Talking Peace While Making War: Benjamin Netanyahu and the Peace Process
NEW SETTLEMENT CONSTRUCTION & THEFT OF PALESTINIAN LAND
- In the approximately seven months since negotiations restarted between Palestinians and Israelis in late July 2013, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s government has approved plans for 11,700 new settlement units to be built on occupied Palestinian land in violation of international law. As each unit represents one house or apartment, most if not all of which will likely be home to more than one person, this means once these plans have been realized the settler population will increase by well over 20,000 people.
- Additionally, Israeli authorities have moved ahead with several other construction projects intended to confiscate Palestinian land, restrict the growth of Palestinian population centers, and cement Israeli control over parts of the occupied territories, including through the creation of dubious “national parks” and archeological digs on occupied Palestinian land.
PROVOCATIVE MILITARY RAIDS & KILLINGS OF PALESTINIANS
- Since the restart of negotiations in late July, Israeli forces have killed approximately 30 Palestinians, mostly unarmed civilians, including an 85-year-old man and a 15-year-old boy who was shot in the back with live ammunition. Most of these killings took place during aggressive raids carried out by the Israeli army into Palestinian towns, cities, and refugee camps.
- On February 26, 2014, Amnesty International released a report entitled “Trigger-happy: Israel’s use of excessive force in the West Bank,” which documented “mounting bloodshed and human rights abuses in the Occupied Palestinian Territories (OPT) as a result of the Israeli forces' use of unnecessary, arbitrary and brutal force against Palestinians since January 2011." The report found that “Israeli forces have displayed a callous disregard for human life by killing dozens of Palestinian civilians, including children, in the occupied West Bank over the past three years with near total impunity.” It noted that Israeli forces killed more Palestinians in the West Bank last year than were killed in 2011 and 2012 combined. The director of Amnesty’s Middle East and North Africa Programme, Philip Luther, concluded:
“The frequency and persistence of arbitrary and abusive force against peaceful protesters in the West Bank by Israeli soldiers and police officers – and the impunity enjoyed by perpetrators – suggests that it is carried out as a matter of policy.”
DESTRUCTION OF PALESTINIAN HOMES & STRUCTURES
- Since talks restarted in late July, Israel has destroyed approximately 400 Palestinian homes and other structures in the occupied territories. In the process, approximately 800 Palestinians were forcibly displaced, including approximately 350 children. According to the UN, in January 2014 alone, 100 Palestinian-owned structures were demolished in the occupied territories, displacing more than 180 people, including almost 100 children. Most of the Palestinian homes and other structures targeted for destruction by Israel are located in occupied East Jerusalem and in the Jordan Valley in the West Bank, areas that Israel has been attempting to squeeze the Palestinian population out of in order to cement its control. Israel normally destroys Palestinian structures on the pretext that they were built without permission from Israeli authorities, however such permission is nearly impossible for Palestinians to obtain.
- During this period, numerous human rights and humanitarian organizations, including Amnesty International, Oxfam, Save the Children, and the United Nations, have issued reports and statements, individually and in conjunction with other groups, condemning Israel’s policy of destroying Palestinian homes. On January 31, UN Humanitarian Coordinator James W. Rawley condemned a recent wave of Israeli demolitions, stating:
“I am deeply concerned about the ongoing displacement and dispossession of Palestinians in Area C [the 60% of the West Bank under total and direct Israeli control], particularly along the Jordan Valley where the number of structures demolished more than doubled in the last year. This activity not only deprives Palestinians of access to shelter and basic services, it also runs counter to international law.”
- On February 7, a group of 25 humanitarian organizations working in the occupied territories issued a statement expressing grave concern over the steep increase in Israeli demolitions of Palestinian homes and other structures. The statement noted that the number of demolitions carried out by Israel between July 2013, when talks restarted, and December 2013 increased by almost half over the same period in 2012, and the number of Palestinians displaced increased by almost three quarters.
ADDING NEW DEMANDS TO NEGOTIATIONS
- Since returning to office for his second and third terms as prime minister, Netanyahu has added at least two new demands to the negotiations that were never formally made by previous Israeli governments: Insisting on recognition of Israel as a Jewish state, and insisting that four so-called settlement “blocs” built on occupied Palestinian land would become part of Israel under any peace deal, rather than the three previously demanded by Israeli negotiators. Settlement blocs encompass a far greater amount of land than the currently existing buildings within them cover, and are strategically located to divide Palestinian population centers from one another and to sever the West Bank into easily controlled cantons. In past negotiations, Israel has insisted on keeping the massive settlement blocs of Ariel, Gush Etzion and Maale Adumim, while Netanyahu reportedly also wants to keep Beit El, which is located near Ramallah in the central West Bank.
PROVOCATIVE & INFLAMMATORY STATEMENTS
- Since talks restarted, senior members of Netanyahu’s government, including ministers and deputy ministers, have made a steady stream of racist and inflammatory statements, including asserting that Jews are superior to non-Jews; accusing US Secretary of State John Kerry of anti-Semitism and attempting to “terrorize” Israel; claiming that Palestinians are “wolves” who don't want peace; denying that Israel is in fact militarily occupying Palestinian land; declaring again and again eternal Israeli control over Palestinian East Jerusalem, the Jordan Valley, and the whole of the occupied territories; and pledging to fight against the creation of a Palestinian state in the occupied territories. Netanyahu has failed to demote or punish any of his ministers, despite the fact that they have repeatedly voiced such inflammatory rhetoric that in many instances directly contradicts his alleged support for the two-state solution.
- Netanyahu has made a number of provocative and inflammatory statements himself, including:
- On January 24, 2014, Netanyahu told a press conference in Davos, Switzerland, where he was attending the World Economic Summit, that he had no intention of removing Jewish settlers from the Jordan Valley in the West Bank, a requirement for the creation of a viable and genuinely independent Palestinian state, telling reporters: "I do not intend to evacuate any settlements or uproot a single Israeli.” Following criticism from right-wing allies who feared Netanyahu intended to leave settlers inside a Palestinian state, Netanyahu’s office replied by explaining that his statement was merely a ploy “designed to expose the true face of the Palestinian Authority” as he expected it would reject the idea of having settlers inside a Palestinian state.
- On December 19, 2013, Netanyahu promised members of his Likud party that he would never stop building settlements, declaring: “We will not stop, even for a moment, building our country and becoming stronger, and developing ... the settlement enterprise.”
- On November 13, Netanyahu blamed Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas and alleged PA “incitement” for the killing of an Israeli soldier by a young Palestinian man on a bus in northern Israel, despite providing no evidence to back up the claim.
- In October, Netanyahu praised the recently deceased, notoriously racist Rabbi Ovadia Yosef, spiritual leader of the ultra-Orthodox Shas party, which sat in his two previous coalition governments. Netanyahu declared that Yosef, who preached that non-Jews “were born only to serve us [Jews]” and once called on God to “annihilate” and “exterminate” Arabs, was “one of the great Torah sages of our generation.” (See here for more on Yosef.)
- On October 6, Netanyahu blamed the PA after a nine-year-old girl living in a settlement was shot and wounded by an unknown assailant, despite having no evidence to connect Palestinian leaders to the incident.
For more on the actions of the Netanyahu government and statements of Israeli officials since the start of negotiations in July 2013, see our series of Facts on the Ground Peace Index reports here: Volume I, Volume II, Volume III, Volume IV, Volume V, Volume VI. For more information see also these previously released IMEU fact sheets:
photo: Chief of staff Benny Gantz and Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu (Yotam Ronen / Activestills.org)