What follows is a conversation between author Jeff Halper and Marc Steiner of The Real News Network. Read a transcript of their conversation below or watch the video at the bottom of the post.

MARC STEINER: Welcome to The Real News Network. I’m Marc Steiner. Great to have you all with us once again.

I have to say this: Benjamin Netanyahu may be one of the shrewdest politicians on the face of the earth. He appointed far-right Naftali Bennett Minister of Defense just after he launched an air attack that killed Baha Abu al-Ata–who is the leader of Islamic Jihad we think–in Gaza, along with his wife Asmaa. That kept Bennett with him politically, which was a move on his part. And then it turned out that al-Ata was really not that much of a leader at all, some people write.

And then he bombed the offices of Islamic Jihad in Damascus, and then launched a bombing campaign on Gaza after the Islamic Jihad launched an ineffectual rocket assault on Israel. The attack in Gaza killed 32 Palestinians, including 11 children. And another 111 people were wounded. Okay, so that doesn’t make him brilliant. But his next steps politically inside of Israel that seem to be part of his grand strategy after all, is and was brilliant. And here is where his brilliant manipulation and strategic thinking begins to keep himself in power.

To help us figure all that out, we’re about to talk with Jeff Halper; Jeff Halper joins us once again. He’s an anthropologist, former head of the Israeli Committee Against Housing Demolitions, and his latest book is “War Amongst the People, Israel, the Palestinians, and Global Pacification.” And he is currently involved with the People Yes Network, which promotes strategic coordination among left groups globally. And Jeff, welcome. Good to have you with us.

JEFF HALPER: Good to be back.

MARC STEINER: Always good to talk to you. I meant what I said at the very top here. I mean, whatever you think about Netanyahu and his politics and what he represents, the man is really brilliant, and he knows how to stay in power.

JEFF HALPER: That’s right.

MARC STEINER: So here he has his opposition, Benny Gantz, who might have won a few more votes than he has. He has a week to set up the government. So paint this story for us at this moment about what Netanyahu is doing to set himself up, so he doesn’t go to jail and can stay in power.

JEFF HALPER: Well, that’s all the manipulations, of course. And so Gaza and the Palestinians, as usual, are simply the vehicles for Netanyahu’s political campaigns, essentially. The people of Gaza and Hamas and Islamic Jihad do not pose an existential threat to Israel. And for years and years, they’ve tried even to get into some kind of a peace agreement with Israel. They even agreed to the two-state solution, years ago. It was called the Prisoner’s Stock. But we’re talking about a situation of controlled bias that serves Netanyahu in Israel in different ways. Controlled violence, of course, it continues the pretext of keeping the occupation going because they’re always attacking us, so we always have to defend ourselves.

Controlled violence also, of course, blames the victim so that we can’t be held accountable for anything, and they’re to blame and that gives us a free rein to do anything we want to in the occupied territories or politically. It also keeps the laboratory going, because don’t forget Israel tests all kinds of new weapons systems, security systems, surveillance systems, drones in particular, in Gaza. Gaza is like a little laboratory, which is part of a larger West Bank laboratory. So for all of those reasons, of course, the Gazi is very useful for Israel. But in terms of internal politics, it’s also useful because again, it can be turned on and turned off according to the needs of Netanyahu.

So now that he’s in this competition with Gantz, he’s trying to create a situation in which, and he’s said this many times, that security situation and such; that we can’t afford a new government. And certainly this is the boss subtext, the very important subject, certainly not a government that would rely on the Arabs in Israel. Because any government that Gantz would set up would have to have the support, at least half the support of the joint Arab list. And so by demonizing the Arabs, and of course by creating the conflict in Gaza, what Netanyahu was doing and saying, “What you’re going to have Arabs in the government at a time of war, they’re our enemies fighting us in Gaza and creating an absolutely impossible situation for Gantz.” So there’s all kinds of layered levels. You’re absolutely right. He is a brilliant manipulator.

MARC STEINER: So in taking a step further, I mean let’s take two parts here. A, what just happened in Gaza, I mean 32 people were killed, many of them innocents. I mean the father driving off on his motorcycle and the visuals were put out by some of the middle Eastern Arab media driving up to his house. He’s blown up. His two kids were blown up with him, but he’s just coming home to say hello to his kids. And it was a pretty horrendous attack that took place in Gaza, but many innocent people killed, 111 people wounded.

So that in itself creates this kind of terror inside of Gaza, with Hamas it seems is saying “We’re out of this, we’re not part of this.” So he’s neutralized them. But now it seems inside of Israel is, explain this to us, I mean Benny Gantz was going to form a coalition with Avigdor Lieberman on the right, from the Russian group on the right, the Russian Jews on the ride. And then he had the joint list on the left saying, at least, we passively support them, but not if he supports Gaza. So the Gaza incursions, which means that that was something else that Netanyahu must have planned ahead of time, knowing that that could split that coalition as well, to make it even more difficult for Gantz to form a government. Am I right or wrong about that?

JEFF HALPER: Well, it can be. But not far off. There’s nothing here that’s by chance. `In other words, it’s in the press in Israel that Abu al-Ata was schedule to be assassinated two years ago. In other words, the approval went through the Israeli government and the military 32 years ago. So in other words, for different reasons they might want it to get rid of him, but certainly it was very convenient to get rid of him and particularly at this time when the negotiations are so keen, and you want to make it impossible for Gantz and link up to the Arabs in Israel.

The Arabs in Israel are being portrayed by Netanyahu, not as in training citizens, but as the enemy. I mean there’s no difference in it. And I was speaking between Hamas, the Islamic Jihad, and Ayman Odeh from the joint Arab list. And so I think the timing can’t be ignored, of course, for this and don’t forget also, this isn’t an isolated incident. We’ve been talking now about a year and a half or more, what’s called the March of return in Gaza. There have been almost 400 Palestinians killed, and more than 3,600 Palestinians wounded, in very different and very crippled in many cases. In Gaza. So, in other words, this is all art of the controlled violence. It’s controlled politically, it’s controlled in terms of managing Gaza and it’s also controlled in terms of Netanyahu’s immediate political needs.

MARC STEINER: And then didn’t he also kind of bring in one of the leaders of the joint list and kind of set him up in a conversation that he released? Wasn’t that part of his way of getting in between Gantz and potentially building a coalition?

JEFF HALPER: Yeah. Yeah. I mean, let me put it this way. Yes, but you know Netanyahu really is brilliant, but let me introduce another thought to this whole thing and that is that I think for everything else, I think he’s finished politically that Netanyahu.

MARC STEINER: You think he’s finished?

JEFF HALPER: I believe he is going to be indicted, I think. And even if not, people are tired. Even in the Likud, they’re tired of him. Gideon Sa’ar and other people are already beginning to challenge him. So he’s finished. Now, what is true, we have to keep this in mind is he is a brilliant manipulator. His English is great. He knows everybody from Modi, to the Chinese, to Bolsonaro, to Trump to everybody, and he’s set up very important right wing coalitions in the world. He’s got a big plan, a big strategy, and he’s managed to keep this whole thing together, all this all these years. Because the occupation is not very popular in the world, but he’s managed to hold it all together.

The next guy that comes in, whether it’s Gantz or Gideon Sa’ar who’s going to probably take over, or anybody else, is not going to have those skills. His English isn’t going to be so good. You’ll be a local Israeli politician. You won’t know anybody else. You won’t really care that much. And I think in a way after Netanyahu, this whole thing could start to unravel. And I’m looking forward to all kinds of opportunities to finish things when he’s gone because he really is–you’re right–he really is a brilliant manipulator.

MARC STEINER: It’s amazing. I was going to show that the very top, but I meant to do that, but let me show it now. This is just to conclude with what he did in Gaza. This is his press conference when he talked about what was about to do. Let’s look at, just for a moment, I want a quick thought from you on this:

SPEAKER: In the past year, this arch terrorist was the main generator of terrorism from the Strip. He initiated, planned, and carried out many attacks. He fired hundreds of rockets at communities in the Gaza periphery, whose suffering we haven’t ignored. He was in the midst of crossing additional attacks these very days. He was a ticking bomb.

MARC STEINER: So I meant to show this at the top and I apologize but this, because even this, afterwards was shown a ticking bomb. He’s killing somebody because what he might do, and everything I’ve read in the European press and other press, is that this guy wasn’t that big a deal to start with. I mean that these manipulations are sort of there and ended with how you were describing what he was doing inside of Israel proper.

JEFF HALPER: Look, on the one hand, he’s been ticking for two years now. I mean how long do you tick. Again, they improved his killing two years ago. So you have to look at that timing as well. But in addition, what the horse is missing from the whole discussion is any kind of political horizon. And this is the conflict management part, that the international community participates in an allows, and that is that everything is reduced to “They’re terrorists. They’re throwing missiles,” and in the sense, they have a right to resist. Nobody talks about occupation. That word is never, ever, ever used and very seldom internationally in these things. There are 50 years of occupation, 20 years or 10, more than 10 years, 15 years of a siege impoverishment.

If the UN says Gaza is going to be uninhabitable next year already, there’s no water to drink, there’s no employment. Israel is destroyed the infrastructure several times, killed thousands and thousands of people. So in this situation, in a way this particular attack, might have a certain strategic and tactical meaningfulness Netanyahu has put in a wider context. And we have to understand that this is a violent state terrorism, against the Palestinian people, has been going on now for more than 50 years in the occupied territory. And more than 125 years for the entire country.

So we have to always, always put these things within the wider political perspective and understand that Hamas, Islamic Jihad, together with all the other Palestinian factions agreeing years ago, to a two state solution, which is really a very pro-Israel solution, they’ve tried to sue for peace and Israel has always said no. And what Netanyahu tries to do is use these attacks to blame the victim, to make the Palestinians think that the terrorists attacking us. And we lose the whole bigger picture of Israel’s attacks, of besiegement, of occupation, of semi-colonialism, and the fact that we’re talking about Palestinian resistance, we’re not talking about Palestinian attacks on Israel. And so I think we have to keep that wider context all the time in front of us.

MARC STEINER: Well, Jeff. However, as this unfolds, we see what happens with Netanyahu and the indictment, and whether Gantz takes over or someone else takes over for Netanyahu, we’ll come back to you to see what this all is. Thank you for the work you do and thanks for joining us once again.

JEFF HALPER: Thanks for having me.

MARC STEINER: Always good to talk to you, Jeff. And I’m Marc Steiner here for The Real News Network. Thank you all for joining us. Let us know what you think. Take care.

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