This will do little to help U.S.-Israeli relations.
There is one video Binyamin Netanyahu, the Israeli prime minister, must be praying never gets posted on YouTube with English subtitles. To date, the 10-minute segment has been broadcast only in Hebrew on Israel’s Channel 10. [Editor’s note: A version of the Natanyahu video with English subtitles is now available and can be viewed, together with the translated English transcript, here.]
Its contents, however, threaten to gravely embarrass not only Mr Netanyahu but also the US administration of Barack Obama.
The film was shot, apparently without Mr Netanyahu’s knowledge, nine years ago, when the government of Ariel Sharon had started reinvading the main cities of the West Bank to crush Palestinian resistance in the early stages of the second intifada.
At the time Mr Netanyahu had taken a short break from politics but was soon to join Mr Sharon’s government as finance minister.
On a visit to a home in the settlement of Ofra in the West Bank to pay condolences to the family of a man killed in a Palestinian shooting attack, he makes a series of unguarded admissions about his first period as prime minister, from 1996 to 1999.
Seated on a sofa in the house, he tells the family that he deceived the US president of the time, Bill Clinton, into believing he was helping implement the Oslo accords, the US-sponsored peace process between Israel and the Palestinians, by making minor withdrawals from the West Bank while actually entrenching the occupation. He boasts that he thereby destroyed the Oslo process.
He dismisses the US as “easily moved to the right direction” and calls high levels of popular American support for Israel “absurd”.
He also suggests that, far from being defensive, Israel’s harsh military repression of the Palestinian uprising was designed chiefly to crush the Palestinian Authority led by Yasser Arafat so that it could be made more pliable for Israeli diktats.
Here’s the video (the transcript is below the fold).
When Ariel Sharon ordered the invasion of the West Bank, he wanted to destroy the Palestinian Authority as an entity. That’s why the Israeli troops removed all their computers and dismantled their police stations. They wanted to make it so that Arafat couldn’t govern effectively. For eight years the international community had worked to help Arafat build the tools he would need for eventual self-governance. After the invasion, almost all of that progress had been destroyed. This is one of the keys to understanding the behavior of Israel’s behavior under both Sharon and Netanyahu’s leadership.
The Second Intifada has a horrendous campaign, indefensible, in my mind, on any level. But the response to it was to destroy hope itself and leave the Palestinians with no path forward.
In this video clip, Netanyahu makes clear that he has no intention of making a peace that would be ‘a march to the 1967 borders’ or anything remotely resembling that. He also shows contempt for Americans, calling our 80% support of Israel ‘absurd.’
[Binyamin Netanyahu] Turn off the camera so that we can elaborate on this.
[Narrator]: A few minutes later… the camera is turned on again and Netanyahu begins to speak without quotation marks and without masks.
[Netanyahu] Now we’re beginning to understand the meaning of the slogan “Yesha Zeikan Judea, Samaria and Azza are here”. Yesha is everywhere, what is the difference?
What does Arafat want? He wants one big settlement [implies Palestinians see all of Israel as a settlement].
[Woman] Yes that’s what my daughter-in-law who came from England says [i.e. they, the Palestinians, see Tel Aviv as a settlement also].
[Natanyahu] Tel Aviv is also a settlement. From their [Palestinians] point of view, our territorial waters are also theirs. The fact is that they want us in the sea. Over there… [gestures] in the distant water.
The Arabs now are preparing for a campaign [or war] of terror, and they think that this will break us.
The main thing is, first and foremost, to hit them hard. Not just one hit… but many painful [hits], so that the price will be unbearable. The price is not unbearable, now. A total assault on the Palestinian Authority. To bring them to a state of panic that everything is collapsing … fear that everything will collapse… this is what we’ll bring them to…
[Woman interrupts] But wait a minute, at that point the whole world will say “What are you occupiers”…
[Natanyahu interrupts] The world will say nothing. The world will say that we are defending ourselves.
[Woman] Aren’t you afraid of the world Bibi?
[Natanyahu] No. Especially now, with America, I know what America is. America is a thing that can be easily moved, moved in the right direction. They [the Americans] will not bother us. Let’s suppose that they [the Americans] will say something [i.e. to us Israelis]… so they say it… [so what?] Eighty per cent of the Americans support us. It’s absurd! We have such [great] support there! And we say… what shall we do with this [support]?
Look, the other administration [that of Bill Clinton] was pro-Palestinian in an extreme way. I was not afraid to manoeuvre there. I did not fear confrontation with Clinton. I was not afraid to clash with the UN. As it is, I am paying the price in the international arena… So I might as well receive something of equal value in exchange.
[Child] But never mind that. We gave them things, and we can’t take them back. Because they won’t give them back to us.
[Natanyahu, gestures to let child speak] First of all, Oslo is a system [or package of things]. You’re right… I do not know what can and cannot be taken back [from the Palestinians]
[Woman] He [the child] has political opinions, believe me.
[Natanyahu] He’s right.
[Woman] He said such things to Arik Sharon that I told him: that’s not – that’s not a child’s opinion. The Oslo accords are a disaster.
[Natanyahu] Yes, I know that and you know that… but the people need to know
[Woman] Right. But I thought that the prime minister did know, and that he’d do everything so that, somehow, not to do critical things, like handing over Hebron, that…
What were the Oslo accords? The Oslo accords, which the Knesset signed, I was asked, before the elections: “Will you act according to them?” and I answered: “Yes, subject to reciprocity and limiting the withdrawals.” But how do you limit the withdrawals? I interpret the accords in such a way that will enable me to stop this rush towards the 1967 borders. [So] how do we do it?
[Narrator] The Oslo accords stated at the time that Israel would gradually hand over territories to the Palestinians in three different stages, unless the territories in question had settlements or military sites. This is where Netanyahu found a loophole.
[Natanyahu] No one said what defined military sites. Defined military sites, I said, were security zones. As far as I’m concerned, the Jordan Valley is a defined military site.
[Woman] Right [laughs]. The Beit She’an settlements. The Beit She’an Valley.
[Natanyahu] How can you tell. How can you tell? But then the question came up of just who would define what defined military sites were. I received a letter – to me and to Arafat, at the same time … which said that Israel, and only Israel, would be the one to define what those are, the location of those military sites and their size. Now, they did not want to give me that letter, so I did not give the Hebron agreement. I stopped the government meeting, I said: “I’m not signing.” Only when the letter came, in the course of the meeting, to me and to Arafat, only then did I sign the Hebron agreement, or rather, ratify it. It had already been signed. Why does this matter? Because at that moment I actually stopped the Oslo accord.
[Woman interrupts] And despite that, one of our own people, excuse me, who knew it was a swindle, and that we were going to commit suicide with the Oslo accord, gives them, for example, Hebron. I never understood that.
[Natanyahu] Indeed, Hebron hurts. It hurts. It’s the thing that hurts. One of the famous rabbis, whom I very much respect, a rabbi of Eretz Yisrael, he said to me: “What would your father say?” I went to my father. Do you know a little about my father’s position?… He’s not exactly a lily-white dove, as they say. So my father heard the question and said: “Tell the rabbi that your grandfather, Rabbi Natan Milikowski, was a smart Jew. Tell him it would be better to give two per cent than to give a 100 per cent. And that’s the choice here. You gave two per cent and in that way you stopped the withdrawal, instead of 100 per cent.”
The trick is not to be there and break down. The trick is to be there and pay a minimal price.
[Woman] May you say that as prime minister.
[Natanyahu] In my estimation that will happen.