Backtracking, bluster and baloney

Palestinians in Gaza have used cooking gas to power cars when Israel cut gasoline supplies (Ibraheem Abu Mustafa - Reuters)

Omar Karmi

The Electronic Intifada  /  July 22, 2020

Apparently, the phrase “all mouth and no trousers” originated in the north of England to describe a particularly boastful male whose talk could not match his ability.

It is suggested that the idiom may well have started out life as “all mouth and trousers,” suggesting that this had first to do with sexual prowess and once the words and clothing were stripped away there was little of merit left.

In America, the expression morphed (splendidly) into “big hat and no cattle.”

Which is all a roundabout way of saying that both Israelis and Palestinians appear to be led by trouserless cowboys.

Blowing cover

Israel’s prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, is the more obvious blowhard. He promised to give a state stamp of approval to the theft of already occupied Palestinian land by “annexing” up to 30 percent of the West Bank.

But he didn’t. At least he hasn’t. Yet.

But that’s not the main point. Obvious bluster is saying you will do something and then not follow through. He’s guilty of that, sure. But, and perhaps most unforgivably for those who have made careers from championing Israel as a “beacon of democracy” in a “tough neighbourhood,” or some such gibberish, Netanyahu has blown Israel’s cover with his baloney.

After all, what Israel does best, it does quietly.

Whenever a missile strikes a neighbouring country, a fire mysteriously devours a factory, someone is assassinated in a lonely hotel room, or the talk turns to who in the region has weapons of mass destruction, Israel’s standard response is to neither confirm nor deny.

It’s a win-win strategy. If you’ve done it and broken international law in blatant acts of war or disregard for nuclear proliferation treaties, you can hold up your hands and say: it wasn’t me.

If you haven’t, people still believe you have, thus acting as the ultimate in cheap deterrent.

Thus, for 50 years Israel has quietly yet quite visibly annexed more and more occupied land, building an entire infrastructure of settlements specifically to prevent the emergence of any independent entity there.

These settlements are based on plans that not only predate the 1967 occupation of the West Bank and Gaza, but predate the very founding of the state of Israel. All this proves, irrefutably, that Israel was never serious about a two-state solution, any “peace process,” or indeed cared a jot for Palestinian aspirations.

It’s all good, as long as you don’t make it public.

Prevailing winds

On the Palestinian side, the problem is one arising from timidity and a lack of imagination.

It has long been apparent even to those who were signatories – most notably Mahmoud Abbas, head of the Palestinian Authority and its ruling party, Fatah – that the Oslo process was a failure.

Yet the Palestinian leadership in the West Bank continued using the same language in the same manner for the same goal.

There have been some changes of approach. Rather than wait for negotiations to allow it, the PA went to the United Nations to seek statehood, in 2012 winning limited recognition by an overwhelming margin in the General Assembly.

This in turn has allowed it to join the International Criminal Court and add a new dimension to its diplomacy.

At home, the PA is a half-functioning statelet, claiming some successes in the fields of education and innovation. But the PA is exhibiting an ever-increasing autocratic bent whenever challenged about its lack of strategy or, indeed, watermelons.

More importantly, its reason for existing – to become a full-fledged state – has been undermined at every turn. Annexation would have been the formal verification that such ambition was simply no longer possible.

PA officials and envoys made that point strongly and vociferously. Abbas announced that agreements previously signed with Israel were null and void, including the much-loathed security coordination.

Indeed, they also made the broader point that, actually, annexation was simply a distraction from ending occupation.

However, just as it seemed the Palestinian message was getting through, senior officials began backtracking. In fact, they began backtracking almost from the start with one senior official making clear that while the PA had ended security coordination – the cornerstone, from an Israeli perspective, of the Oslo accords – its security forces would continue to operate as if it hadn’t.

Same old

Now, the PA is ready again for negotiations with Israel, even though there has been no climb-down from the Israeli government, only an unexplained delay.

Why? Is the timing propitious? Yes, large parts of the world – with the very notable exception of the US, where President Donald Trump came up with a plan offering Israel the land it was going to annex – have objected to the unilateral move.

But world countries offered no actionable course to prevent it, suggesting the PA’s message had only made a minor impact.

The Israeli climb-down has less to do with diplomatic condemnation that was never likely to be followed by real sanction, and more to do with a global pandemic re-spiking in the country, and that is also playing havoc with a US administration looking ahead to a November election.

The point is the time has gone for the kind of two-state compromise to which the PA clings. Israel never wanted it and long worked to undermine it. The world pays only lip service.

With even Jordan beginning to think outside of that particular box, it is time Palestinian leaders started showing some credible creativity.

Omar Karmi is an associate editor for The Electronic Intifada and former Jerusalem and Washington, DC, correspondent for The National newspaper