Stalking Netanyahu’s Victory: Palestine and Iran

21 Mar



(Prefatory Note: This is a much modified version of an article published online by Al Jazeera America on March 19, 2015; its ambition is to grasp the dual significance of the Likud victory for strengthening the role of civil society activism in the Palestinian struggle and with respect to the ongoing diplomacy associated with Iran nuclear program.)


 For Palestine:

My immediate reaction to the outcome of the Israeli elections is that for Palestinian solidarity purposes, it was desirable for Netanyahu to receive this electoral mandate. It exhibits as clearly as possible that the long discredited Oslo ‘peace process’ is truly discredited. But don’t believe that the call for bilateral talks will not be revived within the ranks of the so-called liberal Zionists. Already Israeli commentators, including Likud operatives, are saying that Israel would welcome a resumption of direct negotiations. In the words of the Likud Deputy Foreign Minister, Tzachi Hanegbi, “[w]e would be delighted to renew the negotiations..[i]t is to the benefit of both parties.” Really! Why wouldn’t they? How have the Palestinians benefitted during the past 22 years from these negotiations during which the Israel has been relentless in accomplishing the creeping annexation of the West Bank and the ethnic cleansing of East Jerusalem past the point of return? As Jeff Halper points out the only question about the future is whether Israel’s state will be secular and Democratic or Zionist with an apartheid apparatus of discrimination and exploitation.


And as for the embarrassment of Netanyahu’s pledge never to establish a Palestinian state in the closing days of his campaign, it can be put aside as we all know that Bibi is ‘a pragmatist’ who knows the difference between campaigning and governing. As a prominent Israeli think tank personality, Grin Grinstein, put it, Netanyahu now that he is securely elected can shift attention to his legacy, and will want to avoid Israel’s international isolation: “I would not rule out his going back to the two-state solution.” Neither would I, at least rhetorically and opportunistically. It should have long been obvious that there has never been an Israeli willingness to endorse a viable Palestinian state based on the equality of the two peoples, the sina qua non of a sustainable peace based on implementing the two-state consensus. The only way to understand this long afterlife of the two-state solution is that provided governments and decent people to hold onto a belief that a just solution to the conflict remained within reached, and that its attainment depended on ‘painful concessions’ made by both sides. Such a contrived myopia enabled liberal Zionists to pretend that Israel could remain democratic and Zionist, while not permanently dispossessing and subjugating the Palestinian people.


The cynically obvious conclusion is that when Netanyahu craves votes from the ultra-right in Israel he reassures Israelis that there will never be a Palestinian state so long as he remains the leader. When the election season is finished, then it is time to reassure Washington and Europe that he remains as committed as ever to the two-state mantra, with the unspoken clause, “so long as it remains a mantra.” What should disturb us most is the willingness of so many in the United States and elsewhere to embrace such tactics that consign the Palestinian people to the cruelty of their various circumstances (under occupation, in refugee camps, in exile, subject to blockade). Whether this last phase of disclosure associated with Netanyahu successful campaign strategy will offend the Obama presidency sufficiently to alter American foreign policy in the Middle East is uncertain at this point.


If the Zionist Union coalition of Isaac Herzog and Tzipi Livni had been elected on March 17th, liberal Zionists would undoubtedly have had a field day, proclaiming a new dawn, restoring good will and inter-governmental harmony in relations between Washington and Tel Aviv. Even now a leading liberal Zionist, the NY Times columnist, Roger Cohen, throws his support behind the idea of a ‘national unity government’ that would supposedly rein in the extremist tendencies of Netanyahu. It is also reported that Reuven Rivlin, Israel’s president and Likud member who is an avowed Zionist maximalist (that is, one Jewish state in all of historic Palestine) and unilateralist (‘peace’ by Israeli fiat without the bother of negotiations and diplomacy) is seeking to form such a unity government on the basis of the election results. Despite these views, Rivlin, unlike Netanyahu, is an advocate of human rights and equality for Palestinians living within whatever boundaries Israel achieves, a position almost as incapable of realization as the old delusionary embrace of the Oslo framework as something other than a device to allow Israel to consolidate its hold over the West Bank and East Jerusalem.


Principled liberal Zionists, such as Rabbi Michael Lerner and even more the admirable Haaretz columnist Gideon Levy, view Netanyahu’s reelection as an unconditional disaster both for what it means for Israel’s governing policies and even more so for what it tells us about the prevailing political culture of racism and militarism within Israel. In contrast, an ideological liberal Zionist of the Thomas Friedman variety laments the emergent picture is such a way as to distribute an equal portion of blame to the Palestinians, both Hamas and the Palestinian Authority. Ponder these slanted words: “It would be wrong to put all of this [blame] on Netanyahu. The insane, worthless war that Hamas started last summer that brought rockets to the edge of Israel’s main international airport and the Palestinians’ spurning of two-state offers of Israeli prime minister (Ehud Barak and Edud Olmert) built Netanyahu’s base as much as he did.” [NY Times, March 18, 2015] This pattern of distributing responsibility for the continuing oppression of the Palestinian people and the denial of their most fundamental rights to both sides equally is the most authentic signature of ideological liberal Zionists, purporting to be objective and balanced in assessing responsibilities while effectively supporting Israeli expansionism. Any reasonable assessment of the massive Protective Edge attack launched by Israel last July would acknowledge the Netanyahu provocations that started with the manipulation of the June kidnapping incident resulting in the murder of three young West Bank settlers and the anti-Hamas rampage that followed, as part of the timeline, not to mention Israel’s furious reaction to the unity agreement reached between the Palestinian Authority and Hamas some weeks earlier. As well, for Friedman to present the proposals of Barak and Olmert as offering the Palestinians equality and a viable state coupled with a recognition of the rights of Palestinian refugees, is to serve as a reckless purveyor of Israeli propaganda.


It is on the basis of repudiating such reasoning that the most credible advocates of Palestinian justice, otherwise as far apart as Ali Abunimah and Gilad Atzmon, agree that it is better that Netanyahu and the Likud won the election rather than their supposedly centrist opponents. These more upbeat commentaries on Netanyahu’s triumph believe that this heightened transparency relating to Israel’s true intentions will lead to a long overdue burial of Oslo-generated delusions about a diplomatic settlement of the conflict and that this will, in turn, awaken more of Western public opinion to the true nature of Israeli ambitions, and strengthen the BDS approach to peace with justice. This development should help people throughout the world understand that a positive outcome for the Palestinian national movement is utterly dependent on struggle and that diplomacy has nothing to offer at this time, nor does the revival of armed struggle.


From these perspectives, a positive future is dependent upon Palestinians waging and winning a Legitimacy War directed at realizing Palestinian rights under international law. This is the central argument of my recently published Palestine: The Legitimacy of Hope (Just World Books, 2015); see also to the same effect, Ali Abunimah, The Battle for Justice in Palestine (Haymarket Books, 2014). This reliance on civil society activism implies growing support in the court of public opinion being reinforced by a worldwide militant nonviolent solidarity movement that challenges Israel by way of such tactics as the BDS Campaign and Freedom Flotillas. It should be clear that such a movement from below is not seeking the delegitimation of Israel as such, but of its policies and practices that are precluding a just peace, which as of now presuppose the formation of a single democratic secular state with equal economic, political, social, and cultural rights for all residents regardless of ethnicity and religious identity.


On Iran Diplomacy:

 Unfortunately, in my view, this is not the whole story of the Israeli elections. The Netanyahu victory cannot be assessed exclusively through a Palestinian optic. The dangerous implications for broader regional issues of a Netanyahu controlled foreign security policy cannot be overlooked, nor the grave danger of coordination between the militarist approach to the Islamic world of the Likud Party in Israel and the Republican Party in the United States, or less dramatically, of a restored cooperative regional strategic partnership between the two countries. These concerns most obviously pertain to the prospects for a stable termination of the dangerous encounter with Iran. The Netanyahu/Republican approach is likely to have at least two harmful effects: shifting the internal Iranian balance toward a harder line and creating pressures in Iran and elsewhere in the Middle East to move closer to the acquisition of nuclear weaponry, which will likely cause a regional arms race, including the proliferation or near proliferation of nuclear weapons and/or be the proximate cause of one more devastating war within the region, which regardless of outcome is almost certain to strengthen ISIS and other extremist non-state actors throughout the Middle East.


Of course, the Netanyahu Republicans see this core conflict differently, more in the spirit of poker (than chess), supposing that raising the stakes in the game still higher will prompt Iran to fold. This does not seem plausible. If Iran’s efforts to accommodate the West (including Israel) by accepting an unprecedented level of regulation and foregoing a nuclear option despite Israel’s arsenal and threatening posture, would make additional constraints on Tehran depend on the willingness of a more hard line Iranian leadership to give way further than its moderate predecessors.


From this vantage point, the Lerner view of the Netanyahu victory as a major disaster for Israel and the world seems the most sensible interpretation, even if never fully consummated by the transformation of bluffs into policies, and not nearly as threatening as it will become if a Republican wins the presidential election in 2016. Even if Hilary Clinton rises to the occasion and is elected the next American president I would not invest much hopes that she will challenge the Netanyahu approach toward Iran except possibly in matters of style and at the margins. Even supposing, as now seems unlikely, that Rivlin convinces Likud to go along with his preference for a unity government it is almost certain to be dominated, especially in relation to security policy, by Netanyahu. Beyond this, even as Netanyahu shows his readiness to rehabilitate his never credible endorsement of a two-state solution for Palestine, confident that it will lead no further than in has over the decades, he is almost certainly not going to budge on Iran.


Why? It is entirely possible that Netanyahu has swallowed his own propaganda, and honestly believes that Iran poses a real threat to Israel’s security, and possibly survival, rather than seeing the calculus of fear the other way around. In actuality, it is Iran that is threatened, Israel that poses the existential threat. Beyond this, the Iran card has proved exceedingly helpful to Netanyahu, allowing him both to play on Israeli fears to build support at home and to divert international attention from Israel’s refusal to act reasonably and lawfully with respect to Palestine. In light of this combination of adverse circumstances, I am not sure what I would advise the Iranian government to do at this point other than to bide its time. If Netanyahu had been soundly defeated, then it would have made sense to do everything possible to reach an agreement while Obama is still in office. But now to invite a repudiation of whatever is agreed upon is to choose what would likely turn out to be the worst alternative available.


For these reasons, as helpful as Netanyahu’s electoral victory seems from the viewpoint of building a stronger Palestinian national movement, this political result in Israel is a definite setback from the perspective of resolving the conflict with Iran. Is there any way to separate these two concerns, taking advantage of Netanyahu’s victory in the Palestinian context while seeking at the same time to mobilize a movement favoring denuclearization of the Middle East as a vital ingredient of a peaceful future for the Middle East. This seems to be the challenge facing civil society activism that seeks justice for the Palestinians, peace for both peoples, and an end to fear-mongering and saber-rattling in relation to Iran.


19 Responses to “Stalking Netanyahu’s Victory: Palestine and Iran”

  1. Gene Schulman March 21, 2015 at 9:48 am #

    Dear Richard, thanks for this astute historical analysis of the Netanyahu re-election and what it may mean for the future of the Middle East (West Asia). I am afraid I cannot fully agree with your conclusions of hope, despite the title of your recent book.

    I believe that so long as Israel and the US continue their partnership in sustaining chaos in the area, there will be no hope for Palestine. As Atzmon has repeatedly stated, the Israelis do not want any kind of Palestine state, neither duo or bi. They want the Arabs gone from Palestine. Even Abunimah, for all the value of his book, has, according to Atzmon, sold out the struggle and helped to weaken the BDS movement.

    As for Iran, I cannot foresee any deal being made over the nuclear stand-off. The Obama administration will keep raising the bar until negotiations completely fall apart. Then the Republicans or Hillary, whoever wins the next presidential elections in the US, will be free to continue the call for war with Iran. And probably will attack it, as has been their neocon plan from the beginning. 😦

    Warm wishes, Gene

  2. Kata Fisher March 21, 2015 at 1:41 pm #

    A note:

    Muslims are prosecuted just because they are Muslims (Hebrew people).

    Allowing Jewish people to immigrate/return to the area of Holy Land (which has to be based on the Faith-rights) does not translate as same as tearing down the establishments of existing population. (This would be rights and works of illegitimate religion).

    As long as Jews and Arabs do not recognise rights of each other that are human — they will see the exactly the same co-existential patterns (as they have seen) until now, in accordance with recent history.

    Jews and Arabs need to understand that they are prosecuting each other for no valid reason, and by that they are spiritually excommunicating themselves.

    Jews want the Land without Muslim’s and Islam Faith – that would be grave harm ideology, in fact. Jewish exiles as Arabs (contemporary Muslims) are in Holy Land.

    Jewish exiles / Tribes of Israel and Judeah exiled (in this point in time) does not equal Jews only. This is a fact.


    Lies should be and have to be excluded concerning wellbeing of people in Iran.

    I believe that Iran’s is in enormous right and ability to change the way things are done in Middle East.

    Iran’s Supreme Leader has greatest ability as well as spiritual authority to safeguard principles of Islam Faith in Iran – and still while not necessarily modernizing authentic Traditions of Faith practices in Iran – but rather bringing Ethics of Islam Faith where it should be (outside spiritual authority of lay-people). Middle East needs that.

    In this point in time, Iran has overlapping Spiritual authority in its governing structure, and I believe that they are in divine providence due to that.

    I believe that they are under greatest spiritual and natural attack because they need to bring Muslims to realization of their Faith.

    Keeping stability and well-being of people of Iran also means keeping stability and wellbeing of world-community. Stability of the world depends on the stability of Iran.

    I understand this.

    Iran is the country that wellbeing of all other Muslims can depend on (spiritually).

    If something goes against people of Iran, all world will be given over to Satan, especially areas with wicked and counterfeit Christianity. The more they destroy more destruction in natural they do – the more spiritual and natural destruction will come upon them.

    What is most excellent for Muslims to pursue in this point in time:

    Bringing Ethics of Islam to life is and will be Iran’s appointed task, I believe.

    With that, Nuclear weaponry is most appropriate concern in Middle East.

    This item that distinguishes works of authentic Muslims from counterfeit Muslims (along with non-Muslims who are counterfeit church).

    I believe that Iran’s Supreme Leader is just appointed to do something about that.

    Nevertheless, spiritual Ethics of Islam are in his appointment that can also be seen as divinely appointed. I am starting to understand this recently.

    I believe that it could come with ethical Isalm Faith education of the next generation – but Iran’s Supreme Leader right and ability is even beyond that.

    They could implement that (education), and they could see the transformation of Ethical values of Islam Faith. But but Iran’s Supreme Leader has spiritual and natural ability to do more than that.

    Legitimate education is only a small particle due to long-term necessity and urgency that is imminent.

    It is very difficult to deal with lay-people and even go about Faith ethics with lay-people. This is why I believe Iran’s Supreme Leader is not lay-people and can appoint the order of Ethics within the Islam Faith (for lay-people) of Middle East in time-period of months.

    We could see Middle East free of Nuclear weaponry within years – if people of legitimate authority and appointment do not stop doing what they must do and are not distracted.

    Concerning wars and rocketing around – they better are brought to stop, in all.

  3. wingsprd March 21, 2015 at 2:54 pm #

    The only solution I see for this dreadful situation is for other countries to raise their voice. The planet cannot survive while trying to ameliorate climate change and the threat of nuclear arms. UN must be strengthened.

    • Kata Fisher March 21, 2015 at 8:30 pm #

      A note:

      I came across this article.

      It may seem to be irrelevant – but I believe it should be here. (I have some brainstorming about it).

      • Kata Fisher March 21, 2015 at 9:22 pm #

        I understand this:

        President Netanyahu may not be safe as he should be.

        I mean everything around him should be double checked and much more compact – security-wise.

        I understand this – just make sure his well-being and security is #1 updated priority – for Israel.

        I am serious about this and I mean no ill feeling about it.

        I just have strong impression about this, and without doubt.

        Likewise other key-Leaders / key-Diplomats should be on same updated priority.

        Unpredictable attacks come just from nowhere and at any time.

        I do not mean to frighten anyone.

    • Richard Falk March 22, 2015 at 8:30 am #

      I agree in principle, but the only way to strengthen the UN effectively is to weaken the geopolitical
      leverage of the veto powers and to base its activities on independent funding and judicial review. These
      actions will only happen when these veto powers are willing to reduce their leverage, and this does not
      seem to be on the political horizon.

    • Richard Falk March 23, 2015 at 3:09 pm #

      I believe that a movement from below in the form of a growing global solidarity movement
      needs to set the stage for any kind of effective diplomatic initiative undertaken by governments
      or at the UN.

  4. Jack Ucciferri March 21, 2015 at 10:51 pm #

    As always, thank you for sharing your astute contemplations of these issues. I am excited to hear about and read your latest book regarding the apparent necessity of a “Legitimacy War.” It fascinates me that this approach has taken so long to germinate in this context when its effectiveness has been demonstrated time and again. Why has delegitimization only seriously been considered as a last option? Has it been because of the effectiveness of the “2 state mantra?”

    I’m also curious about your read on how recent events will or will not impact the Democratic party’s platform vis-a-vis Israel? this recent poll indicated that Democrats who feel more sympathetic toward Israelis than Palestinians has dropped 10 points in one year. Now less than half of Dem’s sypathize with Isreali’s over Palestinians regaring their conflict:

    The end of the bipartisan US consensus is something worth celebrating, in my view, as it will allow space for the US public to become educated about the events in the region in a more open atmosphere. US grass roots awareness of the South African apartheid was a necessary and significant precursor to the success of the South African liberation movement.

    As history and bloody headlines marched on in South Africa, it became less and less tenable for US political leaders to avoid talking about the issue and ultimately a Republican majority Senate voted to override Reagan’s veto of the Comprehensive Anti-Apartheid Act. BTW, Senator’s Richard Lugan and Mitch McConnell (yes, that one) were key figures in the drafting and passage of that act. They viewed it as a continuation of the politically popular version of the Civil Rights Movement and they were savvy in that regard. Relatively easy political points to be scored by standing on the right side of history regarding an ally whose behavior has caused it to become more of a liability than an asset on net.

    So, yes, there are yet hopeful historical parallels to be drawn from the sea of despair.

    Regarding Iran, I agree that it is hard to see how Netanyahu’s victory would do anything but disrupt Iran’s logic for seeking a framework agreement on their atomic program.

    • Richard Falk March 23, 2015 at 3:07 pm #

      Thanks, Jack, for these thoughtful comments, the tenor of which I entirely agree with. I am not too
      hopeful that there will be a meaningful shift in U.S. policy toward Israel even in the face of this split
      in Jewish attitudes. The problem is, as it has always been, there is so strong pro-Palestinian countervailing
      force in Washington too offset the influence of AIPAC, the evangelicals, etc., which continues to make it
      risky for politicians to take a balanced view. In this sense South Africa was different as the African-American
      community became mobilized and exerted effective grassroots pressure. At the same time there are shifts in attitudes
      visible on college campuses and in relation to mainstream churches. As I keep saying these days ‘we are not smart
      enough to be pessimistic’ and so might as well commit to what we believe in…Best wishes, greetings, Richard

  5. A6er March 22, 2015 at 7:24 am #

    Reblogged this on Britain Isn't Eating.

  6. Walker Percy March 23, 2015 at 11:58 am #

    I agree that Israeli diplomacy is more like poker than chess. But why do they take these kind of risks? What drives this behavior, which focuses on either defeating and humiliating of their enemies or committing mass suicide-by-cop if they lose? Is this recklessness culturally determined, and if so, what does this tell us about earlier episodes that did, ended in catastrophe (for both sides). We can’t help but ask: is Israel a country of sociopaths? Does exposure to Jewish culture cause brain damage, producing a personality type that instigates unnecessary conflicts which must always be fought to the death? Is that what caused so many communities where jews have lived eventually to ban Jewish religious practice, then to expel and finally attempt to exterminate them? And: when we call their bluff, will this Shoah be televised?

    • Gene Schulman March 23, 2015 at 2:01 pm #

      Good questions, Walker. The problem is, they are not bluffing. They are a part of the Empire and you can ask the same of the US. They won’t stop until they have brought the world to the edge. Psychopaths, indeed!

      Anyhow, nice to see you’re still around.

      • Richard Falk March 23, 2015 at 2:57 pm #

        Gene: I find your pessimism is too definite. You overlook how often wrong we have all been about future developments
        on the global stage. The future remains a black box, we are entrapped in a web of uncertainties, which leaves us at least
        free to struggle for that which we believe. This is my credo!

      • Gene Schulman March 24, 2015 at 2:02 am #

        Richard: My pessimism is quite flexible, and I do not advise giving up the struggle. I do feel much like Camus’ Sisyphus, though, on the slope of present power.

      • Gene Schulman March 26, 2015 at 4:02 am #

        I have a reflection:

    • Richard Falk March 23, 2015 at 3:01 pm #


      All important questions, and for that reason not easily answerable. I would place more emphasis on ideological blinders and bureaucratic
      rigidities, together with a kind of ‘group think.’ I think Netanyahu has played with the genuine Israeli fear syndrome to the probable
      disadvantage, maybe disastrously so, of Israel itself. And what might be the case, as Goebbles understood, the lie repeated again and again
      become a kind of ‘truth.’ With greetings and best wishes, Richard

    • Kata Fisher March 23, 2015 at 10:09 pm #

      Walker, hi.

      I understand this:

      I copied and pasted this from a place… It was not my reflection:

      “We are the Borg. You will be assimilated. Resistance is futile.
      אנו הבורג. אתם תתבוללו. אין מה לעשות.”

      Hay, hay, hay! – You drifting away from a Holiday called independence from what and who ever? Yourself.

      OMG! So scary…

      Just Ridicules credo of a lepricano?

      Well, it depends “what” is saying that?

      Acknowledging Faith apart from religion is a difficult — I am glad that you have had time thinking on Faith… and you will learn that for Jewish people is not easier then any other Faiths – regardless what background when comes to dealing with religion that is without ethical principles of Faith.

      Both Faith and religion s very important to individuals.

      About war:

      I have been distressed today; I woke up this morning after something that was like a nightmare (distressing) but it was not nightmare. It was a distressing clarification — for many hours I was distressed because my dream was about someone that was killed in Vietnam War (I did not know but I learned about).

      I would love to read more from Professors Falk point of view on credo.
      Getting to the “Credo” (in most application natural) – as Professor Falk indicates will be next step of a challenging process of this point in time.

      We know that it has to be legitimate process / way, and this is very difficult to narrow down to the point of a legitimate start.

      I think and also believe that Professor Falk can show us what exactly is to be done.

      All day long I feel like brain dead – I have no reflections and I fell at a point of a complete stop. (TTL/BJT)

    • Kata Fisher March 25, 2015 at 7:24 am #

      A Note:

      I came across this video.

      Does this video documents child-rights violation?

      Does anyone understand this video and how to interpret what exactly is going on with these children in Gaza?

      I read Canon Law of the Church, and I would understand rights of a child and the obligation from the Society and Faith community / community of religion toward the child from the stand of Eccalistical Law.

      I would know, in fact, how that interprets – but I do not read International Laws – so I do not know what tease things would mean in exact interpretation (from the application of International Law).

      If these are a violation of child rights from International Law – then what?

      When comes to the violation of the children by religion we can look over way – when possible? It is possible. This also means condemnation for the blind. However, child rights also mean education that is Faith- ethical and returning children to their parents – whenever children are rehabilitated.

      Children in Gaza need to be rehabilitated from grave abusees.

      Religious education is another thing…I believe over the centuries the conscience of world-community has been choked by it.

      What Hamas does violate not only standards of Special and Natural Revelation, it is in fact enmity toward God trough their children )not only individual but corporate, in Gaza).

      Where else can we see things just as that?


  1. TRANSCEND MEDIA SERVICE » Stalking Netanyahu’s Victory: Palestine and Iran - May 5, 2015

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