Netanyahu's Aipac speech: paying lip-service to peace

The Israeli prime minister's intransigence makes peace talks implausible.

In a speech to the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (Aipac) last night, the Israeli prime minister, Binyamin Netanyahu, appeared to give a two-fingered salute to the Obama administration, which has pushed for a freeze on settlement-building with the hope of peace talks with the Palestinians resuming.

"Jerusalem is not a settlement. It is our capital," Netanyahu told the powerful pro-Israel lobby. "All these neighborhoods are within a five-minute drive from the Knesset . . .

"Everyone knows that these neighborhoods will be part of Israel in any peace settlement. Therefore, building in them in no way precludes the possibility of a two-state solution."

He added:

Israel is unjustly accused of not wanting peace with the Palestinians. Nothing could be further from the truth. My government has consistently shown its commitment to peace in both word and deed.

From day one, we called on the Palestinian Authority to begin peace negotiations without delay. I make that same call today. President Abbas, come and negotiate peace.

It is a deliberately reductionist comment, and one that is likely to stoke anger.

Lest we forget, Netanyahu's proclaimed backing for a two-state solution comes with conditions that are unacceptable to the Palestinians. The Israeli newspaper Haaretz explained, a year ago:

Netanyahu seeks to deny the Palestinians four rights of any sovereign state: control of its airspace; control of its electromagnetic spectrum; the right to maintain an army and to sign military alliances; and, most importantly, control of the border crossings where arms and terrorists could pass. Netanyahu believes Israel must retain all of these.

In a landmark address in June last year, he said for the first time that he supported a two-state solution -- but one that denied the right of return to Palestinian refugees ("any demand for resettling Palestinian refugees within Israel undermines Israel's continued existence as the state of the Jewish people") and gave Israel an undivided Jerusalem (the Jerusalem law was deemed at the time to be in contravention of international law). He also rejected the suggestion that settlement-building be suspended.

At the time, many foreign leaders expressed cautious approval at the prospect of dialogue reopening, although it was also widely accepted -- within the Arab world and without -- that these terms were not viable.

Sadly, Netanyahu's speech to Aipac shows very little movement. Responding to his June 2009 address, Ben Caspit wrote in the Hebrew-language paper Ma'ariv:

If Netanyahu had the slightest belief that there was some chance that the Palestinians would be capable of acquiescing to any of the conditions he had set, he would have refrained from saying what he did.

This was borne out last night. While paying lip-service to diplomacy, the Israeli prime minister remains unwilling to make the concessions necessary to make real progress.

As the diplomatic spat between Israel and the US rumbles on, Barack Obama would do well to capitalise on the momentum gained by the successful passage of the health-care bill to push for a freeze on settlement-building, and substantive peace talks.

As many commentators have noted, this is the only way to shore up security for Israeli civilians, and give Palestinian civilians the "security, dignity and peace" that Netanyahu claims to desire.

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Samira Shackle is a freelance journalist, who tweets @samirashackle. She was formerly a staff writer for the New Statesman.

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The Autumn Statement proved it – we need a real alternative to austerity, now

Theresa May’s Tories have missed their chance to rescue the British economy.

After six wasted years of failed Conservative austerity measures, Philip Hammond had the opportunity last month in the Autumn Statement to change course and put in place the economic policies that would deliver greater prosperity, and make sure it was fairly shared.

Instead, he chose to continue with cuts to public services and in-work benefits while failing to deliver the scale of investment needed to secure future prosperity. The sense of betrayal is palpable.

The headline figures are grim. An analysis by the Institute for Fiscal Studies shows that real wages will not recover their 2008 levels even after 2020. The Tories are overseeing a lost decade in earnings that is, in the words Paul Johnson, the director of the IFS, “dreadful” and unprecedented in modern British history.

Meanwhile, the Treasury’s own analysis shows the cuts falling hardest on the poorest 30 per cent of the population. The Office for Budget Responsibility has reported that it expects a £122bn worsening in the public finances over the next five years. Of this, less than half – £59bn – is due to the Tories’ shambolic handling of Brexit. Most of the rest is thanks to their mishandling of the domestic economy.

 

Time to invest

The Tories may think that those people who are “just about managing” are an electoral demographic, but for Labour they are our friends, neighbours and the people we represent. People in all walks of life needed something better from this government, but the Autumn Statement was a betrayal of the hopes that they tried to raise beforehand.

Because the Tories cut when they should have invested, we now have a fundamentally weak economy that is unprepared for the challenges of Brexit. Low investment has meant that instead of installing new machinery, or building the new infrastructure that would support productive high-wage jobs, we have an economy that is more and more dependent on low-productivity, low-paid work. Every hour worked in the US, Germany or France produces on average a third more than an hour of work here.

Labour has different priorities. We will deliver the necessary investment in infrastructure and research funding, and back it up with an industrial strategy that can sustain well-paid, secure jobs in the industries of the future such as renewables. We will fight for Britain’s continued tariff-free access to the single market. We will reverse the tax giveaways to the mega-rich and the giant companies, instead using the money to make sure the NHS and our education system are properly funded. In 2020 we will introduce a real living wage, expected to be £10 an hour, to make sure every job pays a wage you can actually live on. And we will rebuild and transform our economy so no one and no community is left behind.

 

May’s missing alternative

This week, the Bank of England governor, Mark Carney, gave an important speech in which he hit the proverbial nail on the head. He was completely right to point out that societies need to redistribute the gains from trade and technology, and to educate and empower their citizens. We are going through a lost decade of earnings growth, as Carney highlights, and the crisis of productivity will not be solved without major government investment, backed up by an industrial strategy that can deliver growth.

Labour in government is committed to tackling the challenges of rising inequality, low wage growth, and driving up Britain’s productivity growth. But it is becoming clearer each day since Theresa May became Prime Minister that she, like her predecessor, has no credible solutions to the challenges our economy faces.

 

Crisis in Italy

The Italian people have decisively rejected the changes to their constitution proposed by Prime Minister Matteo Renzi, with nearly 60 per cent voting No. The Italian economy has not grown for close to two decades. A succession of governments has attempted to introduce free-market policies, including slashing pensions and undermining rights at work, but these have had little impact.

Renzi wanted extra powers to push through more free-market reforms, but he has now resigned after encountering opposition from across the Italian political spectrum. The absence of growth has left Italian banks with €360bn of loans that are not being repaid. Usually, these debts would be written off, but Italian banks lack the reserves to be able to absorb the losses. They need outside assistance to survive.

 

Bail in or bail out

The oldest bank in the world, Monte dei Paschi di Siena, needs €5bn before the end of the year if it is to avoid collapse. Renzi had arranged a financing deal but this is now under threat. Under new EU rules, governments are not allowed to bail out banks, like in the 2008 crisis. This is intended to protect taxpayers. Instead, bank investors are supposed to take a loss through a “bail-in”.

Unusually, however, Italian bank investors are not only big financial institutions such as insurance companies, but ordinary households. One-third of all Italian bank bonds are held by households, so a bail-in would hit them hard. And should Italy’s banks fail, the danger is that investors will pull money out of banks across Europe, causing further failures. British banks have been reducing their investments in Italy, but concerned UK regulators have asked recently for details of their exposure.

John McDonnell is the shadow chancellor


John McDonnell is Labour MP for Hayes and Harlington and has been shadow chancellor since September 2015. 

This article first appeared in the 08 December 2016 issue of the New Statesman, Brexit to Trump