U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry is sitting down with EU foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton, Kerry, United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov and Quartet envoy Tony Blair, the former British prime minister to discuss his ‘framework agreement’ designed to extend negotiations between Israel and the Palestinians to the end of 2014 and to make plans for supporting it.
The talks are being held in Munich, with the murderous irony obviously escaping Kerry and the others. And Secretary Kerry had a few words to say to Israel about the need for them to knuckle under, warning that Israel’s relative security and prosperity that’s bound to collapse if the Palestinians don’t get what they want:
“The risks are very high for Israel. People are talking about boycott. That will intensify in the case of failure. We all have a strong interest in this conflict resolution,” Kerry said. “Today’s status quo absolutely, to a certainty, I promise you 100 percent, cannot be maintained. It’s not sustainable. It’s illusionary. There’s a momentary prosperity, there’s a momentary peace.”
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and members of his cabinet weighed in sharply against what appeared to be a threat in order to force Israel into unsafe strategic concessions:
“The attempts to boycott the State of Israel are not moral or justified,” Netanyahu said. “Moreover, they will not achieve their purpose. Firstly, they only serve to make the Palestinians become more entrenched in their stance of refusal. Secondly, no pressure will make me abandon the State of Israel’s vital interests, of which security of the civilian population is foremost.”
Strategic Affairs Minister Yuval Steinitz also spoke out, calling Kerry’s comments “offensive, unfair and intolerable.”
“You can’t force the State of Israel to negotiate with a gun to our heads while we are discussing the most critical of our national security interests.”
Economy Minister Naftali Bennett said that “the advice-givers” should know that Israel will not abandon its land because of economic threats. “We expect our friends around the world to stand beside us, against anti-Semitic boycott efforts targeting Israel, and not for them to be their amplifier.”
U.S. State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki responded in a statement claiming that Secretary Kerry has a long history of supporting Israel and opposes boycotts.
Then. like clockwork, Lars Faaborg-Andersen, the EU ambassador to Israel weighed in, saying that ‘of course’ Israel would be blamed if the peace talks with Mahmoud Abbas collapse, and that Israel would likely endure “increasing isolation” .
“If the talks are wrecked as a result of an Israeli settlement [construction] announcement, then the blame will be put squarely on Israel’s doorstep,” the EU envoy said. If Israel’s actions result in the talks’ breakdown, “naturally and logically [Israel] will be to blame,” he said.
“If Israel continues to expand its presence beyond the Green Line, without a peace agreement being signed, it “will find itself increasingly isolated,” he predicted. “Not necessarily because of any decisions taken at a government level but because of decisions taken by a myriad of private economic actors, be it companies, be it pension funds, be it consumers who will be choosing other product on the supermarket shelves.”
While we can certainly swallow this for the sake of diplomacy, let’s not be under any illusions here.
Senator Kerry does indeed have a records of supporting Israel, one that was created while he was a senator in a state with an influential Jewish population and subject to re-election in order to retain his senate seat. Now, he works for President Obama and doesn’t need top worry about being re-elected, with all that entails.
And there’s no doubt in my mind that what he said was being used by design as a threat. Last September when the talks began, no less than senior PLO negotiator Nabil Shaath was complaining, saying that they had been ‘enticed’ into the talks by the new EU guidelines boycotting Israeli entities beyond the 1948 ceasefire lines but that the U.S. had talked the EU into postponing them..for now.
Established American law circa 1977 exists making it illegal for U.S. companies to cooperate with any boycott of Israel or deal with foreign companies that do, imposing stiff penalties on any that fail to comply. Had the Obama Administration wanted the EU boycotts quashed completely, a mere mention of these laws would have been sufficient.
As for the remarks of Lars Faaborg-Andersen, they are so disingenuous as to defy belief. So it won’t be government actions but private ones? When the EU’s official policy is to turn part of Israel into a walled ghetto in order to appease their restive Muslim populations and force Israel into concessions? The EU finessed this to a degree in order to attract Israeli funding and technological expertise for its Horizon 2020 project, but make no mistake that this is official EU government policy as EU foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton was at pains to emphasize, and that the EU will have no qualms about extending it to all of Israel no matter what Israel does or doesn’t do.
You’ll also notice that no one in the Quartet is talking about any pressure on Abbas and the PLO if a deal falls through, which makes it increasingly likely that the PLO will engineer something to torpedo the talks. And why not? The EU just gave them a huge incentive to do exactly that.
So what should Israel do to counteract this? What actions should it consider?
The first thing to remember is that while land and strategic concessions given to the Palestinians and the Arab states last a long time, political situations in Western countries can change relatively quickly with every election.
For instance, Australia’s foreign minister recently questioned the whole rationale behind considering Jewish commu8nities in Judea and Samaria ‘illegal’…which of course, they aren’t except to the EU. Canada’s stance on Israel and the Palestinians used to pretty much mirror the EU’s. Not any more, as Canadian PM Harper’s recent visit proved. Nor is Canada likely to go along with any BDS-style boycotts:
Australia, China, The U.S. and India along with a number of other countries remain prime markets for what Israel has to sell.
The EU itself may not even be in existence a couple of years from now.Nor is every current EU country likely to go along all that strictly with its anti-Israel policies even if it is.
Not only does Israel have the option of increasing its trade with other markets, but Israel also has the option of taking direct action against discriminatory EU policies.
While the current Obama Administration has proven far more friendly to the Palestinians and more prone to embrace the fallacy of ‘linkage’ of some kind of Arab -Israeli peace accord with harmony in the Middle East than previous U.S. governments, Israel is not without friends in Congress and the American public.
An Israeli call to these allies to enforce current U.S. laws against anti-Israel boycotts against EU companies as well as EU policies that amount to a de facto attempt to ghetto-ize Israel is likely to have an effect. So would a counter threat to cut off EU funding to anti-Israel NGO’s and political entities and to restrict EU business and imports here. After all, what’s good for the Israeli goose is good for the EU gander, n’est pa? With the Eu on shaky financial ground and unemployment more than double Israel’s, such a quid pro quo would carry weight.Especially if Israel mounted an international campaign to boycott EU goods unless the Eu changed its policies.
At this point, Israel is in a superb position to embrace the idea of diplomacy while insisting that entities like the EU respect its right to self defense and its national right to Jerusalem and the parts of Judea and Samaria under Israeli sovereignty. The country is energy self-sufficient, grows it’s own food, has no need to import water and contrary to Secretary Kerry’s remarks, has every reason to expect its prosperity to continue and its peace to remain secure….as long Israel depends on its people and on the capable hands of the IDF, not foreign ‘security guarantees’, electronic sensors or a UN force that will run at the first shot fired by Israel’s enemies.