Netanyahu rips the mask off Israel's deception

British-Hungarian journalist Arthur Koestler described the controversial 1917 Balfour Declaration, which favored the establishment of a Jewish homeland in Palestine, as "one nation promising another nation the land of a third nation." Three years short of a century after the declaration, Britain is on the verge of coming full circle. On Oct. 13, the British Parliament, with the support of the Labor Party and a growing number of Conservative members of Parliament, is due to vote on whether to recognize the state of Palestine.

If Britain recognizes Palestine, it will be the third European country to do so, part of a growing momentum worldwide to actively support the Palestinian cause for statehood and independence. Spain was the first European country to recognize Palestine in 2011 and, much more significantly, on Friday, Sweden announced that it would recognize the state of Palestine, too.

Nothing more exemplified the gulf between the Israeli government's lip service to a two-state solution and its actions on the ground designed to pre-empt that possibility completely than the surreal visit last week of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to the White House and his speech at the United Nations.

Following a typical Netanyahu strategy of announcing major provocative settlement construction on the eve of a visit to the United States, for the second time in four years, new settlement plans were announced on the eve of an official Israeli government visit to the United States. The Israeli government approved a plan to build 2,610 housing units in occupied Arab East Jerusalem's Givat Hamatos settlement.

This particular project would completely cut off East Jerusalem from Bethlehem and its natural West Bank hinterland. It further asserts Israel's illegal and internationally rejected claim to all of Jerusalem as its "eternal and undivided capital." Jerusalem is one of the final status issues to be negotiated over, and pre-emptive moves such as this reveal to the world Israel's true intentions.

In Haaretz, Israel's largest English-language daily, an editorial blasted Netanyahu as a leader who "is not (and apparently never was) aiming for a two-state solution."

"The world, including the United States, is losing patience in the face of Israel's policy of deception," it said. Such deception, the editors predicted, will "ultimately sabotage the practical aspects of Israel's relationship with Washington as well."

Using unusually blunt language, White House spokesperson Josh Earnest expressed the deep concern of the United States and noted that the step was contrary to Israel's stated goal of a negotiated political agreement with the Palestinians. More surprisingly, Earnest said the settlement plan would "distance Israel from even its closest allies," a less-than-disguised reference to the United States.

The European Union followed suit on Friday, describing Israel's settlement plan as representing "a further highly detrimental step that undermines prospects for a two-state solution and calls into question Israel's commitment to a peaceful negotiated settlement with the Palestinians."

Contemptuous of the predictable world reaction to the new settlement plan, Netanyahu attempted to play on the fears that the Islamic State group and Iran's nuclear program have instilled in Arab Gulf nations to conjure up an illusory "commonality of interests between Israel and leading Arab states." Many royal Gulf heads must have been shaking in disbelief at the richness of that statement.

To add insult to injury, Netanyahu flat out denied the Israeli occupation of the West Bank, saying in a speech at the United Nations, "The people of Israel are not occupiers in the land of Israel."

Slowly, incrementally, the international community, and now even the United States, is inching toward a re-evaluation of leaving all issues related to Palestinian statehood for Israeli and Palestinians to negotiate among themselves. The imbalance of power is too great between the sides to permit a true negotiation. The disparity allows Israel to continue actions undermining the possibility of a sovereign Palestinian state while claiming it has no partner for peace.

The future will bring increasingly unilateral steps by the international community to create change, beginning with governments officially recognizing the state of Palestine, as we witnessed this week. The next logical step is for the United States to spell out as official U.S. policy the parameters of a final settlement akin to those agreed upon at Taba in 2001.

[Jesuit Fr. Drew Christiansen is former editor of America magazine and a professor of ethics at Georgetown University. Ra'fat Aldajani is a Palestinian-American writer and commentator.]

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