Netanyahu may hope Arabs will provide him a face-saver on settlements

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By Rabbi Dow Marmur 

JERUSALEM–“Build, Bibi, build!” That’s the heading of an advertisement that has appeared here. It’s issued by Likud and sponsored by its strong settlement lobby. The ad shows pictures of eight party members in the current government who have spoken in favour of settlements expansion in the West Bank. In addition, there’s also a photo of Prime Minister Netanyahu. The text refers to his recent statement that international public opinion forces him to restrict settlement expansion. He’s urged not to feel isolated because the leaders of his party are there to support him.

At the foot of the ad the reader is reminded that Israel today shouldn’t build less than in the days of the three previous prime ministers Olmert, Sharon and Barak. The campaigners are, of course, right. Settlement building has been a reckless way of putting “facts on the ground” from soon after the time of Israel’s victory in the 1967 War.

Realizing that Israel doesn’t know how to give up its settlement policy, Netanyahu is said to be waiting for an opportunity to disclose his “new” plan, which, based on calculated leaks, the Palestinians have already rejected. Having committed himself to a Palestinian state in a previous speech, Netanyahu is now said to offer the Palestinians an interim arrangement which, presumably, will allow Israel to retain and continue to expand the settlements until the final borders will be determined. This would probably come about not long after the arrival of the Messiah.

There’re reasons to believe that the current US Administration insists that a resolution of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict should precede, not follow, messianic times. Especially after the American veto that thwarted the UN Security Council resolution urging Israel to stop building in the settlements, Obama may have extracted something of a promise from Netanyahu that he’ll impose if not a settlement ban then at least an undertaking to drastically curb expansion.

Perhaps Prime Minister Netanyahu now wants to renege on his undertaking while appearing to promote peace and blame the failure on the Palestinians. He’s said to be waiting for an invitation from Capitol Hill to deliver a speech there. He may calculate that enough members of the US Congress believe in the imminent advent of a Messiah to be prepared to wait for a peace agreement to follow.

The rest of the world, especially the Palestinians, will not. Israel’s isolation will, therefore, deepen. Nowadays even visiting dignitaries, like the president of Chile who arrived the other day, in their carefully worded statements make it clear that they oppose Israel’s settlement policy. The standard argument that Jews should be allowed to settle wherever they want in their land doesn’t hold water when the rest of the world won’t designate the West Bank as the Land of Israel.

If the leading coalition party in Israel chooses to ignore the strictures of much of the international community, the country may be in greater danger than the government is prepared to admit, let alone avoid. But, mercifully, unlike what’s currently happening in several Muslim states, Israelis don’t have to take to the streets to make their government see sense. The polling booths will do the job. Unless the country gets a government that’s prepared to face harsh realities instead of ensnaring us in outmoded and dangerous ideology, it – and we all – may face consequences too painful even to spell out.

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Rabbi Marmur is spiritual leader emeritus of Holy Blossom Temple in Toronto.  He now divides his year between Canada and Israel.  He may be contacted at [email protected]

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