Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's trip to Germany is not only being overshadowed by the Middle East crisis. The prime minister has managed to create another full-scale scandal of his own.
It probably isn't easy being a politician. One wants to captivate audiences, but cannot keep repeating the same old stories, so one always has to come up with something new. Just like Benjamin Netanyahu did on Tuesday. The Israeli prime minister was speaking at the World Zionist Congress in Jerusalem, and not only did he captivate his audience - he utterly shocked them. He said that it was not Adolf Hitler who wanted to exterminate the Jews, but the Palestinian Grand Mufti of Jerusalem, Amin al-Husseini. Hitler, Netanyahu claimed, had only sought to expel the Jews. It was the Mufti that, in 1941, convinced him to systematically exterminate them. Although Netanyahu is not known for his diplomatic tact, this particular statement has caused grave irritation. Opposition politicians from all parties accused him of twisting history and agitating against Palestinians. Ayman Odeh, leader of the Joint List alliance of Arab parties told the Israeli daily newspaper Haaretz, that Netanyahu is not even ashamed of using the millions of Holocaust victims who died at the hands of the Nazis as cheap propaganda to justify his disastrous policies. "Netanyahu is rewriting history in order to incite against the Palestinian people," Odeh said.
Former Israeli ambassador to Germany Avi Primor told DW that Netanyahu is not even remotely interested in negotiating with the Palestinians anyhow. Real, honest dialogue is the only way out of the impasse, yet Netanyahu makes that impossible, Primor said.
Eight Jewish Israelis and more than 40 Palestinians have been killed since the latest clashes began at the beginning of October. Palestinian leaders keep saying that the spark that set off the newest round of conflict was the fight about authority over the Temple Mount, where many accuse Israel of seeking to undermine Muslim control of Al-Aqsa Mosque and the Dome of the Rock. Since then, barely a day has passed without reports of attacks on Israeli citizens and soldiers by Palestinians armed with knives or guns. Or of the Israeli army shooting attackers, as well as blocking off streets and erecting checkpoints, primarily in the Palestinian neighborhoods of East Jerusalem. For a time there was even talk of building a new wall around the Arab quarter of Isawiya. However, Netanyahu's plan was strongly criticized by rightist ministers and has apparently been stopped. Nonetheless, the mental walls on both sides seem to be growing ever higher.
Bitterness and loss of confidence
According to Raif Hussein, chairman of the German-Palestinian Society, a third revolt, or Intifada, by Palestinians is unavoidable. The bitterness of a young generation over the loss of confidence in Palestinian leaders is immense. That is why the violence has never stopped. "But now the intensity of the killing has increased," Hussein said.
The hope that these young Palestinians had for a peaceful coexistence with Israel has been "abused in the most disgusting way," Hussain said, even by Mahmoud Abbas, the president of the Palestinian National Authority, under whose leadership corruption and chaos are booming rather than the economy. He has also regularly thrown fuel on the fire. "We extol every drop of blood that is spilled for Jerusalem," Abbas said in September.
Primor, the former ambassador, said he believed that Abbas is not practicing what he preaches: The Palestinian leader publicly decries Israel but uses his security forces fight extremism. "He has no interest in terror," Primor said. Yet, according to Primor, Abbas does not wield enough power. The Hamas faction has too much support within Palestinian society. Thus, it seems that the wave of violence will swell, rather than recede. After the seven-week Gaza war last summer that left some 2,000 Palestinians and 67 Israelis dead, many had hoped for a calming of the situation.
At the moment, no one can agree on what to call the current conflict in and around Jerusalem. Revolt? Terror? In the end it probably doesn't matter. The damage has been done and the mistrust is omnipresent on both sides. Avi Primor said Benjamin Netanyahu's meeting with German Chancellor Angela Merkel on Wednesday would not change that. Israel needs good relations with Germany, Primor said, "but they don't have any influence on the situation in the Middle East."