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  August 15, 2013

Israeli-Palestinian Peace Talks Highlight Israel's Desperate Need for Legitimacy In Face of Growing International Criticism

Shir Hever: Israel wants negotiations with the Palestinians to continue for the same reason it recruits students to serve as propaganda agents, it tries to restore its tainted image
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Shir Hever is an economist working at The Real News Network. His economic research focuses on Israeli occupation of the Palestinian territory; international aid to the Palestinians and to Israel; the effects of the Israeli occupation of the Palestinian territories on the Israeli economy; and the boycott, divestment and sanctions campaigns against Israel. His first book: Political Economy of Israel's Occupation: Repression Beyond Exploitation, was published by Pluto Press.


JESSICA DESVARIEUX, TRNN PRODUCER: Welcome to The Real News Network. I'm Jessica Desvarieux in Baltimore.

This week, peace negotiations between Israeli and Palestinian leaders took place, but they were shadowed by news of the Israeli government building settlements in the West Bank.

Now joining us to give us a perspective that you won't hear in the mainstream media is Shir Hever. Shir is an economist studying the Israeli occupation of the Palestinian territories for the Alternative Information Center.

Thank you for joining us, Shir.


DESVARIEUX: So, Shir, we've been covering this story at The Real News, and what we've been hearing is that essentially these talks are doomed to fail. So why is Israel and Palestine, why are they both deciding to participate in these talks?

HEVER: I think it's at this point know by practically everyone that these talks cannot succeed, because Israel is not interested in having a solution or having any kind of compromise. Israel is interested in maintaining the conversation, maintaining these talks forever. As long as the talks can take place, Israel can maintain its international image.

And what you hear from the Israeli government quite a lot is that Israel should not be pressured by the international community for ending the occupation. There shouldn't be any boycott against Israel, there shouldn't be any kind of sanctions against Israeli war crimes and apartheid, because Israel is engaged in peace negotiations, and those sort of sanctions or boycott would be harmful to peace process. This is exactly the kind of strategy that Israel is trying to adopt.

And what we hear now, the breaking news from this week, is that the prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, has signed an agreement with the Israeli student union, which represents most but not all students in Israel, so that students will work for the government and be paid public money to work as paid commentators, and they would work anonymously to promote Israeli propaganda in the world and social media.

And this story really shows what Israel is trying to get from these peace talks. Israel is trying to get credibility, Israel is trying to get legitimacy and to restore its images much as it can. But, of course, they have no real interest in the substance.

Now, you also ask why are the Palestinians willing to negotiate, and that's maybe not a question that I am the best person qualified to answer. I think there is a lot of pressure on the Palestinian government in the West Bank of the Palestinian--on Mahmoud Abbas to continue the negotiations. Mahmoud Abbas has had a very clear position that negotiations will not resume unless Israel freezes construction in the illegal colonies. And it's very clear that Israel does not freeze that construction.

DESVARIEUX: Okay. Let's talk a little bit more about the construction. How was this even able to happen? I mean, if Israel knows it's going to be coming to the table to negotiate, how is this even possible?

HEVER: I think it's very clear when Israel is building these colonies in the area that it is supposed to negotiate about and that its future is not clear because this area might become part of the Palestinian state, then it's obvious that Israel is intentionally and directly sabotaging the negotiations. But I don't think that it's just because Netanyahu is doing two things at once and sabotaging the negotiations while trying to push for negotiations at the same time. Netanyahu honestly wants negotiations to happen. He doesn't want a Palestinian state. He doesn't want peace. He doesn't want an end of the occupation. But he wants negotiations. Negotiations themselves can fail because of the construction of the colonies.

But the thing is that the Israeli government has built over the years sort of pockets of autonomy within its own government structure. There is a decent realization of decision-making processes, especially regarding the occupation and the colonies. In fact, no one in the Israeli government actually knows how much money is funneled into the colonies, because of all these pockets that allow funds to be transferred based on decisions of lower-, mid-level clerks and officials who are appointed in order to promote right-wing agendas and to help subsidize the colonies, but to do so in a clandestine fashion.

And this is a policy that is quite special to Israel. It's not very common in Western countries to have a sort of decentralized government model like this. And the best example, I think, was just in the the very first days of the occupation during the war of 1967, the Six-Day War. Towards the end of that war, Israeli soldiers have occupied East Jerusalem, and they found the Wailing Wall, which is a religious site which is holy to the Jewish religion, and they decided to demolish an entire Palestinian neighborhood that surrounded the wall. And in their journals, those soldiers wrote, we decided not to ask the government for permission or for direct--for instructions about what to do about this Palestinian neighborhood, because we didn't want the government to have a sort of written record of the decision to demolish the neighborhood. We understood that we were expected to demolish it, but it's best that these things are done unofficially. And that kind of ideology, that kind of method of operation signifies in many ways the way that Israel has occupied the Palestinian territories for the past 45 years, 46 years.

DESVARIEUX: Okay. Now let's talk about the United States, who is playing the role of mediator in all of this. What does the U.S. have to gain from participating and mediating these negotiations?

HEVER: I don't think that the U.S. has much to gain from this, because I'm pretty sure that Senator Kerry, Barack Obama, they know--sorry, Secretary of State Kerry and Barack Obama, they know very well that these negotiations are going to fail, because they're not willing to put any pressure on Israel and they're not really mediators between the side. They are just supporting the Israeli side in a very clear way. They might get a few photo ops. Obama might be able to claim that during his presidency he did something for the peace process. But these things are not worth that much. I think these negotiations are worth a lot to the Israeli government.

The Israeli government is in a state of panic at the moment. There is social unrest and a lot of social problems in the Israeli government. Just this week--in the Israeli public. Just this week it was revealed that there is a pension shortage, and people who are going to retire in the next ten years are going to have their pension payments reduced by 10 percent. So that's quite a big shock.

And the government is trying to say, yes, we are proceeding on the peace process, we are maintaining Israel's image to the rest of the world, and they have to desperately prevent any further sanctions and boycotts from being announced regarding Israel. That is why Netanyahu uses all of his cards, all of his influence over the U.S. government to try to get these negotiations to resume, so to put pressure on the Palestinian government that will get them to agree to negotiations.

And that's why he has this new plan with recruiting Israeli students. Of course, he's going to achieve the opposite result, because whenever people call for a boycott of Israel and call Israel an apartheid state, then if they learn that the Israeli student union, which actually doesn't represent the non-Jewish parties within the student group--so this is a student union that represent almost exclusively Jews. It's the very image of apartheid. And these universities and these students are now working for the government in order to justify Israel's actions, to justify the actions of the Israeli Army. So that actually proves that Israel is indeed--that is not the proof, but it is yet another indication that Israel is an apartheid state and Israel is a very repressive, nondemocratic regime. So we can clearly see what's Israel interest in this.

The thing is that when the Israeli government is so stressed and so worried about the public reaction in its own public and the international outcry about the occupation and other types of repressive policies that it adopts, there is a real risk that Israel will try to create a diversion by means of escalating conflict with its neighbors or attacking Iran. And we saw that last November when Israel bombed Gaza and was ready to invade Gaza. So Israel already called the reserve soldiers. About 70,000--80,000 soldiers were called. Only 56,000 actually appeared for duty. And they were getting ready to invade Gaza on foot when President Morsi in Egypt, who was still in power in Egypt at the time, said that he could not see how the peace treaty between Israel and Egypt would hold if Israel invades Gaza on the ground.

And at that moment, the U.S. interest becomes very clear. The U.S. interest wants the peace treaty between Israel and Egypt to hold, because this is an interest of the weapon companies, the weapon industries, the military-industrial complex in the U.S. Israel is the number-one recipient of military aid from the U.S. Egypt is number two.

But when I say aid, it might give the impression that the U.S. is given some kind of benefit or gift to the people in Israel. In Egypt that's certainly not the case. This is in fact a subsidy to U.S. arms companies, because all of that money actually ends up in the U.S. arms companies. Israel may get a $3 billion voucher from the U.S. government, but they have to redeem it from U.S. companies. So that's something that creates a lot of profits for these massive corporations with very powerful lobbies in the U.S. government. And as long as there is a peace treaty between Israel and Egypt, the U.S. can safely provide these military deals to both countries. As soon as the peace treaty collapses, even if there is no actual war, if it doesn't actually deteriorate to an open fight, the U.S. can no longer support both countries with weapons and it will have to choose. I think it's quite clear it will choose the Israeli side. But it will be a blow to the profit of the arm companies in the U.S.

DESVARIEUX: Okay. Thanks so much for joining us, Shir.

HEVER: Thank you, Jessica, for having me.

DESVARIEUX: And thank you for joining us on The Real News Network.


DISCLAIMER: Please note that transcripts for The Real News Network are typed from a recording of the program. TRNN cannot guarantee their complete accuracy.


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