JOHN TULLOH. Just a case of Israeli ‘chutzpah’ or the action of a village tyrant?

Jan 3, 2017

The apoplectic rage of the Israeli Prime Minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, was something to behold. How dare the U.N., an organisation he takes little notice of anyway, condemn his ever expanding housing program for Jewish families in the contested West Bank and how dare the U.S. not even bother to veto it as has been the custom.

Poor old faraway New Zealand, one of the three co-sponsors of the resolution, got such a tongue lashing that reports claimed Netanyahu regarded the Kiwi action as a ‘declaration of war’. Diplomatic hostilities were declared on other backers of the unanimous resolution, while Barack Obama was sent off into his sunset with a stream of abuse and accusations from Jerusalem.

The reaction was bizarre when there are traditional ways of expressing diplomatic feelings, especially with long-standing allies. Was Netanyahu trying to spice up the silly news season with an outburst of chutzpah or was this the reaction of a village tyrant who goes into a tantrum if he doesn’t get his own way or is caught out? This was the man who in March 2015 came to the U.S. Congress without so much informing Barack Obama at the other end of Pennsylvania Avenue of his intention to denounce the president’s new policy on improving relations with Iran.

The U.S. for years has regarded the settlements as illegal. So does the International Court of Justice as well as the international community in general. Once, even Israel’s Attorney-General did. So why all sound and fury?

The Israeli daily Haaretz observed: ‘The U.S. warned Netanyahu for eight years that his policy would have a price, but he preferred pacifying the settler lobby instead of making a plan of action. He has only himself to blame. The fact that the U.S. abstained should surprise no one, especially not Israels prime minister. The old cliché about the handwriting on the wall has never been truer. In fact, Benjamin Netanyahu himself is the one who plastered it on the wall with his actions in recent years and especially in recent months. UN Security Council Resolution 2334 is his personal failure’. 

     The Iran deal should have given Netanyahu a clue that times in Washington were changing. Another was last October when the U.S. for the first time did not veto the annual U.N. resolution condemning Washington’s trade embargo with Cuba. It abstained along with one other country, Israel no less.

Netanyahu is prone to self-righteousness and running with the hares or the hounds when it suits him. On one hand, he reiterates his support for a two-state solution, but on the other he appeases his extremist coalition partners in order to survive. They want more settlements and some even favour annexation of parts of the West Bank on the grounds the land is the ancient Judea and Samaria. The result is even more housing, activist objections, dispossessed Palestinians, rising resentment, a judicial picnic and revising laws retroactively when judgments do not favour the settlers.

The Israeli leader can look to Donald Trump for some some comfort. He tweeted: ‘The big loss for Israel at the U.N. will make it much harder to negotiate peace. Too bad’ – and with his own dose of chutzpah ‘but we will get it done anyway’. Really?

His nominee to be the next American ambassador to Israel, David Friedman, is a bankruptcy lawyer with no diplomatic experience. He is the son of an Orthodox New York rabbi and runs a non-profit organisation that raises millions of dollars for a settlement of religious nationalists in the West Bank. He also opposes the very idea of Palestinian statehood. His extremism may daunt even Netanyahu.

The new year is no time for provocative decisions. It will mark the 50th anniversary of the Six-Day War when Israel, under attack from its Arab neighbours, took control of the West Bank from Jordan. This led to the famous U.N. Security Council Resolution 242 in November, 1967, which for years the Palestinians and Arab supporters used as their cause célèbre. It was passed unanimously, including by the U.S. It listed two overriding principles: 

     (i) Withdrawal of Israeli armed forces from territories occupied in the recent conflict; 

     (ii) Termination of all claims or states of belligerency and respect for and acknowledgment of the sovereignty, territorial integrity and political independence of every State in the area and their right to live in peace within secure and recognised boundaries free from threats or acts of force’. 

Even Israel at the time approved the resolution provided the Arab states recognised Israel’s right to exist and free of threats, which they didn’t. Since then, 400,000 Jewish settlers have moved into the West Bank along with Israeli military for protection. The Palestinians refuse to consider resuming peace talks for what little they are now worth until Israel stops building settlements. But Netanyahu says there can be no preconditions, though his real reason is that he dare not agree for the sake of his own and government’s survival.

But Netanyahu must make a choice between the international community and the settlers, according to Shlomo Avineri, professor of political science at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem. ‘Is Israel going to alienate itself from the whole world for the sake of settlement activity’? he asked in the New York Times. ‘And it is the whole world. Is this what Zionism is about’?

FOOTNOTE. Australia’s position was put into context by a letter to the Sydney Morning Herald. It noted that, according to Julie Bishop, she would not support any criticism of of Israel’s settlements expansion because Australia wants a two-state solution. The correspondent poses the question: ‘Can she explain how one state gradually stealing what is left of land remaining for a second state is helping achieve that solution’? 

John Tulloh had a 40-year career in foreign news.

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