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Maverick Interview: Ben-Dror Yemini: West Bank settlements cast doubt on Netanyahu’s intentions

Veteran Israeli political journalist Ben-Dror Yemini says West Bank Jewish settlements undermine confidence that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu really wants a two-state solution. But he also believes the settlements don’t matter in the end because Palestinian leaders claim the right of return of all Palestinians to Israel.

Veteran Israeli political journalist Ben-Dror Yemini believes that by allowing Israeli settlements to be established on the West Bank, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is undermining confidence that he really believes in a two-state solution to the conflict with Palestine.

It’s so counterproductive to the image of Israel. It shows bad faith. You can’t support a two-state solution when you support settlements,” he said in an interview in Johannesburg in June 2018.

He also suggested it was not helpful that some of the settlements on the West Bank were being built beyond the big blocks of Jewish settlements which were to be transferred to Israel under the 2000 Clinton peace plan and the 2003 Geneva peace plan.

But Yemini also suggested that the settlements wouldn’t really make a difference in the end anyway because the Palestinian authorities demand the right of return to Israel for all the Palestinians now living in refugee camps in neighbouring countries. And that was not going to happen because Israel would then cease to exist, he said.

Yemini, who mainly writes for the mainstream Hebrew newspaper Yedioth Ahronoth, is considered by some as a conservative but insists he is a peacenik, though disillusioned by the failure of Palestinian leaders to grasp the two-state solutions Israel has offered them over the years. He refers particularly to US President Bill Clinton’s last-gasp December 2000 mediation when Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak offered Yasser Arafat, then leader of the Palestinian Liberation Organisation, “a viable Palestinian state on more than 90 percent of the West Bank (and all of Gaza) plus East Jerusalem as its capital. This was what the peace camp had been fighting for for years. But Arafat said no.”

His disillusionment had begun earlier when he claims Arafat stated – while on a visit to South Africa in the late 1990s as it happened – that he had not meant it when he had accepted a two-state solution by signing the 1993 Oslo peace agreement. Arafat said his signing of the accord was “hudaibiya” – a deliberate and acceptable deception for tactical advantage, according to Yemini.

Yemini was visiting South Africa as a guest of the Jewish community mainly to talk about his book Industry of Lies in which he tackles what he regards as the systematic misrepresentation of Israel’s positions.

He says the current Palestinian leadership is continuing to reject what he presents as an uncomplicated solution.

Most decent people know it’s two states for two peoples.”

Israel should withdraw from 94% to 96% of the West Bank, as stipulated in the Clinton plan, he said.

Former US President Barack Obama offered this to current PLO leader Mahmoud Abbas but he also refused, Yemini said.

They wanted the right of return – which would mean Israel would cease to exist.”

In the face of this impasse, Yemini says that Israel should hand over the control of all functions in the West Bank to the Palestinian Authority – except for security. This would be different from Gaza, where Israel pulled out completely, allowing Hamas to take over.

Yemini said even though Hamas did not enjoy majority support on the West Bank, “if you have just 10% of jihadists, they will take over. To prevent that happening again (as in Gaza), give them everything but security.”

If the Palestinians also took over security, “it will be more like Somalia or Libya than Tunisia because there are so many differences among them”.

Yemini is saddened by the ANC’s decision to downgrade relations with Israel – a decision that has not yet been implemented – saying it is based on ignorance of the realities of the conflict in the Middle East. He cited the Department of International Relations and Co-operation’s statement in April 2018 which called for Israel to withdraw from Gaza, when it had actually done that in 2005.

And the siege is only continuing because Hamas continues to launch rockets at Israel,” he said, adding that Israel had offered to lift the siege if Hamas agreed to stop firing rockets.

Pretoria’s statement was mainly intended to condemn Israel for the killing of demonstrators trying to cross from Gaza into Israel which Yemini said was a “terrible” incident.

But he added that most South Africans didn’t know that the demonstrations had not been peaceful, that some demonstrators had carried Swastikas and chanted “Death to the Jews”, and that Hamas, the government of Gaza, had called on them to kill Jews.

It was not peaceful demonstrations. It was people sent by Hamas to achieve the right of return (of Palestinians) to Israel, which they won’t get.

I don’t have a right of return to Yemen,” Yemini added, saying his family were among the many Jews who were thrown out of that country, and many other Arab countries.

He also dismisses the branding of Israel as an apartheid state by the Boycott, Disinvest and Sanctions (BDS) organisation in South Africa.

He says one cannot imagine that during the apartheid era, a black South African judge could have condemned a white former president to seven years in prison, as an Arab Israeli judge had condemned and sentenced former Israeli President Moshe Katsav in 2011 (for raping an aide in the late 1990s)

Yemini says BDS and the Israeli Right have something in common – both want a one-state solution to the Israel-Palestine conflict. DM

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