New Israeli government wastes no time in provoking Palestinians

In the two weeks since it came to power, the new Israeli government has been in a rush to execute an extremely busy agenda, as if it either believes it will not last for long, or it is a government possessed with the urge to irreparably divide the country, destroy its democratic system and lead to confrontation with the Palestinians.

Its relentless attacks on the democratic system, and especially the High Court of Justice, to say nothing of the constant attacks on opposition politicians and civil society organizations that disagree with the government, and on minorities, might leave Israel a democracy in name only.

Last week, a member of the coalition suggested that opposition leaders Yair Lapid and Benny Gantz be arrested for crimes that were the figment of his vivid, anti-democratic imagination. Part of the grand design behind this is to spread fear among those who oppose the policies of this Israeli government, and enshrine in law the idea that Palestinians are at best second-class citizens.

As for those Palestinians living in the occupied territories, the aim is to instill in them a fear of showing any signs of their national aspirations, never mind resistance to an illegal occupying force.

The new government’s measures to impose oppressive and punitive policies against Palestinians are coming thick and fast. In a short-sighted, punitive move, last week, Israeli authorities decided to revoke Palestinian Authority Foreign Minister Riyad Al-Maliki’s travel permit, in retaliation against a PA request to the UN asking the International Court of Justice to give its opinion on the legal consequences of Israel’s occupation of Palestinian territories.

I wonder if those behind this foolish decision stopped for a split second and asked themselves whether their actions to deprive Al-Maliki of his right to freedom of movement, even though he obviously poses no security threat, is just another piece of evidence of the illegal consequences of the occupation, never mind a violation of agreements with the Palestinians.

Moreover, the decision to refer the question of the occupation to the ICJ was not made by the PA but supported by 87 member states of the General Assembly. Only 26 opposed it. Surely, even the current Israeli government would not suggest banning the foreign ministers of those countries that supported this decision, or their citizens, from visiting the Jewish state.

But this was not the only recent temper tantrum displayed by Netanyahu’s fledgling administration in retaliation for the role the PA played in the UN decision.

The Israeli security Cabinet also decided to freeze a Palestinian construction plan in Area C of the occupied West Bank, where Israel maintains complete security and civilian authority.

Additionally, it blocked the transfer of about $40 million to the PA — which is Palestinian money raised through taxation Israeli authorities collect on behalf of the PA — to offset the payments made by the PA to militants and their families.

One can only hope that one day the Israeli and Palestinian flags will flutter in the Jerusalem breeze above each other’s embassies on the west and east sides of the city respectively, representing two nations living in peace with one another.

Yossi Mekelberg

Short of complete capitulation by the Palestinians to all Israeli whims, it is impossible to understand what Israel expects them to do in relation to the occupation — an occupation that, according to most members of the current coalition, does not exist in the first place, even though it is regarded by almost the entire international community as illegal.

A peace process does not exist, and there is no prospect of it being revived, that might end the current stalemate and enable the Palestinians to fulfill their aspirations for self-determination. And if their representatives dare to approach the international community in an attempt to shake up this impasse, they face punitive measures.

Worse still, if Palestinians were to resort to an armed struggle — and there is growing support among them for a return to resisting Israeli occupation by force — then Israeli security forces would use ever more draconian measures not only against militants but also against innocent civilians.

As a sign of the times, an Israeli Jewish journalist was summoned by police for questioning after expressing sympathy for Palestinians who take up arms against members of the Israeli security forces. This might be a controversial opinion but, under the circumstances, it is one that is not illegitimate to express in a democracy, nor is it one that encourages violence but which soberly understands that without a political horizon, the outbreak of violence is highly probable.

Unfortunately, in this conflict the heroes in both camps are those who inflict death and misery on one another, while those who seek peace are labeled traitors.
Israel might not like the PA providing support for the families of prisoners, or celebrating those who have killed or maimed Israeli citizens. This is painful to watch, especially for the families of the victims.

However it is just as painful for Palestinians to see the Israeli security forces who killed many of their fellow civilians also lauded as heroes, sometimes decorated, and their salaries and other benefits paid for by the Israeli state.

Instead of sanctifying peace, coexistence and reconciliation, in this conflict between the two peoples spilling each other’s blood has become sacred. The actions of the new Israeli government will only perpetuate this situation.

A similar folly is the Israeli attitude to the Palestinian flag. Itamar Ben-Gvir, the new, ultranationalist national security minister, demonstrated this in one of his very first acts in government when he ordered the removal of any Palestinian flag flying in public.

In bigotry and ignorance, he argued that displaying it reflects “identification with terrorism.” Someone should tell Ben-Gvir, who lives in the occupied territories — and admittedly understands something about supporting a terrorist organization, given he was convicted of such a crime in 2007 — that the Palestinian flag, like any other flag, including Israel’s, is an expression and a symbol of the Palestinian people as a distinct nation, and their right to self-determination, albeit, alas, one that has not been fulfilled.

Moreover, since the signing of the Oslo Accords in 1993, leaders from the Israeli right, including Netanyahu, have been pictured on many occasions alongside a Palestinian flag.

One can only hope that one day the Israeli and Palestinian flags will flutter in the Jerusalem breeze above each other’s embassies on the west and east sides of the city respectively, representing two nations living in peace with one another.

For now, this dream remains a mirage, and in a government in which Ben-Gvir and his allies are the most powerful political force, provocations and punitive measures that treat Palestinians as inferior and abuse them with complete impunity, and without any human decency, will remain the norm.



• Yossi Mekelberg 

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