Thursday, March 31, 2011

America's UN veto and Israel's Benjamin Netanyahu

When the Obama administration recently used its first UN veto to stop the UN Security Council from passing a resolution to make Israel’s West Bank communities illegal, many in Israel wondered what would be the fallout from this veto. Would President Obama conclude from the way he was humiliated by the PA’s Abu Mazen that it is the PA that is intransigent , or would Mr Obama direct his anger at Israel for having placed him into a position where he had to suffer such a public humiliation?
It took two weeks to get the answer: Mr Obama is directing his anger at Israel—and Mr. Netanyahu is responding.
Consider the evidence:
-Feb 19, 2011, the Obama administration casts its first UN veto, to protect Israel.
-Feb 20, the Knesset announces that a proposal has been presented in Committee, to push for civilian sovereignty for Jews living in Judea and Samaria, to remove Ehud Barak from controlling construction in those territories,  to make it easier to build homes. It fails to pass. Rumors spread that Mr Netanyahu’s Likud was against it.
-Feb 21, an announcement is made that, as a result of yesterday's failure, Opposition factions now plan to bring to the full Knesset--not a Committee-- the same proposal that had just failed in Committee-- to grant civilian sovereignty to the residents of Judea and Samaria, so that building could continue without government interference or control.
-Feb 22, residents of Binyamin and Shomron accuse Mr Netanyahu of caving in to pressure from the US by unofficially continuing the building freeze, because the US demands it.
-Feb 22, Mks confirm that a vote will indeed be called for in the Knesset on Israel sovereignty for Judea/Samaria residents, and that the Netanyahu government will require all coalition members to reject it.  It is reported that coalition Mks ask permission to vote their conscience, to vote for it. Permission is denied.
-Feb 23, the vote  for Israel sovereignty for Judea and Samaria residents is rejected by the Knesset. Likud members are accused of going AWOL, and rejecting that which they claim to support.
-Feb 24, at a municipal (Jerusalem) meeting to discuss new plans for Jewish construction in East Jerusalem, meeting atendees learn that all building plans have, inexplicably, been  held up. No one appears to know why.
-Feb 28, Police shoot plastic bullets at residents of  a small settlement called Havat Gilad in the West Bank, and destroy community buildings. Outrage follows.
-Feb 28, PM Netanyahu says he will personally investigate the incident at Havat Gilad
- March 1, PM Netanyahu announces that his government will tell the Supreme Court its decision to demolish all illegal outposts on disputed land. Present at the meeting when this decision is made are the Prime Minister, Defence Minister Ehud Barak, and Attorney General Yehuda Weinstein. Suddenly, the PM’s fingerprints are now visible; he is in control of this issue, not Barak.
-March 1, the PM announces that the residents of Judea and Samaria do not live in the real world; we are in a very difficult international situation, he says; the UN veto was achieved at great effort; the PM must be ‘responsible’; and we must consider the reality in which we live. He is quoted as saying that, “there are those who seek an easy but irresponsible solution, but we won’t help them with that.” Likud Minister Dan Meridor echoes this message, adding that we must make certain not to lose our consensus for keeping the larger West Bank communities.
-March 2, a report on a White House meeting between President Obama and the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations stated that Mr Obama gave the impression to many present that he appeared 'enormously hostile' towards Israel. President Obama is reported to have said that Israel bears primary responsibility for advancing the peace process.
We can now understand from these events and remarks that our reality is that if Israel wants to keep any of the largest communities in the West Bank as a result of a peace agreement with the PA, we will have to show the US that we can advance the process by uprooting outlying Jewish communities before they become a peace ‘issue’. If we do that, we may demonstrate that we are ’responsible’ participants in this process, and thereby gain some US support. If we do not show that ‘responsibility’, then our consensus can disappear—and we have to remember that the only nation in that consensus is the US.
I would also suggest that Mr Natanyahu’s words and actions cited above, particularly on March 1, may reflect actual language used by President Obama or US Secretary of State Clinton. I would further suggest that a second message was delivered, that the humiliation suffered by the US at the United Nations was entirely Israel’s fault, and that such humiliation will absolutely never happen again. Indeed, given that, on Feb 20, the day after the veto, Mr Abbas announced an interest to go directly to the UN General Assembly for an anti-Israel vote, such a threat has real near-term consequences:  it is altogether possible that Mr Netanyahu was put on notice that, if Israel does not show ‘good faith’ for peace (by new actions), then the US may allow Israel to swing at the UN.
The evidence above also suggests that Mr Netanyahu is fundamentally shaken by the intensity of this new hostility, a hostility that was clearly noticed at that White House meeting on March 2.
Mr Netanyahu seems caught now between two evils: caving in, or appearing to cave in, to one who looks like a bully; or, taking the ‘easy but irresponsible’ way, by supporting the ‘settlers’.
I cannot tell the Prime Minister what to do, but as he charts a course to cope (since February 28 he has begun ‘calling out’ Abbas while uprooting ‘illegal’ outposts), I would suggest that he remember his roots. Perhaps he should remember these words from the English-language version of the Likud Platform:
“The Jewish communities in Judea and Samaria are the realization of Zionist values. Settlement of the land is a clear expression of the unassailable right of the Jewish people to the land of Israel and constitutes an important asset in the defence of the vital interests of the State of Israel. The Likud will continue to strengthen and develop these communities and will prevent their uprooting.”
Mr. Prime Minister, these words are neither ‘easy’ nor ‘irresponsible’. You were elected because of them. Do not now turn your back on the vital interests of the State of Israel.

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