Al Franken, before he was elevated to the august chamber of the U.S. Senate, wrote a book about Rush Limbaugh: Lies and the Lying Liars Who Tell Them. Al, at the time, apparently hadn’t run into the myriad mendacities of Bibi Netanyahu. Otherwise, he surely would’ve considered adding Bibi to his book.
The latest lie to emanate from Bibi is in a story from Maariv (Hebrew) in which the prime minister has the effrontery to claim that in return for its 100 freed prisoners Mahmoud Abbas has agreed to refrain from using the 1967 borders as a basis for the negotiations which began today in Washington:
[In return for freeing the prisoners], Netanyahu achieved something extraordinary: the Palestinians were forced to concede that there would be no explicit statement that the peace talks would be conducted on the basis of 1967 borders or land swaps. They also gave up on any explicit or official statement concerning a settlement freeze. Accepting instead a quiet freeze confined to settlements outside the main blocs.
This statement shows the extraordinary, even bizarre rubberiness of these talks, which were restarted today in Washington under the tutelage of John Kerry and his pro-Israel sidekick, Martin Indyk. The Palestinians have conceded on two of their three major conditions for entering negotiations (67 borders and settlement freeze). Bibi in turn has conceded on one of his conditions: despite his constant denials that he would do so, he has agreed to a prisoner deal before negotiations started and included Israeli Palestinian and East Jerusalem residents among those to be freed. The question is whether the Palestinians, having folded once on these two conditions, will also fold during negotiations when they find Bibi adamant in rejecting any flexibility. My guess is that they will (as they did in the earlier negotiation with Ehud Olmert, as shown by the Palestine Papers expose), though the deal will be camouflaged to look as if Abbas has made some sort of achievement.
The Maariv reporter says that when Abbas was faced with the choice between his demand for 67 borders or a prisoner release, he chose the tangible achievement (Palestinians seeing their prisoners physically return home to their loved ones) over the intangible (the return of territory that hasn’t been considered Palestinian–or Jordanian for that matter–since 1967). The trouble I have with this calculation, if it’s correct, is that once the Palestinian people realize that they’ve accepted a bait and switch from the Israelis and gotten precious little in return for their concession on 67 borders, they will howl with rage. This simply is a trick by which they expect the Palestinians can be hoodwinked and it won’t work.
This seems yet another reason that the body of the Palestinian people will reject any such agreement that concedes on points that are basic and inalienable as far as they are concerned. According to this article, Bibi not only refuses to base discussions on 67 borders, he refuses the concept of 1:1 land swaps. Which means that Palestinians may get little or nothing in return for allowing major settlement blocs to remain in Israeli hands. How can any Palestinian accept such terms?
If Bibi believes that merely because the Palestinians have begun talks without a public affirmation of 67 borders that this means they’re willing to renounce them, he’s living in cloud cuckoo land. Yet another reason to believe that these talks are destined to fail.
A different example of Bibi’s lies is this story (Hebrew), in which a deputy minister was forced to apologize to the Knesset after he told it that the government would never offer to free Palestinian prisoners as part of a deal to restart negotiations (“the policy of this government is not to free terrorists and it will not do so”). Apparently, the poor official was given information that was a deliberate lie (probably by national security advisor, Yaakov Amidror). He dutifully told the Knesset it was a lie . Then he was called out for the lie and had to admit it was and apologize. Subsequent events (this happened three months ago) have shown, of course, that Bibi did exactly what his subordinate told Knesset he would never do.
The Maariv reporter says, somewhat cluelessly, that lying to parliament is a very serious matter that doesn’t happen in to other governments (like Britain) which respect it (parliament). The point is that Bibi lies to everyone and does so whenever and wherever he feels the need. Israelis know (or should know) that their prime minister is an inveterate liar. They simply don’t care, as truthfulness is not a primary consideration for most Israeli politicians, especially those who are “successful” in wielding power.
Some of my Israeli readers will argue that all politicians lie, which is true. But when they do, they do their best to conceal the lie. And in rare instances in which the lie is discovered they will backtrack or concede in some minimal fashion that they did indeed lie. Not so in Israel. Politics there are so cynical that no one cares whether you lie or not. Your lie will certainly not be exposed (or exceedingly rarely) and even if it is, you will stare blankly at anyone who says you lied and treat them as if they don’t exist. And you will get away with it because, as I said, most Israelis simply don’t care.
This in turn, is part of the total dysfunction of politics in Israel. Because the electorate believes you will lie, indeed expects you to, you never have to pay a price for it. And if politicians will lie to the public, then they will lie to the world and maybe even believe the lies they are telling. This is why so much of Israeli society and the nation’s history are built on lies (like Nakba, the “purity of arms,” the Only Democracy in the Middle East, the most moral army in the world, etc.). If you want to be charitable you may call them distortions. But it is essentially self-delusion.
If you’re an Israeli rightist, this news about Bibi’s lies will not sit comfortably, as it might lead you to believe that Bibi would lie about even more important issues, then turn around and concede them to the Palestinians or Americans under pressure. But my take on Bibi is different. He lies not so much to deceive his right-wing allies, but in order to relieve pressure so that he will never have to concede on any major issues.
Personally, I believe the U.S. either exerted enormous pressure on Bibi to get the talks restarted or it bribed him with huge concessions or gifts in the form of F-16s or other secret U.S. weapons systems (perhaps the latest bunker buster for an attack on Fordo?). Facing such pressure, he chose to concede on an issue that is, for most Israelis, relatively symbolic (the prisoners). He did so in order not to have to concede on an issue that is much more fundamental to him and his followers: 1967 borders, Jerusalem or the Right of Return.
What strikes me as exceedingly strange about these negotiations as opposed to other difficult bi-lateral negotiations concluded successfully in recent decades (like the talks which ended the Yugoslav war) is that the Israelis and Palestinians refuse to concede on any major point. They each maintain their own view of what the basis for the talks will or should be, and refuse to adopt the terms of the other party. So for Israel: they claim to be entering talks without recognizing 1967 borders. They will offer no concession to the Palestinians on settlements (though tacitly they have, at least in a modified form). They will demand Israel be recognized as a Jewish state. They will not concede on Jerusalem or Right of Return.
The Palestinians in turn enter negotiations based on 67 borders. They’ve already won a concession in the form of a prisoner release. They have conceded nothing on Right of Return or Jerusalem, at least not publicly.
There was a rumor the U.S. promised a letter to each side promising something the other side would never concede: to the Israelis that the talks will be conducted on the basis of Israel being a Jewish state; and to the Palestinians that the talks will use 1967 borders as their basis. It’s like a man who’s a bigamist who promises his single home to each of his wives without their knowing the other exists.
This simply won’t work. It can’t.