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Paul Vallely: Mr Netanyahu’s tactic has backfired

21 May 2021

Attempting to isolate the Palestinians has wrought havoc, says Paul Vallely


The Israeli Prime Minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, speaks during a special cabinet meeting on Jerusalem Day

The Israeli Prime Minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, speaks during a special cabinet meeting on Jerusalem Day

CUI BONO? In any attempt to unravel a complex situation, it is always helpful to ask: who benefits? At first sight, it might seem that everyone involved in the continuing bloody conflict between the Israelis and the Palestinians is a loser. Yet even that is a relative concept.

A month ago, the Israeli Prime Minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, looked painted into a corner. On a personal front, a courtroom appearance on charges of corruption is looming. And his political future looked shaky, as a coalition of his rivals seemed set to oust him from power and form a different government.

Today, thanks to the dramatic escalation of violence, he looks far more secure in his post. The coalition to remove him has fallen apart. And yet the ratcheting up of the levels of violence on both sides represents a failure for the strategy that he hatched with Donald Trump.

In the past, it was always assumed that Israel had to make peace with the Palestinians before it could mend fences with its Arab neighbours. The Trump/Netanyahu plan was to reverse that process. First, Israel would develop better relations with moderate Arab states. Then, the Palestinians, realising that support among their fellow Arabs had fallen away, would accept a compromise with Israel which otherwise would have been seen as too humiliating.

Pre-Trump, Israel maintained full diplomatic relations with only two of its Arab neighbours: Egypt and Jordan. But, in 2020, the US brokered agreements establishing diplomatic relations between Israel and four Arab League countries: Bahrain, the United Arab Emirates, Sudan, and Morocco.

While all this was going on abroad, Mr Netanyahu was, at home, seeking to prop up his faltering administration. One of his tactics in this was to increase his support among the extreme Right. The policy of new Jewish settlements on the Arab West Bank proceeded apace. So did the process of evicting Palestinians from their homes in East Jerusalem.

A triumphalist march to the area was authorised to celebrate the anniversary of Israel’s capture of East Jerusalem in the 1967 war. Every year, Israeli extremists march in the Old City, vandalising property and chanting “Death to Arabs.” But this year, it seemed, the plan was to allow these Jewish radicals to enter the al-Aqsa mosque, the third most holy site in Islam —– which was also the site of the Jewish Temple destroyed by the Romans in AD 70.

Tear gas and rubber bullets were used in the mosque. Riots ensued. Jewish and Arab mobs began rampaging through Israel’s towns, beating up innocents on both sides. Hamas rockets began to rain down from Gaza. And the Israeli army began to bomb Gaza. Both sides ratcheted up.

There has been much talk of a ground invasion of Gaza by Israel. The political, diplomatic, and economic cost of invading and running Gaza as a colony — rather than a ghetto — make that unlikely. Rather, the tactic is to continue the violence to weaken substantially the military capabilities of Hamas.

But what is clear is that Mr Netanyahu’s tactic of trying to isolate the Palestinians from international support has backfired. And, by provoking mobs on both sides on to the streets, he has brought the war from Israel’s borders on to the nation’s streets.

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