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New Israeli Military Strategies for Annexation and Undermining Palestinian Identity

August 8, 2019

Shir Hever discusses two new Israeli military strategies, presented by Israeli chief of staff Aviv Kochavi, who calls for a more deadly invasion of Gaza, and former general Yossi Kuperwasser's plan of “changing the Palestinian narrative” in order to annex Palestinian land

Shir Hever discusses two new Israeli military strategies, presented by Israeli chief of staff Aviv Kochavi, who calls for a more deadly invasion of Gaza, and former general Yossi Kuperwasser's plan of “changing the Palestinian narrative” in order to annex Palestinian land


New Israeli Military Strategies for Annexation and Undermining Palestinian Identity

Story Transcript

MARC STEINER Welcome to The Real News Network. I’m Marc Steiner. Two things happened last week in Israel, that didn’t get much attention internationally, that reveal a great deal about Israel’s plans for the future of the occupation and its longterm strategies for keeping Palestinians under their control.

The first event was a large-scale military exercise near Gaza undertaken to train Israeli forces, creating a new battle plan designed by the Israeli chief of staff for the next invasion of Gaza. The battle plan includes a short incursion, increasing the lethal force that is greater than in the past, new weaponry was imported and purchased from Israeli arms companies. So the next invasion of Gaza will destabilize, but not unseat the Hamas government.

And here is the Israeli chief of staff Lieutenant General Aviv Kochavi explaining his approach to the military strategy in a ceremony with the Israeli Navy.

AVIV KOCHAVI The IDF acts and will act in all the regional arenas, in the air, on land, and in the sea, and will do everything in its power to hurt our enemies and to disrupt their methods of operations.

MARC STEINER In addition, last week a former Israeli General identified with the right wing, Yossi Kuperwasser, published a rare strategic option paper in Haaretz Newspaper titled The Goal Is To Change The Palestinian Narrative. Kuperwasser explained there is now a perfect political alignment, with president Trump’s policies towards Palestinians aligning with the Israelis’ attempt to discourage Palestinians from pursuing their national liberation aspirations. In response to this heated debate in Israeli politics about the annexation of the West Bank, Kuperwasser called for exerting Israeli sovereignty over the entire West Bank without calling it annexation.

Here to discuss all this with us, and these two strategies, how they work together, is Shir Hever. Shir is a correspondent for The Real News Network living in Heidelberg, Germany. His most recent book is The Privatization of Israeli Security.

Shir, good to have you back, as always.

SHIR HEVER  Thanks for having me, Marc.

MARC STEINER So let’s just begin. I’m really interested why you think this wasn’t picked up, and what you think is afoot here.

SHIR HEVER  Yeah. Well these two texts, the battle plan by Aviv Kochavi and the article by Yossi Kuperwasser, are both intended for internal Israeli consumption. In fact, the Israeli newspaper Haaretz didn’t even bother translating Yossi Kuperwasser’s article into English, although they do have an English version. And I think that’s-

MARC STEINER And which they usually do for major articles. I mean, I read Haaretz all the time in English, or try to muddle through in Hebrew, but I read it in English, clearly that’s … That was a tactical move on their part.

SHIR HEVER  Yeah. Yeah. I think journalists, international journalists often tend to miss the internal Israeli discussion, which is in many ways much more honest because Israelis, when there is this kind of internal discussion, they’re not sugarcoating it. They’re saying exactly … Both Kochavi and Kuperwasser are not giving any illusions about any establishment of a future Palestinian state or two-state solution. They’re talking about very practical ways to keep Palestinians under control to prevent any kind of Palestinian resistance.

And I think that’s exactly where Israeli officials tend to be the most honest. And that’s where we have to pay close attention.

MARC STEINER So talk about who these men are.

SHIR HEVER  Yeah. So both of them are very close to Netanyahu. And they represent this kind of new populist right wing which is getting more and more power in Israel these days. Aviv Kochavi was only appointed this January. He’s rather new at his job as the commander-in-chief, and he was appointed by both minister of defense Avigdor Lieberman, who has resigned since then, and prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu because of his very belligerent and lethal approach to managing the military.

His predecessor Gadi Eisenkot was a much more moderate kind of officer, at least that’s the image he wanted for himself. He kept saying Israeli soldiers should not use the maximum amount of power that they have to kill unarmed civilians if they can also use non-violent means because he was concerned about the media implications and the international relations implications.

But Aviv Kochavi speaks directly to the soldiers themselves and says to these young soldiers, many of them are very blood thirsty, I have to say, that if they joined the Israeli military because they want to see some action, and they want to use a weapon, a lethal weapon, then he’s going to let them do that. And that makes him much more popular.

And you have Yossi Kuperwasser, who is a very influential political figure in Israel. He was an intelligence officer before becoming kind of a think tank author writing for several right wing strategic military conservative think tanks in Israel. And he was also the director of the Ministry of Strategic Affairs, which is a ministry that Netanyahu set up in order to fight against the BDS movement, the boycott against Israel.

So Kuperwasser is very focused on promoting Israeli interests at any cost, fighting against human rights organizations, and fighting against any kind of Palestinian organization trying to reach out to the media and talk about atrocities committed by the Israeli military. But here in this article, he’s talking to the Israeli public and telling them, “Don’t be afraid to vote for the right wing in Israel because we’re not really going to lose international support. We have Trump on our side already, and we can control the Palestinians for infinity by having the United States on our side.”

MARC STEINER Let’s pick up on that last point you just made. So when you look at what Trump has done, kind of saying no to the Palestinian claim over Jerusalem, the right of return, taking money out of the Palestinian Authority and the United Nations refugee group, all this kind of pushing the Palestinians to the corner, hoping they’ll take this deal of the century that they keep pushing here in this country.

And so, how does this play into what you’re describing, what the Israeli government’s about to do with Palestinians, and also this whole idea that we talked about at the very top of the program in the introduction of the annexation not being called an annexation anymore, but just taking over, period? Give us some detail here. What’s at play?

SHIR HEVER  Yeah. Well, Kuperwasser calls the American policy towards Palestinians “the carrot and the stick” policy. The deal of the century is supposed to be the carrot, and the stick is all the defunding of Palestinian institutions, and sanctions, and statements by Trump against Palestinian organizations. And all of these moves are supposed to sort of discipline Palestinians. What Kuperwasser calls “to change their narrative” in many ways is to try to break their spirit and dissuade them from fighting for their national liberation.

And of course that’s extremely not realistic, but it is actually the message of the right wing in Israel these days that, if the Israelis continue to push and humiliate Palestinians, and force them to collaborate and to acquiesce to Israeli control, then the Palestinian resistance will somehow one day just break down, or will just remain very low and manageable for eternity. I don’t think this has any relations to reality, but this is the practicality that he’s talking about.

And specifically about the issue of annexation versus implementing Israeli law, the idea of implementing Israeli law and sovereignty is a kind of terminology that the right wing in Israel is using in order not to use the word annexation, which has bad connotations. And so what they’re saying, that Israeli citizens in the occupied territory, meaning the colonists who live illegally in the West Bank, they will receive all the benefits of Israeli law and will carry the law on their backs. In many ways that’s already the case. But it will be implemented in an even more comprehensive way so that they will be, for all intents and purposes, part of the Israeli economy, part of the Israeli political system, while their neighbors who live a few meters away from them, Palestinians, are not citizens, have no rights, cannot vote in the elections.

And that situation is apartheid. Of course it’s apartheid. And Kuperwasser mentions the word apartheid in his article, and he says, “Oh, the Palestinians developed the narrative of apartheid.” His solution to this, what he calls the “Palestinian narrative” of calling the Israeli control apartheid is not to change the apartheid situation, but rather, to force Palestinians to shut up about it.

MARC STEINER It would be good I think for Kuperwasser’s article to be translated into English, or someone to do it. That could be a job for you, Shir. You could translate that article into English for all of us to read. I think it’s important to see this. I mean, because we’re going up to the elections in September in Israel, the question of annexation is going to be at the top of people’s minds, even if it’s not going to be a campaign speech. There could be another war with Gaza, as you were just talking about, to kind of shut them down. Trump is going to love this.

And so, what you’re talking about here and what I could gather from Kuperwasser’s article in muddling through it is that the far right religious parties in Israeli, these nationalist parties, will be able to an annex the West Bank with Trump’s approval, not call that annexation, and really intensify the struggle of Palestinians I think in its mix while you try to minimize and destroy whatever is going on in Gaza without directly getting rid of Hamas so they can continue to battle the PA. I mean, this is a fairly, in some senses, brilliant strategy on their part.

But so, I mean, what do you think could be the outcome here?

SHIR HEVER  Let’s put it in a historical context.

MARC STEINER Please.

SHIR HEVER  Because there is a text that was translated to English about a hundred years ago by Ze’ev Jabotinsky, one of the founders of right wing Zionism.

MARC STEINER Yes.

SHIR HEVER  Ze’ev Jabotinsky wrote the book The Iron Wall based on the idea that the Palestinians will never accept Israeli colonialism. And he said that in every colonial situation, the natives always resist the colonists. But the way that the colonists are able to get a foothold and defeat native resistance is by aligning themselves with the empire, with some kind of colonialist empire.

So he gave the example, Ze’ev Jabotinsky, of Hernando Cortes and Pizarro, the Spanish conquistadors that took over Latin America with the help of the Spanish empire, and destroyed the Inca and the Aztec empires there, and took over. So Ze’ev Jabotinsky says, “We need to find our empire.”

And of course when he wrote this, he was thinking mainly about the British empire. But today Yossi Kuperwasser is repeating Ze’ev Jabotinsky’s ideas almost word for word, very clearly, and says, “Our empire is the United States. We are the colonists of the United States in Palestine. The Palestinians will never accept us, but they will have to live under our control because we are just more powerful because we have empire on our side.” This is the real context there.

But I think when you put it in this context, there is also a reason for hope, because let’s look back at the last hundred years, almost all of the examples that were given by Ze’ev Jabotinsky of empire helping the colonists colonize native people have eventually collapsed. They have eventually failed. Natives were able to defeat empire again and again, in India, and in Algeria, and in South Africa, and also in Latin America, and many other places.

So Kuperwasser still believes that some kind of iron wall can be built and Palestinians would somehow agree to live under it. But I don’t think that’s realistic. I think the Palestinians will continue to fight, continue to resist. In 2015, an Israeli journalist asked Netanyahu, because he knows that Netanyahu is a devout follower of Jabotinsky, or at least pretends to be, and asked him, “Is Israel always going to live by the sword?” And Netanyahu answered with one word, “Yes.” That was his answer.

MARC STEINER But-

SHIR HEVER  And I think a lot of Israelis just will not accept that. And, yeah.

MARC STEINER So very quickly here before we conclude, but it seems to me that, and I don’t want to take a pessimistic attitude given your optimistic attitude here, but the history of colonialism in the world also showed that once the colonial liberation moves were taken and people became independent, those nations also, most of them became controlled again by the empire, just in a different name. And if you look-

SHIR HEVER  By different empires, yeah.

MARC STEINER By different empires. And Jabotinsky wrote this, you know, was a key figure in the 30s, 40s, and 50s. But this is, we’re talking about now we’re in 2019, so this plays out … They weren’t in control in 1948, they are in control now, that mindset.

So just very quickly, how do you think this is going to play out in the next year? I mean, one of the things we talked about recently in our conversation was that there may be 50,000 Israelis living in Germany, I think you said, right? Who are progressives, on the left.

SHIR HEVER  In Berlin.

MARC STEINER In Berlin.

SHIR HEVER  Just in the capital of Germany, yeah.

MARC STEINER So the Israeli left, that body of people who resisted inside of Israel, they’re all somewhere else now, for the most part.

SHIR HEVER Yeah.

MARC STEINER So talk a bit about the scenario that could happen over the next five or six months before we have to conclude our conversation.

SHIR HEVER Okay, well, five or six months is a short time, but a lot can happen in that time. South Africa apartheid collapsed in a matter of weeks. The wall of Berlin fell and nobody expected that a week before. So it’s impossible to make predictions.

But what I do want to say is, getting back to this point of pessimism versus optimism, I am not a part of the religious right wing in Israel, which, it’s very important to mention the religious part because they are messianic. They believe that God will somehow save them. And I’m not looking for a political solution that would look like utopia, like some kind of absolution and redemption.

When Palestinians will fight and gain their freedom, it doesn’t mean that all their problems will be over. And it doesn’t mean that Palestine as an independent state, whether it’s going to be next to Israel or whether it’s going to be a joint democratic state for everyone, is going to be fully economically independent from international globalization and neoliberalism. Of course not. All of these problems will stay.

And that indeed happened in all of the cases of colonialism where native populations rose up against the empire and won their independence but it was never a full independence. And nevertheless, go to all these countries today and ask the people, “Do you want to go back to being subjects of the empire?” Do you think the Indians would rather be subjects of the British empire again, or South Africans return to apartheid, or Algeria return to French occupation? I think no one wants that, or maybe a tiny and very crazy minority at the fringes.

So even if it’s not solving all the problems, and true freedom and equality, it’s a very important step forward. And I do think that in the next couple of months we are seeing already the things happening on the ground in that direction, mainly because Palestinians, unlike those international journalists that we were talking about at the beginning that tend to miss those texts, Palestinians don’t miss it. Palestinians know who Aviv Kochavi is, they know who Yossi Kuperwasser is. They read these texts, they learn Hebrew, and they prepare themselves for the next wave of Israeli repression. And the Palestinians are ready to face them and come up on top.

MARC STEINER Well, Shir Hever, thank you so much for once once again bringing things to the world that we don’t see from the outside. And I appreciate your work. Thank you so much for being with us today.

SHIR HEVER Thank you, Marc.

MARC STEINER And I’m Marc Steiner here for The Real News Network. Thank you all for being with us. Take care.