Palestinians have "no right whatsoever" to establish a state in the West Bank and Gaza Strip declared a brash, cocksure 28-year-old Israeli economic consultant by the name of Ben Nitay during a 1978 debate in historic Faneuil Hall in Boston. The debate, episode #502 in WGBH's series "The Advocates," asked: "Should the United States Support 'Self-Determination' for Palestinians in a Middle East Peace Settlement?" Nitay objected strenuously, arguing that Palestinians are part of a larger Arab nation, undeserving of recognition as a separate people entitled to statehood. The television audience overwhelmingly agreed with him: of the nearly 8,000 votes received from viewers of the program, 77 percent opposed Palestinian self-determination.
Fast-forward 37 years to today. Nitay's jet black hair has turned greyish-white, his trim physique has become slightly paunchy, and his shortened Americanized moniker has returned to its original, full-length Hebrew form: Binyamin Netanyahu, the current prime minister of Israel, reelected earlier this year to a fourth term, tying the record of Israel's founding prime minister David Ben-Gurion. Should Netanyahu serve out the remainder of his term--an unlikely occurrence in Israel's fractious and unstable parliament--he will become the longest-serving Israeli prime minister in history.
Time has not mellowed his persona. Netanyahu has lost none of the self-assurance, even arrogance, which characterized his performance in Boston. But while Netanyahu clings to his decades-old retrograde views with remarkable persistency, his presiding over a regime which continues to deny Palestinian self-determination is no longer palatable as it once was.
In fact, the numbers today are nearly the mirror opposite of what they were in 1978. A public opinion poll conducted by Shibley Telhami for Brookings in December 2014 found that 73 percent of Americans favor either Palestinian statehood in the West Bank and Gaza or one state with equal citizenship for Israeli Jews and Palestinians. And if a two-state resolution is rendered moot by Israel's ongoing illegal colonization of the Palestinian West Bank and East Jerusalem, 66 percent of Americans support equality. Only 32 percent favor perpetual Israeli apartheid through indefinite military occupation or annexation of Palestinian land without Palestinians receiving citizenship rights. Simply put: while Ben Nitay may have won the debate in 1978, Binyamin Netanyahu has lost the debate in 2015.
The ignominious final demise of the U.S.-brokered "peace process" has made Israel's ongoing denial of Palestinian self-determination even more untenable. Secretary of State John Kerry testified before Congress that there existed at the most a two-year window of opportunity for establishing a Palestinian state. That statement was made in April 2013, before his futile, last-ditch efforts flopped. After Kerry's window closed, Netanyahu slammed the door shut, declaring in March that no Palestinian state would ever be established on his watch.
With the façade of an always-promised, never-delivered two-state resolution now irreparably demolished, Israel has nothing left to cover its naked brutality and excuse its cruelty. Israel's devastating attack on Palestinians in Gaza last summer, its recent shoot-to-kill, live-fire regulations against protestors in the West Bank, its vigilantism in beating, gunning down or lynching Palestinians (or Eritrean asylum seekers, or even Israeli Jews who are perceived to be Palestinian) on the street who are suspected of attacking Israelis all point to a state and society run amok. Zionism's more than century-long stranglehold over historic Palestine and its 19th century ethos of imposing an exclusivist state for a minority settler-colonial population to the detriment of the majority indigenous population is unraveling.
An isolated Israel, with its back against the wall, whose pariah status increases by the day as the Palestinian civil society-led campaign for boycott, divestment and sanctions chalks up more victories, is a fraught Israel. It is only against this backdrop of Israel's--and Netanyahu's--growing desperation to salvage the Jewish State that one can fathom the audaciousness of the Israeli prime minister's spectacularly risible assertion last week that the Grand Mufti of Jerusalem, Haj Amin al-Husseini, was responsible for convincing Adolf Hitler to exterminate the Jewish people. Never mind that Hitler spelled out his anti-Jewish bigotry in Mein Kampf sixteen years before meeting with al-Husseini, or that the Nazis' mass slaughter of Jewish people commenced months before Hitler's one hour-long tête-à-tête with the Palestinian leader.
Blaming Palestinians for the Holocaust is the pinnacle of Israeli incitement, the ultimate pretext for unleashing ever-greater ferocity against them. Netanyahu's demonization and vilification of Palestinians is meant to provoke and justify an all-out, culminating battle. As Noam Sheizaf notes, the only reason Netanyahu--the son a history professor--would make this absurd claim is "to illustrate that it is impossible to negotiate, or even speak with, the other side--that they must be fought to the bloody end. That is the historical context and significance of comparing somebody to the Nazis." While many Israelis took to social media to jocularly heap scorn on Netanyahu's historical buffoonery, the prime minister is no fool. His desperation must be taken with utmost seriousness.