Binyamin Netanyahu may not have expected the international reaction he received when he accused opponents of Jewish settlements in the West Bank of supporting the ethnic cleansing of Jews. While he went too far, there is some truth to be learned from the fallout.
The Israeli prime minister made the comments in a video, where he noted that nobody suggests that two million Arab citizens of Israel are an obstacle to peace. Yet the presence of Jews in the areas most people assume will eventually be Palestine under a two-state solution, he said, is repeatedly held up as proof that Israel is not acting in good faith toward a two-state objective.
Netanyahu was pointing out one of the glaring hypocrisies in the discussion of an eventual peace agreement and a two-state solution. He was intentionally inflammatory but, in the process, he set off a reaction that is illuminating and worth consideration.
First, we need to understand this basic fact: nobody expects Jews living outside the Green Line to voluntarily become citizens of a future Palestinian state. The entire discussion is an exercise in rhetoric. But this fact, too, raises other issues. Not many believe that Jews in an independent Palestine could live as citizens the way Arab citizens of Israel do under law (however imperfect this ideal might be in practice), partly because it’s probable that nobody would be free in an independent Palestine. If history is any measure, an independent Palestine might be a theocracy run by Hamas, a kleptocracy run by Fatah or some hybrid thereof. Regardless, Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas, among others, has insisted that no Jews will be permitted to live in an independent Palestine. The world ignores these racist statements, or excuses them as the legitimate reaction of a people long oppressed by the Jewish state.
Since most Jews would flee of their own volition if they found their homes outside the new borders of Israel, Netanyahu’s claims of ethnic cleansing can be seen as inflammatory and false, since it is not the Palestinians who would evacuate the Jews from the West Bank, but the West Bank Jews themselves, knowing the place held no future for them. But, while Netanyahu should be criticized for exploiting the term ethnic cleansing, perhaps to deflect criticism from the settlements, he has also drawn attention to the uncomfortable truth that the dream of Palestinian “freedom” for which so many in the world (including, for instance, most delegates to the recent Green Party of Canada convention) have devoted so much of their energies, is in fact a cause that may instead create a country that is nobody’s dream of a free and independent homeland.
Netanyahu is guilty of poking a hornet’s nest. However, his critics, too, should look at their own assumptions and motivations. The prime minister went too far in summoning imagery of mass deportations, but others have not gone far enough in addressing the reality that the movement for Palestinian independence in infused with unhealthy ideologies, of which excluding Jews from citizenship is just one.