JERUSALEM — Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu likes to post short videos on his social media pages. The target audience appears to be foreigners.
The latest one, on Friday, finds the Israeli leader charging that the Palestinians want to commit “ethnic cleansing” by ridding the West Bank of Jews.
Netanyahu’s Twitter and Facebook feed introduces the video with the short sentence: “No Jews.”
That’s a pretty sensational charge — especially given the context. To many, the phrase “no Jews” raises the specter of Nazis and Nuremberg laws, of Judenfrei and the Holocaust.
In the video, Netanyahu speaks in English (with Arabic and Hebrew subtitles available).
The video was released around 3 p.m. Friday in Israel, just a few hours before the Jewish Sabbath and during the Muslim day of prayer.
Netanyahu begins: “I am sure many of you have heard the claim that Jewish communities in Judea Samaria, the West Bank, are an obstacle to peace. I've always been perplexed by this notion."
Judea and Samaria are the biblical and historical terms many Israelis use for the West Bank. The Jewish communities he refers to are the 200-plus Jewish-only settlements in the West Bank, home to about 400,000 residents, including many American Israelis.
Because the West Bank has been occupied by the Israeli military since 1967, the international community calls these settlements “illegal,” the United States calls them “illegitimate” and “an obstacle to peace.” Israel disputes this.
Netanyahu continues: "No one would seriously claim that the nearly 2 million Arabs living inside Israel — that they're an obstacle to peace. That's because they aren't. On the contrary."
Arabs, mostly Muslim, make up more than 20 percent of the Jewish state.
"Israel's diversity shows its openness and readiness for peace,” Netanyahu says. “Yet the Palestinian leadership actually demands a Palestinian state with one precondition: no Jews."
"There's a phrase for that: It's called ethnic cleansing," he says.
Netanyahu appears to be referring to a 2013 statement by Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas.
"In a final resolution," Abbas told Egyptian journalists, "we would not see the presence of a single Israeli — civilian or soldier — on our lands."
Abbas was speaking about how a new Palestinian state would look. Also note: He says "Israelis," not "Jews."
Obviously, the Palestinians today cannot "ethnically cleanse" any Jews. The Israeli settlements are all in the 60 percent of the West Bank called Area C, which is under the complete control of the Israeli army.
In a blog post on the Foundation for Middle East Peace website, Matt Duss writes:
"Regarding Netanyahu’s claim about Palestinian demands, Palestinian leaders have made clear that Jews can be citizens of a future Palestinian state, but that they will not accept the presence of enclaves of Israeli settlers peppered throughout that state (as, of course, no state would)."
Duss quotes Hanan Ashrawi, a top Palestinian leader, who told Israeli journalists in 2014: "Any person, be he Jewish, Christian or Buddhist, will have the right to apply for Palestinian citizenship. Our basic law prohibits discrimination based on race or ethnicity."
In his video, Netanyahu asks: "Would you accept ethnic cleansing in your state? A territory without Jews, without Hispanics, without blacks? Since when is bigotry a foundation for peace?"
The prime minister concludes: "Ethnic cleansing for peace is absurd. It's about time somebody said it. I just did."
— Arsen Ostrovsky (@Ostrov_A) September 9, 2016
The Israeli media mostly ignored the Netanyahu video.
But there was a little buzz on the Internet.
— Xavier Abu Eid (@xabueid) September 9, 2016
Why did Netanyahu issue this video now?
One of his spokesmen, David Keyes, said, “It is never a bad time to reject ethnic cleansing.”
Keyes said Netanyahu was not responding to any recent statements by the Palestinian leadership. He referred The Washington Post to the 2013 Cairo statement.
In recent weeks, there has been a lot of chatter about a possible meeting between Netanyahu and Abbas in Moscow, brokered by Russian President Vladimir Putin.
Russia's Interfax news agency reported that the two parties agreed “in principle” to meet but with no set date. This is a little like saying the sun will rise tomorrow. The Israelis and Palestinians are almost always ready, in principle, to meet. The devil is in the details.
But maybe something bigger is brewing?
Robert Danin, former senior U.S. State Department official and peace negotiator, told The Post:
My sense is that by saying there will be "no ethnic cleansing of Jews" in the West Bank, Netanyahu is positioning himself for possible future negotiation with the Palestinians. While showing he is tough, he is also trying to establish a principle: Just as there have been and will continue to be Arab citizens of Israel, so too should there be the right for Jews to remain in a future West Bank state. This also allows him to say that any future border will not be the 1967 Green Line, but rather a mutually agreed border that could include land swaps. All this allows him to both solidify his right wing base, but also reach out to the center in Israeli politics that wants a two-state solution.