Mar 4th 2014

Netanyahu's Games

by James J. Zogby

Dr. James J. Zogby is the President of Arab American Institute

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu never tires of inventing new hoops through which he insists Palestinians jump. As he acknowledged a few weeks back, it's all part of a cynical game that he plays in an effort to kill the chances for peace.

First, he insisted on the need to maintain Israeli control over the Jordan Valley. Next came his pledge that he would not "uproot a single Israeli" from West Bank settlements, so that in addition to forcing Palestinians to accept Israel's annexation of whatever West Bank settlements are deemed  "new realities", the Palestinians would also have to swallow the "right" of settlers to remain in their settlements after peace. Throw into this mix, Netanyahu's insistence that there be no Palestinian capitol in Jerusalem, and the object of his "game" becomes clear: set up demands and conditions so onerous and obnoxious that the Palestinians will have to say "no", thereby appearing to be the obstacle to peace.

Maybe the most troubling of all the Netanyahu "hoops" is his persistent demand that Palestinians must accept Israel as a Jewish State, the homeland of the Jewish people. While some in the West can understand the Palestinian refusal to cede the Jordan Valley or Jerusalem, or to accept that oftentimes violent settlers should remain in their settlements, they have difficulty understanding why Palestinians won't simply agree to recognize Israel as the "state of the Jewish people."

The problem for Palestinians is not in the name "the Jewish State"— it is what the name means. Palestinian spokespersons say that in forcing them to accept this designation, what Netanyahu wants is for Palestinians to accept the Israeli historical narrative and to deny their own. He wants, as we might say in American slang, the Palestinians to surrender and say "Uncle". This, they simply, cannot do.   

Narratives are important for peoples and nations. They define reality and give meaning to history. I learned important lessons about the critical and definitional roles played by historical narratives in the Palestinian context through a series of personal encounters that occurred over 40 years ago. 

It was 1971 and I had traveled to Lebanon to conduct research for my doctoral dissertation on the emergence of the Palestinian national identity. As part of my work, I spent time in Ein al-Hilweh, a massive Palestinian refugee camp in southern Lebanon. 

While I was there, I interviewed refugees from dozens of towns and villages who had all left Palestine in 1948. Many told stories of armed Jewish elements coming into their villages creating panic, forcing them to flee.

I was struck by their resilience and their determination to keep their attachment to their land, their homes, and their culture alive. They did this in so many interesting ways. In the camp, for example, Palestinians did their best to recreate their old life. Residents of villages clustered in neighborhoods that were named after the communities from which they had fled. In a simple walk down just one street you could pass through Haifa, Akka, Safad, Safsaf, and Jerusalem. The homes in the camps might have been poor, but once inside them you had the feeling of being back in the village.  

One of my most memorable encounters in that trip was my interview with Um Abed, the grandmother of the friend who had brought me to Ein al-Hilweh. As was common for her generation, she carried on a string around her neck the key to her home in Palestine, which had been appropriated by Israeli settlers in 1948. She told me her story— a powerful tale of loss and pain.    

At one point she asked if I wanted to see her home. When I agreed, she took out an old photo album filled with pictures of her home, her family, and the life they had lived back in Palestine. She pointed with pride to the wall her father had built and the tree her grandfather had planted. But then, with a touch of anger, she noted that the tree had been cut down by the Israelis who had taken the house. She learned of this from a photo a Swedish journalist had taken and shown her. 

As I was leaving, her brother told me of their longing to return. "It's our home. We go back four generations in that house. I was born there and lived my entire life there. The Israelis, who never lived here, say they didn't forget after 2,000 years. For us, it's only been 25 years. How can we forget?" 

Two weeks later, my work was done and I was on a flight back to the United States. I had flown from Jordan to London, where I caught a flight to New York. On that plane, I ran into a student, Sandra, I had taught the year before at Temple University. She greeted me with exuberance, "Oh, Mr. Zogby, I just had the most amazing experience! I went home this summer." Since I knew she was from Northeast Philadelphia, I asked what she meant. She explained that she had been to a camp in Israel. It felt so much like home, she wanted to return because, she said, she "belonged there."   

The disconnect between the reality of Um Abed's loss and my former student's "discovery" defines the debate over "narratives". I will be honest and admit that I understand Um Abed's attachment to a home her ancestors built and the trees they planted. Her memories were too fresh and the key she wore a constant reminder of unbearable loss. To ask her to erase that memory, to reject her claim, and to deny her story is tantamount to asking her to cut off a limb.

There are hundreds of thousands of Um Abed's who feel deeply about their history and their rights. They have lost so much over the last century. In many cases all they have left is their narrative of the past and their hopes for the future. In their name, the Palestinian President cannot say "Uncle". Jumping through this Israeli hoop would be too costly.   

Browse articles by author

More Current Affairs

Apr 16th 2021
EXTRACT: "When we examined the development of nations worldwide since 1820, we found that among rich Western countries like the United States, the Netherlands and France, improvements in income, education, safety and health tracked or even outpaced rising gross domestic product for over a century. But in the 1950s, even as economic growth accelerated after World War II, well-being in these countries lagged.
Apr 11th 2021
EXTRACT: "Some presidents indulge in the “Mount Rushmore syndrome” making an obvious effort to achieve greatness. Normally soft-spoken and apparently modest Biden is making his own bid for immortality."
Apr 9th 2021
EXTRACT: "New ways of thinking about the role of government are as important as new priorities. Many commentators have framed Biden’s infrastructure plan as a return to big government. But the package is spread over eight years, will raise public spending by only one percentage point of GDP, and is projected to pay for itself eventually. A boost in public investment in infrastructure, the green transition, and job creation is long overdue."
Apr 7th 2021
EXTRACT: " One can, and perhaps should, take the optimistic view that moral panics in the US blow over; reason will once again prevail. It could be that the Biden era will take the sting out of Trumpism, and the tolerance for which American intellectual life has often been admired will be reinvigorated. This might even happen while the noxious effects of American influence still rage in other countries. For the sake of America and the world, one can only hope it happens soon.  "
Mar 28th 2021
EXTRACT: "By refusing (despite having some good reasons) to end electoral gerrymandering, Chief Justice John G. Roberts, Jr., has directly enabled the paralyzing hyper-partisanship that reached its nadir during Donald Trump’s presidency. By striking down all limits on corporate spending on political campaigns in the infamous 2010 Citizens United decision, he has helped to entrench dark money in US politics. And by gutting the 1965 Voting Rights Act in Shelby County v. Holder, Roberts has facilitated the racist voter-suppression tactics now being pursued in many Republican-controlled states."
Mar 24th 2021
EXTRACT: "the UK’s tough choices accumulate, and the problems lurking around the corner look menacing. Britain will have to make the best of Brexit. But it will be a long, hard struggle, all the more so with an evasive fabulist in charge."
Mar 15th 2021
EXTRACT: "Over the years, the approach of most American policymakers toward the Israeli-Palestinian conflict has been Israel-centric with near total disregard for the suffering endured by the Palestinian people. The architects of policy in successive US administrations have discussed the conflict as if the fate of only one party (Israel) really mattered. Israelis were treated as full human beings with hopes and fears, while Palestinians were reduced to a problem that needed to be solved so that Israelis could live in peace and security.  ..... It is not just that Israelis and Palestinians haven’t been viewed with an equal measure of concern. It’s worse than that. It appears that Palestinians were judged as less ​human than Israelis, and were, therefore, not entitled to make demands to have their rights recognized and protected."
Mar 8th 2021
EXTRACTS: "XThere’s a global shortage in semiconductors, and it’s becoming increasingly serious." ...... "The automotive sector has been worst affected by the drought, in an era where microchips now form the backbone of most cars. Ford is predicting a 20% slump in production and Tesla shut down its model 3 assembly line for two weeks. In the UK, Honda was forced to temporarily shut its plant as well." ..... " As much as 70% of the world’s semiconductors are manufactured by just two companies, Taiwan Semiconductor (TSMC) and Samsung."
Mar 5th 2021
EXTRACT: "Back in 1992, Lawrence H. Summers, then the chief economist at the World Bank, and I warned that pushing the US Federal Reserve’s annual inflation target down from 4% to 2% risked causing big problems. Not only was the 4% target not producing any discontent, but a 2% target would increase the risk of the Fed’s interest-rate policy hitting the zero lower bound. Our objections went unheeded. Fed Chair Alan Greenspan reduced the inflation target to 2%, and we have been paying for it ever since. I have long thought that many of our economic problems would go away if we could rejigger asset markets in such a way as to make a 5% federal funds rate consistent with full employment in the late stage of a business cycle."
Mar 2nd 2021
EXTRACT: "Under these conditions, the Fed is probably worried that markets will instantly crash if it takes away the punch bowl. And with the increase in public and private debt preventing the eventual monetary normalization, the likelihood of stagflation in the medium term – and a hard landing for asset markets and economies – continues to increase."
Mar 1st 2021
EXTRACT: "Massive fiscal and monetary stimulus programs in the United States and other advanced economies are fueling a raging debate about whether higher inflation could be just around the corner. Ten-year US Treasury yields and mortgage rates are already climbing in anticipation that the US Federal Reserve – the de facto global central bank – will be forced to hike rates, potentially bursting asset-price bubbles around the world. But while markets are probably overstating short-term inflation risks for 2021, they do not yet fully appreciate the longer-term dangers."
Feb 28th 2021
EXTRACT: "To be sure, calls to “build back better” from the pandemic imply some awareness of the need for systemic change. But the transformation we need extends beyond constructing modern infrastructure or unlocking private investment in any one country. We need to re-orient – indeed, re-invent – global politics, so that countries can cooperate far more effectively in creating a better world."
Feb 23rd 2021
EXTRACT: "So, notwithstanding the predictable release of pent-up demand for consumer durables, face-to-face services show clear evidence – in terms of both consumer demand and employment – of permanent scarring. Consequently, with the snapback of pent-up demand for durables nearing its point of exhaustion, the recovery of the post-pandemic US economy is likely to fall well short of vaccine development’s “warp speed.” "
Feb 20th 2021
EXTRACT: "Human rights abuses under Erdogan are beyond the pale of inhumanity and moral decadence. The list of Erdogan’s violations and cruelty is too long to numerate. The detention and horrifying torture of thousands of innocent people for months and at times for years, without being charged, is hard to fathom. Many prisoners are left languishing in dark cells, often in solitary confinement. The detention of tens of thousands of men and hundreds of women, many with their children, especially following the 2016 failed coup, has become common. It is calculated to inflict horrendous pain and suffering to bring the prisoners to the breaking point, so that they confess to crimes they have never committed."
Feb 20th 2021
Courtyard of the Amsterdam Stock Exchange, circa 1670, (Job Adriaenszoon Berckheyde).
Feb 12th 2021
EXTRACT: "Global regulators will no doubt be concerned about a potential volatility spillover from digital asset prices into traditional capital markets. They may not permit what could quickly amount to effective proxy approval by the back door for companies holding large proportions of a volatile asset on their balance sheets."
Feb 11th 2021
EXTRACT: "Since Russians began protesting opposition leader Alexei Navalny’s imprisonment, the security forces have apparently had carte blanche to arrest demonstrators – and they have done so by the thousands. If Russians so much as honk their car horns in solidarity with the protesters, they risk personal repercussions. The official response to the protests goes beyond the Kremlin’s past repression. It is war."
Feb 6th 2021
EXTRACT: ".......like Biden, Roosevelt was certainly no revolutionary. His task was to save American capitalism. He was a repairer, a fixer. The New Deal was achieved not because of Roosevelt’s genius or heroism, but because enough people trusted him to act in good faith. That is precisely what people are expecting from Biden, too. He must save US democracy from the ravages of a political crisis. To do so, he must reestablish trust in the system. He has promised to make his country less polarized, and to restore civility and truth to political discourse. In this endeavor, his lack of charisma may turn out to be his greatest strength. For all that he lacks in grandeur, he makes up for by exuding an air of decency."
Feb 2nd 2021
EXTRACT: "Europe must not lose sight of the long game, which inevitably will center on China, not Russia or relations with post-Brexit Britain. China is already establishing a presence in Iran, and demonstrating that it has the capital, know-how, and technology to project power and influence beyond its borders. Should it succeed in turning the Belt and Road Initiative into a line of geopolitical stepping-stones, it might soon emerge at Europe’s southeastern border in a form that no one in the EU foresaw."
Jan 29th 2021
EXTRACT: "One sign of this change is that, unlike all recent Democratic administrations, Biden’s hasn’t paid obeisance to Wall Street by giving bankers top jobs. The new Secretary of the Treasury, Janet Yellen, is a former Federal Reserve chair and academic who has made it clear that she understands the country’s pressing social needs. Moreover, Biden consulted Warren on her economic views, and has named a former Warren adviser as Yellen’s deputy. Yellen’s appointment demonstrates that Biden shares the insight that enabled Trump’s rise: that too many Americans feel that they cannot get a fair share. "