Jerusalem Post’s analyst talks to AIJAC

October 2, 2020 by J-Wire News Service
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Jerusalem Post senior contributing editor and analyst Herb Keinon began the Australia/Israel & Jewish Affairs Council’s (AIJAC’s) latest webinar, on “20 years on from the Second Intifada,” by calling the Intifada a watershed event in Israeli history that has shaped a generation, and will shape the next generation as well.

Herb Keinon

He explained, “To understand Israel today, to understand so much of what the country does, to understand its political turn to the right, why it has voted time and time and time again for Benjamin Netanyahu, why it has no confidence right now in the Palestinians…that is to understand the strain and the pressure that everyone in this country encountered or laboured under during that period of the Intifada…”

He added that it was “hatched by [Yasser] Arafat”, and Israel changed fundamentally as a result. The Right has dominated elections since. In 1992, when Yitzhak Rabin became PM, Left Zionist parties Labor and Meretz between them had 56 out of 120 Knesset seats. In March this year, the two parties, in the coalition, gained only seven.

As to why he said the “country was mugged by reality” due to the “mind-numbing terrorism”. Anyone who travelled anywhere in Israel experienced fear. Previously, people had felt safe in their cities. There were 1,053 Israelis killed, which would equate to 3,113 Australians in four years.

Keinon said that in March 2002, the worst month, when 130 Israelis were killed, he was doing reserve duty with the Israeli army on the border with Syria, and felt he was safer than was his daughter catching the bus to school in Jerusalem.

He continued, “I live in an average apartment building…there’s 12 units…the person I bought my apartment from was killed in a drive-by shooting during this period. The first cleaning woman we ever had, an immigrant from Russia, was killed in a suicide bombing in Jerusalem. The next-door neighbour’s nephew was hurt badly in an attack in Petach-Tikvah near Tel Aviv. The upstair neighbour’s nephew was a soldier. He was killed in Hebron. A co-worker of mine at the Jerusalem Post was hurt badly trying to get to work at the Post on a bus.

“This just illustrates that the terror was real, it was immediate, it affected everybody, it coloured everything and it continues to colour everything…any time we have rockets going off or terror attacks or stabbings, it can re-ignite that trauma.”

He added that more Israelis were killed than in the 1956 Sinai Campaign, the 2006 Lebanon War or even the Six Day War. It changed Israelis’ views about what the Government should do and what risks it should take for peace. Recent polls show that despite all his problems, Netanyahu would still get the most votes today, because he creates the sense that people are safer when he is in power.

He explained that the Intifada also “disabused many Israelis of the idea…that you’re going to be able to reach an agreement with the Palestinians at all, and it created a sense in the minds of millions of Israelis that there is simply nobody on the other side to talk to. Why? Because the…worst terror violence Israel ever experienced came after it gave the Palestinians control over large swaths of the West Bank and Gaza, after it allowed Arafat back into the territories, after Ehud Barak at Camp David gave the Palestinians the most generous offer an Israeli prime minister had given…”

Now, he said, even Israelis who support Oslo doubt its feasibility. Another lesson Israelis have learnt is that if they don’t control the territories, they can’t control the terrorism – the terrorism only abated when Israeli forces went back into the territories.

Paradoxically, he says, it cured Israelis’ fear of another intifada, because the IDF gained control, so they now think they could handle another one.  The region had also watched as Israel left Lebanon a few months previously, with Hezbollah leader Hasan Nasrallah saying that Israel was like a spider web – if you blew hard enough, it would disappear. Arafat believed this too, but the message from the Intifada was that if Israel is pushed too far, it will push back very hard.

The bill of goods the Israeli Left is trying to sell, Keinon said, doesn’t resonate, because the people don’t believe Israeli concessions will lead to peace, and since the Intifada, the Palestinians have done nothing to dispel that opinion. Israelis, he said, realised the conflict wouldn’t just end, so instead should be managed.

He said the Abraham Accords are very significant, because Israel is now not isolated. A downside could be the US sale of F-35 aircraft to the UAE, but he doesn’t believe this will change Israel’s qualitative military advantage. Other Arab countries that make peace with Israel may also get US arms, but, he said, the US won’t endanger Israel’s security. The “enormous” advantages include that “it strengthens the whole camp of stability in the region” and that “it takes the whole teeth out of the argument that [Israel] can’t do anything with the region unless you have peace with the Palestinians.”

 

On Europe, he noted that while the European Union is pro-Palestinian and has created the illusion that it will deliver Israel, various Europe countries have a different perspective. He doesn’t see the EU changing its view despite the UAE and Bahrain agreements, which, he said, is a pity because “if the Palestinians would get some kind of pressure from the EU instead of the EU reflexively backing them on all their demands, that might allow them to be a bit more compromising and flexible.”

Israel’s problem with fighting the coronavirus, he said, is that its measures are based on political rather than health considerations. On internal Palestinian politics, he wouldn’t bet on the latest agreement between Fatah and Hamas being any more successful than previous attempts.

On internal Israeli politics, he explained that Netanyahu has till the end of December to  trigger a new election rather than let Benny Ganz become PM, by refusing to agree on a Budget. Keinon wouldn’t be surprised if Netanyahu does this, but it may depend on the polls, which earlier this year had Naftali Bennett, to Netanyahu’s Right, doing very well.

On the Palestinian view of the Intifada 20 years later, he said they now realise Israel can’t be pushed too far, and that they would lose more from a repeat than Israel would, without achieving their aims. Calls from Palestinian leaders for the people to come out on the streets for a “day of rage” are now largely ignored, because the people don’t trust the leadership.

He also noted that as difficult as life can be for the Palestinians, with checkpoints and so on, most would still think they have much better daily lives than their fellow Arabs in neighbouring countries.

Keinon noted that most Israelis would say Donald Trump has been very good for Israel, moving the US Embassy to Jerusalem, leaving the JCPOA nuclear deal with Iran, recognising the Golan Heights as part of Israel, supporting Israel at the UN and facilitating the agreements with the UAE and Bahrain.

That said, he added that of all the Democratic candidates for the presidency, Joe Biden and Kamala Harris were the two friendliest to Israel, and see it as the “good guy”, unlike many others in the party. There won’t be the same level of support for Israel under a Biden presidency though, but the extent depends on the influence of the party’s progressive wing, and who is National Security Advisor and Secretary of State.

However, he added, the US-Israel relationship is so strong and deep that it transcends any one person, and while the tone may change, US support for Israel will not.

AIJAC

 

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