''Israel Needs Peace, Not Settlements''

Despite growing international criticism, Israel is pressing ahead with the construction of new settlements in and around Jerusalem. In this interview with Diana Hodali, peace activist Uri Avnery says that the current Israeli government does not actually want a two-state solution, regardless of what it says

By Diana Hodali

After the Palestinians were granted observer status by the United Nations, Israel announced its intention to step up the construction of settlements. Is this announcement Israel's response to the UN's decision?

Uri Avnery: No, that has very little to do with it. This government wants to build more and more settlements - not only for ideological reasons, but also for domestic policy reasons. The biggest threat to the Netanyahu government comes from the political right, not the left. And that's why he's afraid to lose voters to the right-wing party "The Jewish Home", which is led by the young new leader Naftali Bennet. Netanyahu has to show that he is no less extreme than this new political figure. The UN decision is just an excuse.

So you are saying that Prime Minister Netanyahu is hunting for votes for the January 2013 elections?

Avnery: Yes, definitely. The announcement has nothing to do with whether the houses will actually be built or not. That depends on how much pressure there will be from the US and Europe. But announcing it doesn't cost anything, and it causes a great big fuss around the world.

The United Nations has condemned the settlements quite harshly this time, as has Germany. The US, though, has been rather restrained. Does any of this impress the Israeli government?

Avnery: What the Europeans do certainly doesn't impress Netanyahu. But he wouldn't be able to ignore real pressure from the US. But it doesn't look like Washington will do more than just say a few words to Israel. They've said that the announcement to build more settlements is not good for peace.

President Barack Obama (right) and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu (photo: Pablo Martinez Monsivais/AP/dapd)
According to Uri Avnery, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu (left) does not feel under any pressure from the United States. Although Washington has described the announcement that Israel intends to build more settlements as unhelpful, it is likely that this is the only reaction Israel can expect from the US

​​But President Barack Obama is busy with other things than the Middle East. It doesn't look like he is going to change his Middle East policy in his second term. There won't be anything beyond words, and in reality, he won't do anything to help the Palestinians get their own state.

Israel keeps stressing that it wants a two-state solution. How does that fit with the plans to build new settlements?

Avnery: The Americans and the Europeans ignore this fact because they don't want to deal with Israel. In the case of the US, it's because of the massive influence of the pro-Israel lobby. But this lobby doesn't help the real interests of Israel, only the interests of a right-wing government.

It must be clear to every sensible person that Israel needs peace, not settlements; peace with the Palestinians and with the rest of the Arab world. Anyone who doesn't see this doesn't care about the actual interests of Israel, but seeks to annex the West Bank and the Gaza Strip. If someone says they want Israel to encompass the entire area from the Mediterranean to the Jordan River, then any further discussion is pointless. If that's what you want, you are certainly not interested in a two-state solution.

Does that mean that the Israeli government is not interested in a two-state solution?

Avnery: You can basically forget about the words "two-state solution". This government doesn't want a two-state solution. There's one thing that's always being overlooked. We have two Arab parties today: Fatah, which wants peace with Israel, and Hamas, which doesn't. The Israeli government is undermining Fatah and the Palestinian National Authority at every opportunity and in so doing, it is indirectly strengthening Hamas.

Construction site of an Israeli settlement in East Jerusalem (photo: dapd)
Uri Avnery says that the settlements announced by the Israeli government may never in fact be built and that the announcement is in all likelihood designed to attract voters in the upcoming elections

​​Does the Israeli government see itself as being under international pressure?

Avnery: No, it doesn't. The government is long since accustomed to being harshly criticized by other countries. But if it ends there and if the criticism is not followed up by any action, then Israel doesn't feel any pressure at all. What pressure is the European Union putting on Israel? None at all.

What do you think should be done?

Avnery: The political rhetoric has to be followed up by political action. Because neither the US nor Europe ever do anything after criticizing Israel, the Israeli right has gotten ever stronger. This is also weakening the Israeli peace movement. We will see in the upcoming election just how weak the Israeli peace movement has become.

Interview conducted by Diana Hodali

© Deutsche Welle 2012

Uri Avnery is an Israeli journalist, author and peace activist. He was a member of the Knesset for three terms.

Editor: Sonya Diehn/Deutsche Welle, Aingeal Flanagan/Qantara.de