12/27/2016 Israel's Over The top reaction to UN Vote
For the past few months, the joke in Tel Aviv has been that President-Elect Donald J. Trump was an invention of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. After all, to most Israelis — even ardent opponents of Netanyahu — the Israeli Prime Minister seemed a sane choice, compared to Trump. During the last two days, many Israelis are scratching their heads wondering, which one of these political leaders is more responsible.
Ever since the U.N. Security Council vote on Friday night, Netanyahu has been acting in ways that confound most people. First, he recalled Israel's Ambassadors from New Zealand and Senegal — i.e., two of the sponsors of the latest U.N. resolution. Then, Netanyahu canceled the visit of the Ukrainian Prime Minister, an shortly thereafter, he cancelled his scheduled meeting with the Prime Minister of the U.K. Next, Netanyahu ordered his ministers not to visit any of the countries who voted in favor of the resolution. After which, he called on all of the representatives of the countries who voted for the resolution for a meeting — on Christmas Day — “to explain themselves.” Finally, Netanyahu and his Republican strategist (oh, apologies, I meant our Ambassador to the US) to directly blame President Barack Obama for resolution, supported by a whole procession of his Likud party ministers all denouncing Obama for “stabbing Israel in the back.” Ambassador Ron Dermer went one step further, asserting that Israel would share the intelligence it has with the incoming U.S. administration, on how President Obama is directly responsible for the passing of the resolution. An Israeli Ambassador publicly proclaiming that Israel is collecting intelligence on any American President is simply astounding. Furthermore, waging a full-fledged frontal-assault on a President who is leaving office with one of the highest approval ratings in modern history is suicidal, in the long run.
As if all this was not bad enough, our Israeli Consul-General in New York tweeted: “The era is over in which countries benefit from Israeli know-how in high-tech, in security and so on, and from the prestige of a visit to Israel and involvement in the Middle East, without providing diplomatic repayment.” MK Ze'ev Elkin, Israel’s Minister for Jerusalem and the Environment, claimed U.S. Vice President Joe Biden personally asked the Ukraine to support the resolution. Listening to all of the statements and speeches, I could not help but think about the story my grandfather used to tell me about a seller in the market who wanted to get people to head to a specific place. The salesman would tell everyone who passed that there was a sale going on there — even though there was none. After a while, the man would close down his stall. When his neighbor asked where was he going, the salesman would reply: “To the sale, of course.” Ultimately, he believed his own lie. It would seem some of our leaders have fallen into the same trap — i.e., believing because we are the “Start-up Nation,” that we are irreplaceable; believing that because we currently understand airline security better than anyone, that the world needs us more than we need the world ... or mistakenly that the United States needs us, more than we need the United States.
From reactions in Israel, one might think the U.N. resolution and the U.S. decision to abstain (and not impose its veto) came as a complete surprise, and, or that the U.N. resolution called for the destruction of Israel. Nothing could be further from the truth, on either count. It is reasonable to question why — with all that is going on in the world today — does the U.N. care about the issue of illegal building in territory conquered by Israel in 1967? By all accounts, the world should have more important things to worry about. The U.N. obsession with Israel is a very real problem. However, as I wrote in a previous piece (two weeks ago), Prime Minister Netanyahu urged his ministers not to support a new law the arrangements bill that would retroactively legalize the seizure of Palestinian lands, warning it would end in censure through a U.N. resolution, or a trial in the Hague (International court of Justice). A few days later, because of his internal political calculations, Netanyahu decided to support the arrangements law, which then passed the Knesset in its first reading. So why the surprise?
There is very little unique in the new U.N. resolution. It merely reaffirms the stated opinion of the International community — i.e., that building homes on land captured in 1967 is illegal and calls on Israel to halt such building. Some Israeli legal experts dispute this interpretation of international law, however, they have been in the minority. The resolution calls on nation-states “to distinguish, in their relevant dealings, between the territory of the State of Israel and the territories occupied since 1967.” The Israeli government fears that this resolution might become an impetus to revive the BDS movement. What angers Israelis most, is the resolution's reference to 'East Jerusalem', in the same manner as the rest of the area captured in 1967. Israel annexed Jerusalem in 1967 and many Israelis cannot imagine that our sovereignty over the Western Wall — Judaism's most holy site — could be questioned.
The tragedy most Israelis live with, is the fact that the majority of Israelis support the idea of two-state solution. More than half of Israelis do not want to keep occupying Palestinians in the West Bank ... but just as many have no idea how to bring the conflict to an end. Israelis have no reason to believe that after over 100 years of opposing our existence here, Palestinians will suddenly be willing to accept it. Previous unilateral withdrawals from South Lebanon and Gaza have resulted in missile barrages, instead of peace. At the same time, Palestinians who have watched Israeli physical control, over what was once Mandate Palestine continue to expand, have no reason to believe that Israelis will be willing tostop expanding their presence. There are still millions of refugees from 1948 (600,000 who left in 1948/49 have grown into millions over the years, since Palestinians are the only refugees in the world who inherit their refugee status), to whom no one is willing to tell the truth ... that they will never return to their homes that are now parts of Tel Aviv, Haifa, or other integral parts of Israel. The settlers and their political leaders in the Bayit Hayehudi party have had a clear goal of making a political settlement that includes a two state solution impossible. Because of Israel’s unique political system, the Bayit Hayehudi wields greater political power than they deserve based on their actual support. The result, instead of ordering the police to remove the settlers from the illegal Amona settlement, (as demanded by the Israeli Supreme Court), the government spent months trying to find a solution acceptable to the settlers. After months of negotiations, the only proposal they could come up with was so patently illegal (both under Israeli and International the law) that the government's own Attorney-General said he could not defend the decision.
Netanyahu's political instincts to attack the U.N. are well-founded. the U.N. has always been a very unpopular institution in Israel. It is impossible to explain to most Israelis that when the U.N. Security Council, or for that matter the General Assembly, votes it's not the U.N. that is voting, but rather the individual countries. Politically-speaking, in Israel Netanyahu can attack President Obama with relative impunity. Over the past eight years Netanyahu has successfully convinced much of the Israeli public that Obama hates Israel. (Of course, he has convinced many Israelis that left-wing Zionists also hate Israel, and the views of Obama and the Israeli left are not all that different.) However, by attacking so many people simultaneously Netanyahu may have gone too far. After repeatedly claiming to the Israel public that our relations with the world are excellent, reacting the way he has may be an over-reach. The opposition has finally found its voice. Even Yair Lapid, who, on Saturday night was the first to have a press conference denouncing the UN vote and the U.S. decision not to impose its veto, by Monday, openly criticized Netanyahu's reactions.
The prevailing opinion, this morning on the street of Tel Aviv, was that the Prime Minister had gone way too far and this could endanger his support among his devotees. When pressed, however, those same people could only shrug and acknowledge that it's unclear if anything Netanyahu does will truly dent his support.