Fact-checking Netanyahu’s speech to the US Congress

Netanyahu: ”You don’t need to export democracy to Israel. We’ve already got it.”

Reality: For more than 43 years, Israel has militarily occupied the West Bank, Gaza Strip and East Jerusalem, a population now numbering 4.36 million people. Except for a few thousand Palestinian residents of East Jerusalem, this population has no voice in Israeli national policy despite being subjected to long-term Israeli occupation. As well, 1.2 million Palestinians are citizens of Israel and subject to more than 30 laws which discriminate against them solely based on their ethnicity, rendering them second or third-class citizens in their own homeland. From 1948 to 1966, those Palestinians who remained in what became Israel after the ethnic cleansing of the vast majority of the Palestinians from their homeland were governed by Israeli military rule (not unlike what exists in the Occupied Territories today). Thus for the entirety of its 63-year existence, there has been a period of only about one year, between the lifting of martial law in 1966 and the occupation which began in 1967, that Israel did not rule over large numbers of Palestinians to whom it granted no political or human rights.

Netanyahu”[Y]ou don’t need to send American troops to Israel. We defend ourselves.”

Reality: Israel has been the largest recipient of U.S. foreign aid since 1976, and has received more than $140 billion from the U.S. since 1948. Israel currently receives around $3 billion a year in aid, most of it destined to the Israeli military. From FY2000 to 2009, the U.S. provided Israel with more than $24 billion in military aid, with the delivery of a total of 670,903,390 weapons, the vast majority purchased from U.S. weapons contractors. For FY2009 to 2018, Israel is slated to receive $30 billion in military aid from the U.S. 

Netanyahu”Of the 300 million Arabs in the Middle East and North Africa, only Israel’s Arab citizens enjoy real democratic rights.”

Reality: Along with the more than 30 discriminatory laws mentioned above, more than one-third of the Palestinian citizens of Israel are internally displaced persons, uprooted from their homes by Israeli forces in 1948 and to this day not permitted to return. Furthermore, in Israel, government resources are disproportionately directed to Jews and not to Arabs, one factor in causing the Palestinians of Israel to suffer the lowest living standards in Israeli society by all socio-economic indicators. Most non-Jewish children attend schools that are “separate and unequal” in comparison to those attended by Jewish Israeli children. Many towns in Israel with a majority Palestinian population lack basic services and receive significantly less government funding than do majority-Jewish towns.

Netanyahu: ”A nuclear armed Iran would ignite a nuclear arms race in the Middle East.”

Reality: Despite maintaining an official position of “nuclear ambiguity,” Israel is widely-recognized as possessing nuclear weapons - as many as 400 - thus being the first, and only, regime to introduce nuclear weapons to the Middle East.

Netanyahu”We’ve helped the Palestinian economic growth by removing hundreds of barriers and roadblocks to the free flow of goods and people, and the results have been nothing short of remarkable.”

Reality: While some checkpoints and roadblocks have been removed, in 2010 the United Nations documented 505 Israeli-imposed “closure obstacles” remaining in the West Bank, as well as “extremely limited” Palestinian access to East Jerusalem, other West Bank areas on the western side of the Separation Wall, and to the fertile agricultural lands of the Jordan Valley, thereby severely impeding Palestinian freedom of movement in the occupied West Bank. Meanwhile, the Gaza Strip remains under a severe Israeli-imposed blockade, causing one of the highest unemployment rates in the world, with more than half of the population living with food insecurity, and an inability to construct some 40,000 necessary housing units.

Netanyahu: “In recent years, the Palestinians twice refused generous offers by Israeli prime ministers to establish a Palestinian state on virtually all the territory won by Israel in the Six-Day War.”

Reality: The Charter of the United Nations bars the acquisition of territory by war. Thus Israel has never had any legal rights of sovereignty over any of the lands it “won” in 1967, and never had any right to settle its own citizens there. Regarding peace talks, as leaked documents show, during peace talks Palestinian negotiators have consistently offered concessions beyond the international consensus. Meanwhile, Israeli negotiators, at Camp David for example, demanded sovereignty or long-term control over 20% of the West Bank, and all of Jerusalem except a few distant Palestinian suburbs. During his speech, Netanyahu also claimed to be willing to make “a far-reaching compromise,” while at the same time claiming occupied East Jerusalem, the Jordan Valley, and most illegal settlements for Israel, rejecting the Palestinian refugees’ right of return, and demanding a demilitarized Palestinian state. Such proposals by Israeli leaders are quite the opposite of “generous” or “far-reaching.”

Netanyahu: “They continue to educate their children to hate.”

Reality: An investigation into Palestinian school textbooks by George Washington University Professor Nathan Brown found this often-propagated claim to be inaccurate, stating, “Indeed, the textbooks often take on the same kind of awkwardness adults often assume when addressing subjects they would prefer to avoid…In short, far from inciting schoolchildren, the books generally treat sensitive political questions as tangential.”

Netanyahu: “[T]he Palestinian refugee problem will be resolved outside the borders of Israel.”

Reality: All refugees have an internationally recognized right to return to areas from which they have fled or were forced, to receive compensation for damages, and to either regain their properties or receive compensation and support for voluntary resettlement. This right derives from a number of legal sources, including customary international law, international humanitarian law (governing rights of civilians during war), and human rights law. In the specific case of the Palestinians, the right to return was affirmed by the United Nations Resolution 194 of 1948.

Netanyahu”Throughout the millennial history of the Jewish capital, the only time that Jews, Christians and Muslims could worship freely, could have unfettered access to their holy sites, has been during Israel’s sovereignty over Jerusalem.”

Reality: Since 1993, Palestinians living in the West Bank - both Christian and Muslim - have been forbidden by Israel to enter East Jerusalem (also in the West Bank) without a permit. Since 2007, they have also had to negotiate passage through Israel’s Separation Wall and accompanying checkpoints. The United Nations reports that access to East Jerusalem - and its holy sites, such as the Church of the Holy Sepulcher and Haram al-Sharif - remains “highly restricted” by Israel. The U.S. State Department has noted that the Israeli government does not recognize non-Jewish holy sites and as a result, “many Muslim and Christian sites are neglected, inaccessible, or threatened by property developers and municipalities.” The report also remarked that “government discrimination against non-Jews and non-Orthodox streams of Judaism continued,” and Israel has “severely restricted the access of most Muslims from the West Bank, Gaza, and Jerusalem to the Haram al-Sharif.”

Netanyahu“In recent years, Israel withdrew from South Lebanon and from Gaza.”

Reality: While Israel unilaterally removed its illegal settlers from the Gaza Strip in 2005, the area remains occupied by Israel, as acknowledged by the United Nations, theUnited StatesAmnesty InternationalHuman Rights Watch, and others. As the occupying power, it is responsible for the welfare of civilians it is occupying. Instead, residents of the Gaza Strip have been suffering for years under a harsh, Israeli-imposed blockade, as well as catastrophic Israeli invasions in 2006 and 2009.

Netanyahu: “Israel will not negotiate with a Palestinian government backed by the Palestinian version of Al Qaida.”

Reality: Hamas has nothing to do with Al Qaeda. Founded in 1987, Hamas is the Palestinian offshoot of Egypt’s Muslim Brotherhood, a movement ideologically at odds with Al Qaeda. While Al Qaeda seeks the worldwide installation of a fundamentalist interpretation of Islam, Hamas’ struggle is for a free Palestine whose government would be informed by Islamic principles. Hamas participates in the electoral process, provides social services to Palestinians, and has implicitly recognized Israel, three things foreign to Al Qaeda’s ideology. In fact, Hamas has repeatedly rebuffed overtures from Al Qaeda and engaged in armed battles against groups in the Gaza Strip inspired by Al Qaeda.

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