Israel's Dangerous Choice
Benjamin Netanyahu, Israel’s new prime minister, is every bit as radical as Hamas, says The Daily Beast’s Reza Aslan. So where’s the international outrage?
In 1998, during Benjamin Netanyahu’s first tenure as prime minister of Israel, he did something so outrageous, so inconceivably impolitic that it permanently poisoned relations between him and then-U.S. President Bill Clinton. Summoned by Clinton to the White House to discuss the Israeli-Palestinian peace process, Netanyahu publicly snubbed the president by going directly from the airport to the Mayflower Hotel, where he was the guest of honor at a gathering of fundamentalist evangelical Christians dedicated to putting a stop to the two-state solution. (“It was all planned by Netanyahu as an affront to Mr. Clinton,” Jerry Falwell, the man who organized the gathering, gleefully told reporters.)
The event at the Mayflower was hosted by a group calling itself Voices United for Israel, a coalition made up of right-wing American Jews and a number of so-called Christian Zionist organizations in the U.S. whose goal is to help Israel maintain its grasp over the whole of the Holy Land. Christian Zionists say they believe that the Jews must reestablish control over all of biblical Israel in order to usher in the return of the Messiah. Of course, as Christians, they believe that the Messiah is Jesus Christ and that when he returns to Jerusalem, the Jews will either have to convert to Christianity or be damned to an eternity in Hell. But that did not seem to bother Netanyahu much. Indeed, Netanyahu has made a career of pandering to America’s Christian Zionists, who in turn have filled the political coffers of his Likud party with millions of dollars in campaign contributions, all with a single goal in mind: to permanently derail the peace process between Israel and the Palestinians, to ensure that there will never be a Palestinian state.
The true threat to peace in the region, comes from the prime minister himself…a man whose Likud Party platform explicitly rejects the creation of a Palestinian state.
So there was Netanyahu, bounding onto the stage at the Mayflower ballroom to a standing ovation and a rousing chorus of “Not One Inch!” by the Christian Zionists in the room. He was greeted at the podium by none other than Falwell himself, who later boasted that he had used the influence of his Moral Majority to “lobby Congress and the White House to… cease making unreasonable demands on land giveaways or withdrawals of [Israeli] troops” from the Occupied Territories. (Falwell had just finished screening a documentary for the audience: The Clinton Chronicles, which accused the former president—Netanyahu’s host—of dealing drugs and murdering Vincent Foster.) In the crowd were Netanyahu’s good friends Mike Evans, who has called the peace process “an international plot to steal Jerusalem from the Jews” controlled by “a master collaborator who is directing the play,” by which Evans means Satan (Netanyahu has called Evans “a fighter for freedom in a world of darkening and narrowing horizons”), and John Hagee, the high priest of Christian Zionism, who has proudly declared that “God doesn’t care what the United Nations thinks. He gave Jerusalem to the nation of Israel, and it is theirs.”
Once at the microphone, Netanyahu made his lack of commitment to the peace process and his rejection of the two-state solution known to the world by announcing that Jerusalem will “never be divided” and reaffirming “the necessity to preserve what has been regained by Israel”—a reference to the Jewish settlements in the Occupied Territories that, according to United Nations Resolution 242, the Oslo Accords, and every single peace plan signed by previous Israeli governments (including the Wye Accords, which Netanyahu himself signed but did absolutely nothing to implement), must be dismantled. But Netanyahu was not yet finished. After the event, he made an appearance on The 700 Club, where he gave an extended interview to Pat Robertson—the same Pat Robertson who had recently called the assassination of Yitzhak Rabin, Netanyahu’s predecessor, to be part of God’s master plan for the region. “This is God’s land,” Robertson had said on his television program, “and God has strong words about someone who parts and divides His land. The rabbis put a curse on Yitzhak Rabin when he began cutting up the land.”
Much has been made about the position that Avigdor Lieberman, the ultra-nationalist leader of the suddenly mainstream Yisrael Beiteinu party, will play in the new Israeli government being formed by Netanyahu. Yet Lieberman is nothing but a professional provocateur—an odious, racist, populist politician who has publicly called for the drowning of Palestinian prisoners, the execution of Palestinian-Israeli parliament members, the bombing of all Palestinian-owned businesses, the obliteration of Gaza “just like the United States did with the Japanese in World War II,” and the expulsion of Arab citizens from Israel whom Lieberman deems “disloyal.”
The true threat to peace in the region, and, consequently, to Israel’s future, comes from the prime minister himself, who, as recently as last month, declared his intention to expand Jewish settlements in the West Bank in direct violation of the “Road Map to Peace,” put in place by the U.S., the EU, Russia, and the UN. This is the man that Israelis have once again elected to lead their country. A man whose Likud Party platform explicitly rejects the creation of a Palestinian state (“The Government of Israel flatly rejects the establishment of a Palestinian Arab state west of the Jordan River”), refers to the Occupied Territories by their biblical names “Judea” and “Samaria,” and pledges to continue building settlements in the West Bank, in violation of international law, as “a clear expression of the unassailable right of the Jewish people to the Land of Israel.”
Let’s be clear: A political party has just been freely elected in the Middle East whose charter rejects the two-state solution, whose leader refuses to implement previous negotiations, and whose constituency, indeed whose very platform, denies the existence of a sovereign Palestinian entity. One can only assume that, given recent American precedence, this new party will not be allowed to govern. Indeed, we all await the economic blockade that will inevitably be put in place in Israel until the prime minister’s party changes its charter to match international norms.
Reza Aslan, a contributor to the Daily Beast, is assistant professor of creative writing at the University of California, Riverside and senior fellow at the Orfalea Center on Global and International Studies at UC Santa Barbara. He is the author of the bestseller No god but God and the forthcoming How to Win a Cosmic War.