Bibi becomes victim of Israel’s radical right

Twenty years after Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu led the campaign of incitement against the “Oslo criminals,” he has become a victim of the same messianic political movement that he nurtured.

al-monitor Benjamin Netanyahu looks at the Dome of the Rock in the compound known to Muslims as al-Haram al-Sharif, and to Jews as Temple Mount, in Jerusalem's Old City, Feb. 2, 2009.  Photo by REUTERS/Ronen Zvulun.

Topics covered

temple mount, settlements, right wing, peace process, judea and samaria, israel, benjamin netanyahu

Feb 26, 2014

It may be pure coincidence, but a thick black line binds together the murder of 29 Palestinian worshipers by the settler Baruch Goldstein at the Cave of the Patriarchs in Hebron on Feb. 25, 1994, and the debate held on Feb. 25 on a proposal to impose Israeli sovereignty on the Temple Mount.

In the week that Goldstein left his home in the settlement of Kiryat Arba for his bloody killing spree, the Israel Defense Forces (IDF) was making the final preparations for the withdrawal from the Gaza Strip and Jericho. Giant banners appeared on Israel’s roads: “Stop Oslo” and “Oslo Criminals to Court.” Documents that fell into the hands of the IDF during the 2002 Operation Defensive Shield showed that following the 1994 massacre in Hebron, the Hamas religious leadership lifted its objection to suicide attacks. Until then, all suicide attacks were carried out solely by members of Islamic Jihad. The wave of suicide attacks that ensued completely eroded the Israeli public’s belief in the Oslo Accord.

While Knesset member Moshe Feiglin, leader of the ultra-hawkish wing of the Likud Party, this week was instigating his explosive proposal to change the status quo on the Temple Mount, US Secretary of State John Kerry’s team was putting the finishing touches on the framework for a permanent arrangement with the Palestinians. That same day, riots broke out at the volatile site. A police force rushed into the compound and threw shock grenades toward the demonstrators. More restrained demonstrations at the site, which do not make the news in Israel, have become a matter of routine.

The night before, Feiglin uploaded a clip onto his Facebook page showing him walking on the Temple Mount for the first time since he was sworn into the Knesset, he said. As if Feiglin hadn’t done enough to buttress the rumor running through the Palestinian street that the Israeli government was planning to assume control of the Temple Mount, the Israeli daily Haaretz brought additional “good tidings” to the Muslim street. The paper reported that the running of the archeological park next to the Temple Mount, which is holy to both religions, would be handed over to Elad, the right-wing nongovernmental organization.

The park includes the southern section of the Western Wall, the Robinson Arch, stones from the Temples’ destruction, the Herodian street and the “place of trumpeting” (the corner of the Temple Mount on which the trumpet blowers stood during the time of the Temple), as well as structural remains from the Islamic period. The Palestinians consider Elad the long arm of the government, which has set itself the goal to “Judaize” Jerusalem’s Old City and its environs.

Following the massacre at the Cave of the Patriarchs, then Attorney-General Michael Ben-Yair, Minister Yossi Sarid and Deputy Minister Yossi Beilin urged late Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin to evacuate the residents of Hebron’s Jewish quarter. The prime minister opted to impose a curfew on Palestinian Hebron to prevent acts of revenge. In a speech to the Knesset, Rabin said, “No political movement, secular or religious, no power group, will dare lay a hand on the democracy here.” He promised that his government would "not allow anyone to squeeze the blackmail trigger and use fallacious messianic claims to determine and change its policy.” Subsequently, Rabin’s assassin, Yigal Amir, said that his decision to squeeze the trigger took hold during Goldstein’s funeral.

Six months after the assassination, Benjamin Netanyahu ousted Shimon Peres from the prime minister’s office, broke into the Western Wall tunnel, established the neighborhood of Har Homa across the Green Line and completely eroded the belief of the Palestinian public in the Oslo Accord.

This time, the power bloc is raising its head from within the prime minister’s political home. Last week, the Hebrew and English-language Israeli media ran huge ads, signed by 21 coalition Knesset members, who threatened Netanyahu that a decision to freeze construction in the settlements, even if only in isolated ones, would be a “point of no return.” Among the signatories were 12 members of the ruling Likud-Beitenu faction, including Deputy Foreign Minister Zeev Elkin, Deputy Minister in the Prime Minister’s Office Ofir Akunis, who was once Netanyahu’s personal spokesman, Deputy Defense Minister Danny Danon, Deputy Transport Minister Tzipi Hotovely and Deputy Interior Minister Faina Kirshenbaum.

In the absence of parliamentary opposition from the right, members of the government have also taken a frontline stand against the official policy of their own government: a two-state solution and commitment to the Oslo Accord. On Feb. 13, Likud-Beitenu Agriculture Minister Yair Shamir and Transport Minister Yisrael Katz, as well as Housing Minister Uri Ariel of HaBayit HaYehudi, took part in a protest march in the controversial E1 area, bordering the town settlement of Ma’ale Adumim.

According to an official announcement published in advance of the march, it was designed to “declare in a loud and clear voice: the land of Israel belongs in its entirety to the people of Israel! This, while demanding the establishment of new settlements; awakening broad public support for activity for the sake of the land of Israel; showing members of the government that there is a sizable public loyal to the land of Israel, which backs them so that they don’t give in to pressure and out of a desire to have them, too, join the call for continued settlement and the establishment of new settlements.”

Katz announced during the march that “there must be construction in E1, and anyone who opposes this is opposed to the Ma’ale Adumim block being a part of the State of Israel, and let them not tell stories. One land, one state, strong and united, with Judea, Samaria and Hebron.” Danon told Israeli radio Channel 7, “There is great significance to this event which draws senior members of the Knesset and coalition and tells the prime minister that there are things to which we will not agree.” Danon, deputy to Defense Minister Moshe "Bogie" Ya’alon — who labeled Kerry “obsessive and messianic" — expressed certainty that Washington, too, was following the march and taking note of the makeup of its participants.

Twenty years after Netanyahu led the incitement campaign against the “Oslo criminals,” he has become a victim of that same messianic political movement that he nurtured. And perhaps, when he sits down next week in the Oval Office across from President Barack Obama, all the prime minister will want to say is, “You see who I have to deal with?” Let us hope that the leader of the greatest democracy will answer the guest from the little democracy thus: “I’m sick of these stories. A leader who has truly set reaching a peace agreement at the top of his priority list would have fired there and then the recalcitrant ministers and deputy ministers.”

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