Remember that Sonny & Cher goldie-oldie from the 60s: The Beat Goes On (h/t, Lynn)? I thought of it when trying to come up with a suitable title for this post.
Bibi Netanyahu appeared on Face the Nation (transcript of full program) and made some of his most egregious misstatements in a long career of them. Curiously, the segment I’m about to discuss wasn’t aired on the broadcast show. That’s why you won’t find it in the transcript linked above. Seems CBS buried the lede!
First, he had the sheer chutzpah to claim that U.S. criticism of Israeli settlement building on occupied Palestinian land was a betrayal of American values. Let’s pause for a second and contemplate the leader of a foreign country telling Barack Obama that he’s disgraced the values of his own country. Imagine David Cameron telling Francois Hollande that the latter embarrassed French values. The entire concept is beyond absurd. What the fug right is it of Bibi to define for Americans what their values are or should be? And to attack Obama’s valued for being un-American. Hey, we’ve been down that road before. We’ve had Americans telling other Americans their values betray this country. We’ve had enough of that. And for a foreign leader to do it? Maddening.
Returning to Bibi’s defense of settlements: ostensibly and according to him, Israeli Jews only want to live in their own country. Why shouldn’t they be allowed to live anywhere inside that country? If Palestinians can live where they like in Israel, why shouldn’t Jews?
Here’s a transcript of the above video, which is a short segment of the entire interview:
First, I had a very good meeting with the president and I was baffled by this [criticial U.S.] statement [on settlements] because it doesn’t reflect American values. What we’re being criticized for is that some Jewish residents of Jerusalem bought apartments legally from Arabs in a predominantly Arab neighborhood. and this is seen as a terrible thing. You know, Arabs from East Jerusalem, Palestinians, thousands of them, but apartment in the Jewish neighborhoods in West Jerusalem. Nobody says: “You can’t do it.” If I said to you [about] some place in the U.S.: Jews cannot buy apartments here, there’d be an uproar.
I don’t accept this thing. Jews can buy private homes in Arab neighborhoods, Arabs can buy private homes in Jewish neighborhoods. It’s their right!
I was absolutely baffled by this, and it’s against American values and it doesn’t bode well for peace. The idea that we’d have this ethnic purification as a condition for peace, I think it’s anti-peace. I think it works against peace. I don’t think it’s a principle that should be condoned, but condemned…
The president raised the general issue of settlements and I said I think we should address the larger issue, which is not the settlements, but the question of are the Palestinians ready to recognize a nation state for the Jewish people, the way we’re willing to recognize a nation state for the Palestinian people? Are they finally willing to come to grips with the existence of Israel. Those are the real issues.
[Concerning the new settlement plan approved by the Jerusalem municipality] It’s not a settlement. These are neighborhoods of Jerusalem. I think anybody who visited my office…this is three minutes from my office. This is just a neighborhood in Jerusalem. And in this neighborhood that is now being planned with about 2,400 units…what they didn’t tell you is 700 of those units are designated for the Arab residents of Jerusalem. They need housing, the Jewish residents of Jerusalem need housing. Why shouldn’t it be? What is this affront to peace? Why can’t Jews and Arabs live together? What is this…I think this whole line which says that Jews cannot buy apartments in Jerusalem, the capital of the Jewish people for the last 3,000 years since King David. Or you cannot have mixed housing projects for Jews and Arabs…I think this is anti-peace. I think [the U.S.] condemning it is wrong. I’m frankly baffled by it and it’s against American values.
Now, let’s unpack the lies one by one. “Thousands” of Palestinians own apartments in West Jerusalem. That’s, of course, a lie. Almost no Palestinians own property in West Jerusalem. Israel’s Central Bureau lists 3,400 Palestinian families living in West Jerusalem. Almost all are renting because they cannot find housing in East Jerusalem. The certainly cannot afford to buy in West Jerusalem given the high price of housing there. I consulted with an Israeli expert on Jerusalem issues who told me he only knows of one East Jerusalem family that owns property in West Jerusalem. He said that there may be more, but the number is certainly very small.
In fact, even Israeli Palestinians are severely restricted in terms of where they may live in Israel. The Supreme Court, supposedly a bastion of liberal humanitarian values, ruled last week that Israeli Jewish residential communities may bar non-Jews from living there. Here in the U.S., the Congress outlawed housing discrimination in 1965. Yet in Israel it’s the law of the land. Fair housing, that’s a real American value.
Where does the broad truth lie concerning Bibi’s claim? There are Palestinians who move into Israeli Jewish neighborhoods like French Hill which, by the way, is in occupied East Jerusalem (not West Jerusalem). They move there for several reasons: the housing costs less than in West Jerusalem. And they’re forced to move from Palestinian neighborhoods in East Jerusalem because the Israeli government forbids them from building new housing in their existing neighborhoods.
Israeli riot police confiscating one of seven Palestinian homes stolen through Elad’s “ethnic purification” plan. (Oren Ziv/Activestills)
Finally, let’s remember that French Hill, where thousands of Israeli Jews live in territory conquered during the 1967 War, is Palestinian. No one in the world aside from Israel recognizes even this place as falling under Israeli sovereignty. So if Palestinians live there, Bibi’s doing them no favors. It’s their land to begin with under international law.
Bibi also justified the recent theft of seven Palestinian homes in Silwan, which were handed over to the quasi-official settler group, Elad, which promptly installed seven Jewish settler families. The prime minister claimed the property sale was legal and above board. That’s dubious since so many of these property transactions are fraudulent. But even if the sale was legitimate, it takes place within a context in which Elad is explicitly attempting to eradicate any Palestinian presence outside the Old City. It seeks to gradually force out every Palestinian family it can from Silwan and turn Jerusalem Arab-rein.
Israel’s newest approved settlement, Givat HaMatos Reuters/Ronen Zvulum)
As for Bibi’s final whopper: he claimed that 700 of the 2,400 controversial settlement housing units in the plan will be allocated to “Arabs.” That’s not true either. There are four different building proposals for the area called Givat HaMatos. Only one (containing the 2,400 units) has been approved. Under the approved plan no housing is set aside for Palestinians. Under one of the plans not yet approved, 700 units have been set aside for private Palestinian construction. So no Palestinian housing has been approved and none may be approved considering what may happen between now and when all four plans are approved (if they are).
There is also a major difference between Jewish housing plans and Palestinian (such as they are) since the government guarantees and helps finances the Jewish construction. No official entity will offer any financial support for the Palestinian construction.
Finally, Bibi’s plaintive Kumbaya moment in which he pleads for Jews and Arabs to live together, and berates Obama for interfering in such harmony-building exercises, is entirely fantasy, if not delusion. Peace Now told USA Today that from 2000-2007 only 91 of 1,694 Palestinian building permits were approved, meaning 94% were rejected. Nearly 19,000 Jewish units were built in the same period. Meaning that many more than that number were approved. In the same period, thousands of Palestinian homes were torn down for allegedly having no construction permit. Almost no Israeli Jewish housing was torn down for this reason, which includes illegal settler outposts.
I’m not opposed to Jews living in Palestinian neighborhoods and Palestinians living in Jewish neighborhoods in the context of a peace deal that recognizes Palestinian rights to territories conquered in 1967 and designates Jerusalem a shared capital in which each people exercises sovereignty in its zones or neighborhoods. But in the absence of such an agreement, what Israel is doing in East Jerusalem is outright theft. It is illegal under international law and under decades of U.S. government policy.
It’s the ultimate irony for Bibi to call U.S. criticism of Israel’s settlement plan a call for “ethinic purification.” That’s precisely what Israel’s policy is in Jerusalem. Elad’s mission is to eradicate Palestinian presence from as much of Jerusalem as it can. And it’s done a remarkable job so far thanks for tens of millions of dollars in government and private funding. THAT is ethnic purification.
So much for Kumbaya moments. Bibi Netanyahu is a fantasist with an underlying psychopathology rooted in a nationalist triumphalist ideology. He talks a good game–and if you didn’t know the facts you might have a hard time penetrating the rhetoric. But when you parse what he’s saying he’s as naked as a settler emperor with no clothes. And as they say about lies, if his lips are moving…
The Obama administration appears to have been unconvinced by Bibi’s performance. Though Reuters characterized the response as withering, it didn’t seem so to me. It seemed pallid, and little more than pandering to the Israel Lobby. But at least it was a rejoinder of some sort:
At his daily briefing, White House spokesman Josh Earnest said: “It did seem odd for him to try to defend the actions of his government by saying our response did not reflect American values.
“The fact is, American policy has been clear and unchanged under several administrations, both Democrat and Republican.”
Earnest added: “We oppose any unilateral actions that attempt to prejudge final status issues, including the status of Jerusalem. These can only be legitimately determined through direct negotiations through the parties that this president has worked hard to try to facilitate.”