Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu gave his most detailed explanation of what he deems an acceptable Palestinian state will look like, during a Q&A at the Center for American Progress on Tuesday.
Netanyahu came to the United States to meet with President Obama on what was touted as an apology tour following a fall out during negotiations over the Iran deal. On Tuesday, the two discussed a potential increase in U.S. aid to Israel from the current figure of $3 billion to $4.5 billion. Later, Netanyahu visited CAP where he addressed a wide-range of topics in an hour long conversation with CAP President Neera Tanden.
Tanden’s questions briefly covered Netanyahu’s meeting with Obama, Israel’s future, illegal settlements, Palestinian rights, security, and violence. Netanyahu also responded with detailed answers, many of which were called into question for their accuracy.
Netanyahu battled through a sore throat to explain that a future Palestinian state would require “mutual recognition and long term security arrangements” that see Israel maintain military control over Palestinian territories.
“It is not the settlements,” Netanyahu said. “It is the persistent refusal [by the Palestinians] to accept a Jewish state.”
The Occupation & Netanyahu’s Plan For A Potential Palestinian State
In the latest round of violence, 79 Palestinians and eight Israelis have been killed. Numerous analysts and former Israeli security officials have cited conditions under the continued occupation of the West Bank and the military and economic blockade on Gaza as a driving force behind ongoing violence.
“The conflict is, in combination with the Israeli occupation of the West Bank, the biggest security risk for the state of Israel,” Yuval Diskin, the former Director of Israel’s internal security force Shin Bet, told der Spiegel in 2014.
“If people agree that the main problem is the occupation, which most people do, that means it’s the answer,” Hussein Ibish, a Senior Resident Scholar at the Arab Gulf States Institute and former Senior Fellow at the American Task Force on Palestine, told ThinkProgress. “The Palestinians recognized Israel in 1993 and never wavered, never compromised.” Ibish said that 2007 was the first time then-Israeli PM Ehud Olmert raised the issue of a Jewish state and it was dismissed. Netanyhau has made it a cornerstone of his policy, despite the fact that Israel does not officially recognize itself as a Jewish state.
“If there is anything of value in todays event, it is the extent to which he clarified his vision,” Yousef Munayyer, the Executive Director of the U.S. Campaign to End the Israeli Occupation, told ThinkProgress. “In that he can envision a demilitarized Palestinian state which where Palestinians would recognize Israel as a Jewish state. Basically, he’s saying, that until Palestinians become submissive, the occupation is never going to end.”
Settlements And An ‘Imperfect Democracy’
The issue of illegal Israeli settlements was also addressed during the event. When asked about the continued expansion of settlements that Tanden said were “strategically placed to make a Palestinian state more difficult,” Netanyahu responded by challenging the information in the question.
“Factually, there have been no new settlements built in the last 20 years,” Netanyahu said.
“That’s a lie. It’s a gigantic lie,” said Ibish. “There’s been an enormous settlement expansion and creation of new settlements, not just in the past 20 years but in the past few years. These facts are known through Peace Now and B’tselem.”
CREDIT: Andrew Breiner/ThinkProgress
When the Oslo Accords were agreed upon in 1993 the number of settlers in the West Bank counted at 262,500. More than twenty years on, that figure has increased to 547,000, according to B’tselem, an Israeli human rights center.
At one point, Netanyahu apologized over a recent comment directed at Israel’s Arab population that was deemed racist.
“As it was said, it was wrong,” Netanyahu told the small crowd at CAP. “That shouldn’t have been said.”
The apology was in response to earlier comments where he had said, “Arab voters are coming out in droves to the polls,” as a scare tactic to rally votes for his right-wing Likud Party.
Netanyahu went on to say that he followed “the teachings…of an egalitarian state.”
“The rights of women or gays or minorities’ rights for Arabs, Jews… These are enshrined in an imperfect society,” he said. “Israel is not perfect, but facing is incredible odds with incredible successes.”
Netanayhu failed, however, to note the current legal system in place in Israel that does not afford full rights to all people. Because of the military occupation of the Palestinian territories, Palestinians must abide by laws set up for them by the state of Israel.
“Palestinians have far, far fewer rights than Israeli citizens,” Munayyer, an Israeli citizen of Palestinian descent, said. “Palestinians are literally living under a different set of laws than their Israeli counterparts.”
Israeli law dictates that Munayyer cannot live in Israel with his wife, a Palestinian from the West Bank. “This is one of many examples, from kinds of jobs available, to how funding is distributed … [between] Jewish and Arab towns,” he said.
While Israelis live under civil law and are tried in civil courts, Palestinians face military trials if they are judged to have committed crimes.
There are also different sets of laws for Palestinians with Israeli citizenship. Unlike in the United States, where all citizens theoretically enjoy the same rights, Palestinian citizens of Israel adhere to a different set of laws than Israeli Jews.
Elusive Answers & Protests
The event had received plenty of criticism by progressives in the build up — both internally, within the Center for American Progress, and externally.
“I think it’s a terrible mistake,” Josh Ruebner of the U.S. Campaign to End the Israeli Occupation told ThinkProgress, speaking over chants of “No justice, no peace!”
He was among those gathered outside of the Center for American Progress building who protested the Netanyahu event.
“What we’re trying to do out here is make it clear that there’s no such thing as progressive except for Palestine any longer,” Ruebner said before claiming that Israel’s rights’ record made it a cause antithetical to progressive values.
He said that he was among a group of people who made this view known to senior CAP staffers last week when it handed a petition signed by more than 6,000 people to CAP Senior Vice President Winnie Stachelberg. The petition called on the liberal think tank to “disinvite” Netanyahu from speaking.
During an all-staff meeting on Friday, some CAP staff members stood in solidarity as a statement of their concerns was read to the general body in attendance.
Other observers defended the decision. “It makes no sense not to invite him,” Ghaith al-Omari, a senior fellow at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy told Buzzfeed. “We have been complaining for a while that Israel is a partisan issue. This is actually a good move to bring it back to a bipartisan space.”
While 7 in 10 Americans viewed Israel favorably in a poll conducted earlier this year, positive views of Palestinians have notably increased over time. More than one-third of Americans who identify as Democrats polled by Brookings said that they would vote in favor of a U.N. resolution on Palestinian statehood. Amid controversies around Netanyahu’s push against the Iran nuclear deal, the use of extreme force in the 2014 war in Gaza, and recent statements that demonize Palestinians at the expense of historical facts, the relationship between the Democratic Party and Israel has been strained.
“I think that in the coming year, politicians are going to see that they are completely out of line with the progressive base [in America],” Alana Krivo-Kaufman of Jewish Voices for Peace told ThinkProgress. “The progressive base is demanding that Israel’s policies and unending U.S. political and military aid for occupation of Palestinians is not in line with what the progressive majority believes and demands. I think that CAP is out of line with the progressive base and that’s why we’re here.”