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Netanyahu’s Perfidious Performance at CAP

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We are reposting below a memo released Wednesday by Americans for Peace Now (APN) regarding the “falsehoods and misrepresentations” made by Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu during his hour-long presentation at the Center for American Progress (CAP) Tuesday. To its credit, CAP’s “Think Progress” blog published its own list of “10 Falsehoods that Netanyahu Told During His Appearance at CAP” shortly after he left the building. But I don’t think the Democratic Party’s most influential think tank will ever live down the deplorable—albeit entirely predictable—performance by its president, Neera Tanden. Her “moderation” of the session consisted of a series of truly softball questions to the Israeli leader who clearly felt free to say whatever he liked, confident that the moderator was far more inclined to respond with giggles than to challenge him in any remotely serious way.

Despite the casual mendacity with which he survived the pussy-cat’s den on Tuesday, Bibi apparently did not leave Washington entirely happy. Bad news from Brussels came in the form of the European Union (EU) executive’s formal approval of new guidelines for labeling products from Israeli settlements in the occupied territories. Bibi responded with his well-honed practice of alluding to Nazism and the Holocaust when confronted with foreign, especially European, criticism. (He successfully suppressed this reflex in his CAP appearance.)

The labeling of products of the Jewish state by the European Union brings back dark memories. Europe should be ashamed of itself. It took an immoral decision.

(Some Israeli politicians were more direct in their Nazi allusions, notably Netanyahu’s former ambassador to the U.S., Michael Oren. Oren, a Middle East (not European) historian, is considered a “moderate” in Bibi’s coalition. He once compared George W. Bush to the prophet Jonah.)

The reference to Europe’s dark past was assailed by Daniel Levy, director of the Middle East program of the European Council on Foreign Relations (ECFR):

Israel knows that Europe and the entire world do not recognize the legality of the settlements and that all signed agreements between the EU and Israel do not recognise settlements as part of Israel.

So Israel’s orchestrated display of outrage is really an attempt to intimidate the EU into not taking further measures in drawing the necessary legal distinction between Israel and the illegal aspects of its occupation. Europe should not accept unfounded and outrageous Israeli accusations drawing an analogy with the darkest periods of European and Jewish history.

The implications of the EU’s move, which has been fiercely opposed by Israel since Britain first approved a similar measure in 2009, are potentially very significant, according to an ECFR report released in July entitled “EU Differentiation and Israeli Settlements.” It concludes that the EU’s legal differentiation between goods within Israel’s 1967 borders and those produced in settlements beyond the Green Line “represents one of the most impactful tools for challenging the incentive structure that underpins Israeli support for the status quo while buttressing the two-state solution.”

APN, which applauded the EU’s move, not only supports precisely such an approach, but has also called for a boycott of settlement products. It has strongly denounced efforts by the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) to persuade Congress to approve legislation that, among other things, would require U.S. negotiators to insist with the EU in the ongoing talks for the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP) that its member states do nothing that could discourage companies from “doing business in Israel or Israeli-controlled territories.” The Obama administration also opposes such legislation.

The EU was prepared to take the step it announced today back in 2013. But it shelved the measure as a result of strong U.S. pressure to give Secretary of State John Kerry a chance to revive peace negotiations between the Israeli government and the Palestinian Authority (PA). However, with the collapse of those efforts and no serious prospect of their revival—as confirmed by both Obama and Netanyahu here this week—it appears that the Obama administration did nothing to prevent the EU from going ahead. The question now is whether Obama will take a similar hands-off position if the EU—or those of its members that sit on the UN Security Council—puts forward a tough resolution mandating a two-state solution based on the “Clinton Parameters.” There’s no reason to believe at this point that Bibi left Washington with assurances that Obama would veto such a resolution.

In any event, here’s the APN analysis of Bibi’s mendacity:

Speaking at Washington’s Center for American Progress, Prime Minister Netanyahu was asked about his government’s West Bank settlement construction policies. His replies were littered with falsehoods and misrepresentations.

Here are the facts:

§No new settlements—Netanyahu said that in the past 20 years, Israeli governments have not established any new settlements. That is a falsehood. A Peace Now, March 2015, report points out that under Prime Minister Netanyahu’s rule, since 2011 alone, twenty new settlements were established. Three of them, Bruchin, Sansana, and Rechelim are full-fledged new settlements, approved by the government. The three started out as illegal outposts (established by settlers without government approval), and were later, in April 2014, legalized by the Netanyahu government. Other new settlements are either illegal outposts that are in the process of being legalized (i.e. the government announced its intention to legalize them) or are considered new satellite “neighborhoods” of existing settlements. Some of these “neighborhoods” are very far from the built-up footprint of existing settlements. There are about 100 illegal outposts in the West Bank. In March 2011, Netanyahu’s government announced a policy that prioritizes efforts to legalize existing illegal outposts rather than removing them. For more about the government policy of turning illegal outposts into settlements see this Yesh Din report.

§The settlements’ footprint—Netanyahu claimed that the settlements make up a tiny amount of built-up land. “If you look over time, it is maybe a fraction, maybe one tenth of one percent.”  False.  Although the built-up area of the settlements is “only” about 1% of the West Bank’s land, this factoid is meaningless and misleading. Settlements take up much more than their built-up footprint. If you add up the settlements jurisdiction zones, which are off limits to Palestinians, settlements take up some 36% of the West Bank. If you add roads leading to settlements and security buffers around them, as well as land isolated by Israel’s security barrier, in which Palestinian construction is not allowed, as well as nature reserves and IDF firing zones (“closed military zones”), more than 40% of the West Bank is off limits to Palestinians, according to a report by Israel’s B’Tselem, based on official Israeli data.

§Volume of settlement construction on Bibi’s watch—Netanyahu said that his government built less in West Bank settlements than past governments. That is not true. As APN and Peace Now pointed out in a recent Haaretz article, Netanyahu has actually built more in settlements than any of his recent predecessors, except for Ehud Barak in 2000. Under his watch, settlement planning and construction in East Jerusalem has mushroomed, including in strategic locations such as Givat Hamatos, which severely threaten the contiguity and viability of a future Palestinian state. Under Netanyahu, not only did settlement construction accelerate. So did settlement planning and zoning.

§Settlements as an obstacle to peace—Netanyahu raised several arguments (including noting that the Israeli-Palestinian conflict existed even before settlements were established) to suggest that West Bank settlements to not constitute an obstacle to peace. This is, of course, bogus. By any objective standard, Israeli settlements in the West Bank, illegal under international law, constitute one of the most severe obstacles to achieving peace between Israelis and Palestinians. Each new settlement and settler is another challenge to the possibility of returning to the 1967 lines with mutually agreed land swaps. The settlements also prevent a future Palestinian state from being viable and contiguous, with settlements such as Ariel and Har Homa cutting off and isolating Palestinian population centers from each other. More than 40 percent of the West Bank is under the control of Israeli settlers, and more than 32 percent of the built-up area of settlements and outposts (illegal under Israeli law) are on private Palestinian land. Meanwhile, settlements in East Jerusalem make the task of resolving the core issue of Jerusalem’s sovereignty that much more difficult. An oft-used metaphor to describe the problem: imagine two sides negotiating over a pizza while one side continues to nibble at it.

§Attacks by Israeli settlers on Palestinians—Netanyahu said they are “uncommon,” and claimed that it is “not true” that the perpetrators typically escape prosecution. Unfortunately, Netanyahu’s statement is wrong. The Israeli media has reported on more than 200 “price tag” attacks by Israeli settlers against Palestinians and Palestinian-owned property (and occasionally against the IDF) since 2011. APN keeps a logof these reports. Many attacks, if not most, go unreported. It has been well-documented that only 1.9 percent of such cases have resulted in prosecution, and only 7.4 percent of investigations have resulted in indictments.

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