the risk of yet another election, Netanyahu is keen to wrestle the Justice Ministry from Kahol Lavan’s hands, because whoever controls the Justice Ministry controls Netanyahu’s fate in Israeli courts. Leaving Gantz with such a powerful card is neither an option for the Likud nor for Netanyahu.

Hence, the Likud is insisting that the budget agreement can only last for one year, while Kahol Lavan is adamant that it must cover a period of two years. The Likud conspiracy, as revealed in Israeli media, suggests that the Likud Finance Minister, Israel Katz, plans to use the next budget negotiations as the reason to dismantle the right-center coalition and demand another election, thus denying Gantz his chance to serve his term as a prime minister, per the unity government agreement.

Crisis of a Fake Democracy

However, the crisis is larger than the dispute between Netanyahu and Gantz. While Israel has long prided itself on being “the only democracy in the Middle East”, the truth is that Israeli ‘democracy’ was, from the start, fraudulent, in that it catered to Israeli Jews and discriminated against everyone else.

In recent years, however, institutionalized racism and apartheid in Israel were no longer masked by clever political discourses.  Netanyahu, in particular, has led the charge of making Israel the right-wing, chauvinistic, racist haven that it is today.

The fact that Netanyahu recently became Israel’s longest-serving Prime Minister, elected repeatedly by Israel’s Jewish citizens, indicates that the Israeli leader is but a reflection of the larger ailments that have afflicted Israeli society as a whole.

Reducing the discussion to Netanyahu’s many failures might be convenient, but the demonstrable truth is that corrupt leaders can only exist in corrupt and unhealthy political systems. Israel is now the perfect example of that truism.

Apartheid or One State: Has Jordan Broken a Political Taboo?   

What will it take for the idea of a two-state solution, which was hardly practical to begin with, to be completely abandoned?

Every realistic assessment of the situation on the ground indicates, with palpable clarity, that there can never be a viable Palestinian state in parts of the West Bank and Gaza.

Politically, the idea is also untenable. Those who are still marketing the ‘two-state solution’, less enthusiastically now as compared with the euphoria of twenty years ago, are paralyzed in the face of the Israeli-American onslaught on any attempt at making ‘Palestine’ a tangible reality.

The Palestinian Authority of Mahmoud Abbas is still busy compiling more symbolic recognitions of a state that, at best, exists in the dusty files of the United Nations. Arabs and Europeans, too, still speak of a two-state, rhetoric that is never followed with practical steps that may enforce international law and hold Israel accountable to it.

The fate of Palestine seems to be entirely dependent on the aggressive and violent actions of Israel alone — not only through the policies of Israeli Prime Minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, but all previous Israeli governments.

This trajectory of aggression and violence is likely to continue for as long as Israel is held hostage to the ideology of Zionism which remains committed to territorial, colonial expansion and the ethnic cleansing of the indigenous population.

These two factors — colonialism and ethnic cleansing — can never coexist with the principles of justice and peace. For Zionism to remain relevant, Israel and Palestine must remain in the throes of a protracted, interminable war.

Therefore, it was encouraging to read comments made by Jordanian Prime Minister, Omar Razzaz, in an interview with the British Guardian newspaper on July 21.

“You close the door to the two-state solution, I could very well look at this positively, if we’re clearly opening the door to a one-state democratic solution,” Razzaz said.

Razzaz was referring specifically in the context of Netanyahu’s decision to annex nearly a third of the West Bank and the Jordan Valley. The senior Jordanian official referred to Israel’s annexation policies as the “ushering in (of) a new apartheid state.”

An apartheid state was, practically, ushered in a long time ago. Israel’s so-called Nation-State Law of 2018 merely confirmed an existing reality.

The Law left no doubt regarding Israel’s exclusionist ‘Jewish identity’, formulated at the expense of the Palestinian people, their historic rights in Palestine and the internationally-enshrined Right of Return for Palestinian refugees.

On July 29, the Israeli Knesset (parliament) callously rejected a draft amendment to make the unmistakably racist Nation-State Law slightly less racist. The amendment had called for the inclusion of a clause that guarantees equality for all of Israel’s citizens, regardless of race, religion or ethnicity.

In its current form, Israel represents the very essence of apartheid.

Razzaz knows this, as do many politicians and leaders throughout the Middle East, in Europe and across the world. Unlike his counterparts elsewhere, however, the Jordanian Prime Minister had the courage to imagine a future in Palestine and Israel that is not inundated by empty clichés of ‘solutions’ that were never fair, to begin with.

Razzaz’s positive and upbeat tone of words is notable.

“I challenge anybody from Israel to say yes, let’s end the two-state solution, it’s not viable,” he said. “But let’s work together on a one-state democratic solution. That, I think, we will look at very favorably. But closing one and wishful thinking about the other is just self-deception.”

Other Arab officials, prior to Razzaz, alluded to the one-state possibility, but largely in a negative context. Palestinian Authority officials, in particular, have waved this card before, often threatening Israel that, if illegal settlement expansion was not frozen, for example, Palestinians would have no alternative but to demand a one state.

What Razzaz is saying is quite different, if not radical, as Jordan, which signed a peace agreement with Israel in 1994, has remained the most visible Arab advocate for the two-state solution for many years. Razzaz’s words bring that ‘self-deception’ to an end.

Of course, political necessity will compel Jordan, and others, to continue to pay lip service to a political ‘solution’ that will, unlikely, ever materialize. Israelis and Palestinians are now conjoined in such a way that physical separation between Palestinian Arabs and Israeli Jews is impossible. Additionally, speaking of a two-state solution while Israel is cementing a one apartheid state reality is a waste of precious time that should be used to foster equality, accountability and a just peace.

Ordinary Palestinians, too are beginning to realize the futility of the two-state paradigm. According to a February poll conducted by the Palestinian Center for Policy and Survey Research, 61% of all Palestinians no longer believe that ‘a two-state solution’ is viable. The same poll suggests that 37% support the idea of a single state solution. Judging by previous poll numbers, it seems that, before long, the majority of Palestinians will embrace the latter as the most rational and achievable objective.

It will take time because the establishment of an independent Palestinian state has been the only rallying cry by the Palestinian leadership for nearly three decades.

However, even prior to the 1960s, the Palestinian national movement adopted a political strategy that was predicated on the establishment of a one democratic state for Christians, Muslims and Jews. Alas, political expediency impelled late Palestinian leader, Yasser Arafat and the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) to shift tactics, settling for a Palestinian state that would, in theory, be incrementally established in disconnected parts of the occupied territories – Gaza, Jericho, Area A, B, and so on.

Even the latter idea, which was most unfair to Palestinians, was still rejected by Israel, and Netanyahu’s latest annexation scheme is proving to be the final nail of the two-state coffin.

Since the two-state solution is no longer workable, Palestine and Israel are now left with one of two options: a protracted, racist and violent apartheid or coexistence in a modern, democratic, and secular state, for all of its people.

The democratic and sustainable choice should be obvious, even to politicians.

Can the Anti-Netanyahu Protests grow into a Larger Movement?

Israel is roiling with angry street protests that local observers have warned could erupt into open civil strife – a development Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu appears to be encouraging.

For weeks, Jerusalem and Tel Aviv have been the scene of large, noisy demonstrations outside the official residences of Mr Netanyahu and his public security minister, Amir Ohana.

On Saturday night around 13,000 marched through Jerusalem shouting “Anyone but Bibi”, Netanyahu’s nickname. Their calls were echoed by tens of thousands more at locations across the country.

Turnout has been steadily growing, despite attacks on demonstrators from both the police and Netanyahu’s loyalists. The first protests abroad by Israeli expats have also been reported.

The protests, in defiance of physical distancing rules, are unprecedented by Israeli standards. They have bridged the gaping political divide between a small constituency of anti-occupation activists – disparagingly called “leftists” in Israel – and the much larger Israeli Jewish public that identifies politically as on the centre and the right.

For the first time, a section of Netanyahu’s natural supporters is out on the streets against him.

In contrast to earlier protests, such as a large social justice movement that occupied the streets in 2011 to oppose rising living costs, these demonstrations have not entirely eschewed political issues.

The target of the anger and frustration is decidedly personal at this stage – focused on the figure of Netanyahu, who is now Israel’s longest-serving prime minister. Protesters have renamed him Israel’s “crime minister”.

But also fuelling the protests is a larger mood of disenchantment as doubts grow about the state’s competence to deal with multiple crises unfolding in Israel. The virus has caused untold social and economic misery for many, with as much as one fifth of the labour force out of work. Netanyahu’s supporters in the lower middle-classes have been hit hardest.

Now well into a second wave, Israel has a per capita rate of infection that outstrips even the US. The shadow of a renewed lockdown amid government mishandling of the virus has undermined Netanyahu’s claim to be “Mr Security”.

There are concerns too about police brutality – starkly highlighted by the killing in May of an autistic Palestinian, Eyad Hallaq, in Jerusalem.

Police crackdowns on the protests, using riot squads, undercover agents, mounted police and water cannon, have underlined not just Netanyahu’s growing authoritarianism. There is a sense too that the police may be ready to use violence on dissenting Israelis that was once reserved for Palestinians.

After manipulating his right-wing rival, the former military general Benny Gantz, into joining him in a unity government in April, Netanyahu has effectively crushed any meaningful political opposition.

The agreement shattered Gantz’s Blue and White party, with many of his legislators refusing to enter the government, and has widely discredited the ex-general.

Netanyahu is reportedly preparing for a winter election – the fourth in two years – both to cash in on his opponents’ disarray and to avoid honouring a rotation agreement in which Gantz is due to replace him late next year.

According to the Israeli media, Netanyahu may find a pretext for forcing new elections by further delaying approval of the national budget, despite Israel facing its worst financial crisis in decades.

And, of course, overshadowing all this is the matter of the corruption charges against Netanyahu. Not only is he the first sitting prime minister in Israel to stand trial, but he has been using his role and the pandemic to his advantage, including by delaying court hearings.

In a time of profound crisis and uncertainty, many Israelis are wondering which policies are being pursued for the national good and which for Netanyahu’s personal benefit.

The government’s months-long focus on the annexation of swaths of Palestinian territory in the West Bank has looked like pandering to his settler constituency, creating a dangerous distraction from dealing with the pandemic.

Similarly, a one-off handout this week to every Israeli – over the strenuous objections of finance officials – looks suspiciously like an electoral bribe. As a result, Netanyahu is facing a rapid decline in support. A recent survey shows trust in him has fallen by half – from 57 per cent in March and April, when the Covid-19 pandemic began, to 29 per cent today.

Many Israelis increasingly see Netanyahu less as a father figure and more as a parasite draining resources from the body politic. Capturing the popular mood is a new art work called the “Last Supper” that was covertly installed in central Tel Aviv. It shows Netanyahu alone, gorging on a vast banquet by stuffing his hand into an enormous cake decorated with the Israeli flag.

In another move designed to highlight Netanyahu’s corrupt politics, better-off Israelis have been publicly organising to donate this week’s state handout to those in need.

Netanyahu’s repeated incitement against the protesters – disparaging them as “leftists” and “anarchists”, and suggesting they are spreading disease – appears to have backfired. It has only rallied more people to the street.

But the incitement and Netanyahu’s claims that he is the true victim – and that in the current climate he faces assassination – have been interpreted as a call to arms by some on the right. Last week five protesters were injured when his loyalists used clubs and broken bottles on them, with police appearing to turn a blind eye. Further attacks were reported at the weekend. Protest organisers said they had begun arranging defence units to protect demonstrators.

Ohana, the public security minister, has called for a ban on the protests and urged a heavy hand from the police. He has delayed appointing a new police chief – a move seen as incentivising local commanders to crack down on the protests to win favour. Large numbers of protesters have been forcefully arrested, with reports that police have questioned some on their political views.

Observers have wondered whether the protests can transcend party political tribalism and develop into a grassroots movement demanding real change. That might widen their appeal to even more disadvantaged groups, not least the one fifth of Israel’s citizens who belong to its Palestinian minority.

But it would also require more of the protesters to start drawing a direct connection between Netanyahu’s personal abuses of office and the wider, systemic corruption of Israeli politics, with the occupation its beating heart.

That may yet prove a tall order, especially when Israel faces no significant external pressure for change, either from the US or from Europe.

• First published in The National

List of Israeli Targets Leaked: Tel Aviv Fears the Worst in ICC Investigation of War Crimes

When International Court of Justice (ICC) Prosecutor, Fatou Bensouda, confirmed last December that the Court has ample evidence to pursue a war crimes investigation in occupied Palestine, the Israeli government responded with the usual rhetoric, accusing the international community of bias and insisting on Israel’s ‘right to defend itself.’

Beneath the platitudes and typical Israeli discourse, the Israeli government knew too well that an ICC investigation into war crimes in Palestine could be quite costly. An investigation, in itself, represents an indictment of sorts. If Israeli individuals were to be indicted for war crimes, that is a different story, as it becomes a legal obligation of ICC members to apprehend the criminals and hand them over to the Court.

Israel remained publicly composed, even after Bensouda, last April, elaborated on her December decision with a 60-page legal report, titled: “Situation in the State of Palestine: Prosecution Response to the Observations of Amici Curiae, Legal Representatives of Victims, and States.”

In the report, the ICC addressed many of the questions, doubts and reports submitted or raised in the four months that followed her earlier decision. Countries such as Germany and Austria, among others, had used their position as amici curiae — ‘friends of the court’ — to question the ICC jurisdiction and the status of Palestine as a country.

Bensouda insisted that “the Prosecutor is satisfied that there is a reasonable basis to initiate an investigation into the situation in Palestine under article 53(1) of the Rome Statute, and that the scope of the Court’s territorial jurisdiction comprises the West Bank, including East Jerusalem, and Gaza (“Occupied Palestinian Territory”).”

However, Bensouda did not provide definitive timelines to the investigation; instead, she requested that the ICC’S Pre-Trial Chamber “confirm the scope of the Court’s territorial jurisdiction in Palestine,” an additional step that is hardly required since the State of Palestine, a signatory of the Rome Statute, is the one that actually referred the case directly to the Prosecutor’s office.

The April report, in particular, was the wake-up call for Tel Aviv. Between the initial decision in December till the release of the latter report, Israel lobbied on many fronts, enlisting the help of ICC members and recruiting its greatest benefactor, Washington – which is not an ICC member – to bully the Court so it may reverse its decision.

On May 15, US Secretary of State, Mike Pompeo, warned the ICC against pursuing the investigation, targeting Bensouda, in particular, for her decision to hold war criminals in Palestine accountable.

The US slapped unprecedented sanctions against the ICC on June 11, with President Donald Trump issuing an ‘executive order’ that authorizes the freezing of assets and a travel ban against ICC officials and their families. The order also allows for the punishing of other individuals or entities that assist the ICC in its investigation.

Washington’s decision to carry out punitive measures against the very Court that was established for the sole purpose of holding war criminals accountable is both outrageous and abhorrent. It also exposes Washington’s hypocrisy — the country that claims to defend human rights is attempting to prevent legal accountability by those who have violated human rights.

Upon its failure to halt the ICC legal procedures regarding its investigation of war crimes, Israel began to prepare for the worst. On July 15, Israeli daily newspaper, Haaretz, reported about a ‘secret list’ that was drawn up by the Israeli government. The list includes “between 200 and 300 officials”, ranging from politicians to military and intelligence officials, who are subject to arrest abroad, should the ICC officially open the war crimes investigation.

Names begin at the top of the Israeli political pyramid, among them Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and his current coalition partner, Benny Gantz.

The sheer number of Israeli officials on the list is indicative of the scope of the ICC’s investigation, and somehow is a self-indictment, as the names include former Israeli Defense Ministers — Moshe Ya’alon, Avigdor Lieberman and Naftali Bennett; current and former army chiefs of staffs — Aviv Kochavi, Benny Gantz and Gadi Eisenkot and current and former heads of internal intelligence, the Shin Bet — Nadav Argaman and Yoram Cohen.

Respected international human rights organizations have already, repeatedly, accused all these individuals of serious human rights abuses during Israel’s lethal wars on the besieged Gaza Strip, starting with the so-called ‘Operation Cast Lead’ in 2008-9.

But the list is far more extensive, as it covers “people in much more junior positions, including lower-ranking military officers and, perhaps, even officials involved in issuing various types of permits to settlements and settlement outposts.”

Israel, thus, fully appreciates the fact that the international community still insists that the construction of illegal colonies in occupied Palestine, the ethnic cleansing of Palestinians and the transfer of Israeli citizens to occupied land are all inadmissible under international law and tantamount to war crimes. Netanyahu must be disappointed to learn that all of Washington’s concessions to Israel under Trump’s presidency have failed to alter the position of the international community and the applicability of international law in any way.

Furthermore, it would not be an exaggeration to argue that Tel Aviv’s postponement of its plan to illegally annex nearly a third of the West Bank is directly linked to the ICC’s investigation, for the annexation would have completely thwarted Israel’s friends’ efforts aimed at preventing the investigation from ever taking place.

While the whole world, especially Palestinians, Arabs and their allies, still anxiously await the final decision by the Pre-Trial Chamber, Israel will continue its overt and covert campaign to intimidate the ICC and any other entity that aims to expose Israeli war crimes and to try Israeli war criminals.

Washington, too, will continue to strive to ensure Netanyahu, Gantz, and the “200 to 300” other Israeli officials never see their day in court.

However, the fact that a “secret list” exists is an indication that Tel Aviv understands that this era is different and that international law, which has failed Palestinians for over 70 years, may for once deliver, however small, a measure of justice.

“Feeding a Bedouin”: Roy Oz and Israel’s Outrageous Racism 

On July 11, a video footage which showed a popular Israeli TV celebrity demeaning Palestinian children from the Bedouin community in the Naqab area, went viral on social media.

“Let’s feed a Bedouin. Don’t you want to feed a Bedouin?” Israeli Children TV host, Roy Oz, repeatedly asks his children, who were seated in the back seat of his car. Outside the vehicle, two Palestinian children were filmed as they stood waiting eagerly for the cookies promised to them by the Israeli driver.

Palestinian Bedouins are treated like “monkeys”, said Atia al-Asem, head of the Regional Council of Palestinian Villages in the Naqab, after viewing the disturbing footage.

Arab Member of the Israeli Parliament (Knesset), Ahmad Tibi, described Oz’s behavior as the “lowest of human behavior, racist and despicable brutishness.”

In truth, Oz’s actions were merely consistent with the very racist reality that governs Israeli society — its laws, political institutions, media apparatus, its economic sector and popular perceptions.

In particular, the thousands of Palestinians who are still living in the Naqab desert have been subjected to a relentless Israeli campaign of dehumanization, racism, and ethnic cleansing.

Racism and ethnic cleansing of the Palestinian Bedouin communities go hand in hand.  Oz’s video cannot be viewed separately from the Israeli government’s plans to corral Palestinians in the Naqab into isolated and impoverished communities in order to make space for Jewish-only housing developments.

For this sinister scenario to succeed, the Palestinian Bedouins need to be dehumanized by the Israeli political and media establishments. Oz’s racist video is a mere expression of this outrageous reality.

However, the issue exceeds that of the devastation and racism underway in the Naqab, into all aspects of Israeli lives.

In July 2018, Israel approved a “basic law”, dubbed the “Jewish nation-state law” that gave ascendency to everything Jewish and denigrated all else. It was a desperate, and ultimately failed, attempt at reconciling between the “Jewishness” of the state with universal democratic ideals.

“The Land of Israel is the historical homeland of the Jewish people, in which the State of Israel was established,” the new law said, celebrating the country as “the nation state of the Jewish People, in which it realizes its natural, cultural, religious and historical right to self-determination.”

In accordance with the above assertions, the new definition grants the “Jewish people”, everywhere, the right to “exercise  … the right to national self-determination in the State of Israel.”

The millions of Palestinian Arabs — Muslims, Christians and Druze — who share that same piece of land, though not as equals, have no place in Israel’s undemocratic definition of itself. Needless to say, the nearly 7 million Palestinian refugees were also excluded from claiming any rights in “the State of Israel”, including their internationally-enshrined Right of Return.

The Israeli Nation-State Law, however, must not be seen as the event that ushered in institutionalized racism in this country. Israel was founded on the racist principle that it belonged to the “Jewish people” only, and no one else, not even the Palestinian Arab natives of the land.

However, the law is significant in the sense that it represents the final blow to the hope that Israel will eventually come to terms with its past, and embrace the humanistic principles of equality, justice and democracy.

That hope — really an illusion — was dashed, and irrevocably so, as there is little resistance within Israel itself by any significant political force that is capable of confronting and defeating the racist, chauvinistic and ultra-nationalist trends that have always dominated the country.

According to an election survey published in January 2019, those who identified as “leftists” have dwindled  significantly, as they now represent only 12 percent of all Israelis – a number that includes Arab communities, where the left has historically had a strong presence.

This realization might be one of the reasons that made some optimists imagine that the supposed next best thing — Israel’s centrist Blue and White Party coalition under Benny Gantz — was still able to, at least, slow down the advancement of right-wing and religious parties.

These hopes persisted over the course of a tumultuous political year that witnessed three major elections in a row, despite the fact that many of Gantz’s stances were equally — if not even more — hawkish than those of right-wing Prime Minister, Benjamin Netanyahu.

Unsurprisingly, on April 20, Gantz joined Netanyahu to form a coalition government that is arguably the most militaristic in the country’s modern history, as both camps are keen on a new military confrontation with Gaza and a massive annexation scheme of nearly 30 percent of the occupied West Bank.

Armed with constitutional racism, Israeli leaders can now justify, at least to themselves and their constituencies, any action that may be deemed abhorrent, illegal or racist by the rest of the world.

This is the very reality that allows racist ‘celebrities’, such as Roy Oz, to go on safari-like adventures with his well-fed children in their air-conditioned top model vehicles to hand cookies to malnourished and poor Palestinian Bedouin children in the Naqab.

For Israel, Oz is the epitome of the ultimate victory of the “Jewish people” — as defined by Israel’s racist Nation-State Law — over the alienated, corralled and victimized Palestinians.

But racism in Israel is not only the work of political institutions as a direct outcome of the disparities created by Israel’s military superiority and expansive colonial enterprises. It has long passed all of that into many other aspects of Israeli society, and can be felt in other sectors of law, economy, the health care system and education; especially education.

Aside from the “racist ideology” taught in Israeli public schools, which denies the historical roots of Palestinians in their own land, and often demeans the Palestinian natives in ways that violate the minimal standards of modern education — let alone human rights — the very set-up of the educational system is a testimony to Israel’s deeply entrenched racism.

Schools dedicated to Palestinian Arab children in Israel are “a world apart in quality from the public schools serving Israel’s majority Jewish population,” according to one Human Rights Watch report.

“Often overcrowded and understaffed, poorly built, badly maintained, or simply unavailable, schools for Palestinian Arab children offer fewer facilities and educational opportunities than are offered other Israeli children.”

Racism accompanies the average Jewish citizen of Israel from the hospital where he is born, to the iniquitous school system, to the discriminatory business sector, to the utterly racist fans at the soccer field, to the unruly, murderous army and beyond. And every step of the way, Palestinians are belittled, dehumanized, exploited, subjugated, confined, imprisoned and, in many instances, killed.

With that being the everyday reality in Israel and Palestine, should we really be surprised that a morally bankrupt fool like Roy Oz mistreated Bedouin children, offering them candy as if zoo animals?

The truth is, Oz is the actual face of Israel — privileged, entitled, racist and delusional. And the same way Israeli media — which gives the likes of Oz his celebrity status — should be shunned and boycotted, Israel should also be sanctioned and boycotted. Because, without international pressure, Israel will never, on its own, confront its demons of military occupation, apartheid and deep-rooted racism.

Why Palestinian-Israeli Prisoners Exchange Deal Could Happen Soon   

For the first time since the Israeli war on Gaza in 2014, the Israeli government of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is signaling its willingness to engage in negotiations regarding the release of the bodies of two Israeli soldiers believed to be held by resistance groups in Gaza. But will another prisoner exchange similar to that of October 2011 follow anytime soon?

On July 9, Palestinian and Israeli media reported on an Israeli government communication sent to the Palestinian group, Hamas, through an intermediary. It included an Israeli offer to swap the bodies of Palestinians held in Israel in exchange for the bodies of the two soldiers, Oron Shaul and Hadar Goldin.

Alternatively, Israel is offering the release of some Palestinian prisoners held in Israeli prisons, so long as they have “no blood on their hands”,  an Israeli reference to Palestinian prisoners who have not taken part in direct attacks that may have led to the killing of Israeli occupation soldiers or armed illegal Jewish settlers.

Hamas and others quickly dismissed the Israeli proposal as a non-starter for a serious negotiation. The Palestinian group had already indicated that it will not negotiate any prisoner exchange deal with Israel until the latter releases scores of Palestinian prisoners who were re-arrested in the months and years following the 2011 exchange.

What was then termed by Israel as the ‘Gilad Shalit deal’, saw the release of 1,027 Palestinian prisoners in exchange for securing the release of an Israeli soldier, Gilad Shalit, who was captured by Palestinian fighters near the Gaza-Israel fence in 2006.

However, even while Palestinians were still celebrating the return of hundreds of their loved ones, Israel began re-arresting many of the newly-released prisoners under various pretenses, rendering the entire exercise futile.

Moreover, Israel began quickly replenishing its prisons with new arrivals, from various Palestinian factions, genders, and age groups.

In the 2011 exchange, Israel also refused to release senior Palestinian political figures from Fatah, Hamas, the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PFLP), the Islamic Jihad and other groups. This decision had derailed negotiations for months, and was understood as Israel’s way of wanting to hold on to many prominent Palestinian figures as bargaining chips for future negotiations.

These figures include Fatah’s most popular leader, Marwan Barghouti, PFLP leader Ahmad Sa’adat, among others.

In 2014, Israel also re-arrested Nael Barghouti, from his home in Kobar, near Ramallah, making him the longest-held Palestinian prisoner in Israeli prisons. Barghouti is a particularly important bargaining chip for Israel.

It must be said that the reason that Israel is quite generous in these prisoner exchanges is not due, as some claim, to the notion that Israel values the lives of its citizens to the extent that it is willing to exchange them with a disproportionately large number of Palestinians.

If that logic was correct, why does Israel then transfer its own citizens, including children, to dangerous and highly-militarized illegal West Bank Jewish settlements?

If Israel truly values the lives of its citizens, it would have, long ago, dismantled the illegal settlements and tried, in earnest, to reach a just peace agreement with the Palestinian leadership.

Instead, Israeli leaders, who often trigger wars for their own political benefits, as Netanyahu has done repeatedly in the past, use prisoner exchanges also as a means to garner positive political capital and favorable media coverage.

Netanyahu, whose image has been significantly tarnished due to his ongoing corruption investigation and trial, is laboring to distract from his own personal woes by diverting attention elsewhere. Now that his illegal annexation of West Bank land scheme has been postponed, he is in desperate need of another battle that would present him as some kind of hero in the eyes of Israelis, especially his right-wing constituency.

Aside from the bodies of the two soldiers, two Israelis, Avram Avera Mengistu and Hisham al-Sayed, who had allegedly crossed the fence into Gaza by mistake, are also held in the Strip. Future TV footage of two coffins, draped by Israeli flags, along with two other Israelis being set free, would certainly prove to be a huge boost for the embattled Israeli leader.

Palestinian groups in Gaza understand this well. They also know that an opportunity of this nature might not present itself again for years. Therefore, they are keen to ensure a future prisoner exchange satisfies three major points: first, the release of all re-arrested prisoners since 2011; second, the release of as many Palestinians as possible out of the over 5,000 currently held in Israeli prisons; and, finally, the release of top Palestinian prisoners representing the various PLO and Islamic factions.

The latter point, in particular, is quite significant, because the traditional rivals, Hamas and Fatah, have been actively pursuing a politically united front in the face of the imminent Israeli annexation of nearly 30% of the West Bank. The release of top Fatah leaders, such as Marwan Barghouti, for example, shall have immense positive impact on Palestinian public mood, especially among Fatah supporters, boosting the unity talks like never before.

Israel, of course, will do its utmost to prevent Palestinians from unifying their political ranks but, considering the fact that Palestinians are holding four Israelis in Gaza, the cards are not entirely in Netanyahu’s hands.

This is not to suggest that Palestinian groups are not feeling the pressure as well. The families of thousands of imprisoned Palestinians are desperate for some good news regarding their loved ones, especially as health conditions among prisoners are deteriorating due to the spread of the coronavirus pandemic.

On July 9, Saadi al-Gharably died at Kaplan Medical Center, due to what Palestinian prisoners advocacy groups describe as ‘medical neglect’. Later, prisoner Kamal Abu Wa’ar, a cancer patient from the Jenin area, tested positive for the COVID-19 disease.

Various signs indicate that a prisoner exchange between Israel and Palestinian groups is drawing near. The question is, will Netanyahu unleash his winning political card now, or will he wait till later, when he needs it most?