Putin’s Ukraine adventure a gift to Netanyahu

Putin and Netanyahu

By Uri Avnery

Binyamin Netanyahu is very good at making speeches, especially to Jews, neocons and such, who jump up and applaud wildly at everything he says, including that tomorrow the sun will rise in the west.

The question is: is he good at anything else?

His father, an ultra-ultra-rightist, once said about him that he is quite unfit to be prime minister, but that he could be a good foreign minister. What he meant was that Binyamin does not have the depth of understanding needed to guide the nation, but that he is good at selling any policy decided upon by a real leader…

This week Netanyahu was summoned to Washington. He was supposed to approve John Kerry’s new “framework” agreement, which would serve as a basis for restarting the peace negotiations, which so far have come to naught.

On the eve of the event, President Barack Obama gave an interview to a Jewish journalist, blaming Netanyahu for the stalling of the “peace process” – as if there had ever been a peace process.

In the US with a bag of empty slogans

Netanyahu arrived with an empty bag – meaning a bag full of empty slogans. The Israeli leadership had striven mightily for peace, but could not progress at all because of the Palestinians. It is Mahmoud Abbas who is to blame, because he refuses to recognize Israel as the nation-state of the Jewish people.

What about the settlements, which have been expanding during the last year at a hectic pace? Why should the Palestinians negotiate endlessly, while at the same time the Israeli government takes more and more of the land which is the substance of the negotiations? (As the classic Palestinian argument goes: “We negotiate about dividing a pizza, and in the meantime Israel is eating the pizza.”)

Obama steeled himself to confront Netanyahu, AIPAC (American Israel Public Affairs Committee) and its congressional stooges. He was about to twist the arms of Netanyahu until he cried “uncle” – the uncle being Kerry’s “framework”, which by now has been watered down to look almost like a Zionist manifesto. Kerry is frantic for an achievement, whatever its contents and discontents.

Netanyahu, looking for an instrument to rebuff the onslaught, was ready to cry as usual “Iran! Iran! Iran!” – when something unforeseen happened.

Napoleon famously exclaimed: ”Give me generals who are lucky!” He would have loved General Bibi.

Because, on the way to confront a newly invigorated Obama, there was an explosion that shook the world: Ukraine.

Enter Ukraine

It was like the shots that rang out in Sarajevo a hundred years ago.

The international tranquility was suddenly shattered. The possibility of a major war was in the air.

Netanyahu’s visit disappeared from the news. Obama, occupied with a historic crisis, just wanted to get rid of him as quickly as possible. Instead of the severe admonition of the Israeli leader, he got away with some hollow compliments. All the wonderful speeches Netanyahu had prepared were left unspeeched. Even his usual triumphant speech at AIPAC evoked no interest.

All because of the upheaval in Kiev.

By now, innumerable articles have been written about the crisis. Historical associations abound.

Though Ukraine means “borderland”, it was often at the centre of European events. One must pity Ukrainian schoolchildren. The changes in the history of their country were constant and extreme. At different times Ukraine was a European power and a poor downtrodden territory, extremely rich (“the breadbasket of Europe”) or abjectly poor, attacked by neighbours who captured its people to sell them as slaves or attacking its neighbours to enlarge its country.

Ukraine’s relationship with Russia is even more complex. In a way, Ukraine is the heartland of Russian culture, religion and orthography. Kiev was far more important than Moscow, before becoming the centrepiece of Muscovite imperialism.

In the Crimean War of the 1850s, Russia fought valiantly against a coalition of Great Britain, France, the Ottoman Empire and Sardinia, and eventually lost. The war broke out over Christian rights in Jerusalem, and included a long siege of Sevastopol. The world remembers the charge of the Light Brigade. A British woman called Florence Nightingale established the first organization to tend the wounded on the battlefield.

In my lifetime, Stalin murdered millions of Ukrainians by deliberate starvation. As a result, most Ukrainians welcomed the German Wehrmacht in 1941 as liberators. It could have been the beginning of a beautiful friendship, but unfortunately Hitler was determined to eradicate the Ukrainian Untermenschen in order to integrate Ukraine into the German Lebensraum.

The Crimea suffered terribly. The Tatar people, who had ruled the peninsula in the past, were deported to Central Asia, then allowed to return decades later. Now they are a small minority, seemingly unsure of where their loyalties lie…

Netanyahu’s prayers answered

The relationship between Ukraine and the Jews is no less complicated.

Some Jewish writers, like Arthur Koestler and Shlomo Sand, believe that the Khazar empire that ruled the Crimea and neighbouring territory a thousand years ago, converted to Judaism, and that most Ashkenazi Jews are descended from them. This would turn us all into Ukrainians. (Many early Zionist leaders indeed came from Ukraine.)…

Where will this leave Netanyahu?

He has gained some months or years without any movement toward peace, and in the meantime can continue with the occupation and build settlements at a frantic pace.

That is the traditional Zionist strategy. Time is everything. Every postponement provides opportunities to create more facts on the ground.

Netanyahu’s prayers have been answered. God bless Putin.

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