Good for Israel, bad for settlements

Israel’s PM Benjamin Netanyahu is facing a dilemma and needs to make a choice between pursuing two-state solution and one-state solution , following Friday’s UN Security council resolution.

For years Netanyahu pretended that he supports the two-state solution while building more settlements, plus protecting illegal outposts, all to ensure he retains his seat.

The construction of new settlements means putting facts on the ground which will make it impossible to withdraw from in the event of peace agreement. Netanyahu would have preferred the status quo, meaning, Israel continue to build while relying on the US to veto potential resolutions at UNSC level. However the US didn’t veto this time as it didn’t veto resolution 446 in 1979 that deal with settlements. It is evident that Netanyahu count on president-elect Trump to help him avoid the choice (one-state vs. two-state), but he is up for a surprise in my opinion.

Resolution 2334 is a result of frustration with the current status quo and the lack of diplomatic initiative. This is undoubtedly humiliating defeat for Netanyahu who also acts as Israel foreign minister and therefore holds responsibility for this outcome. Netanyahu for years diminishing the power and impact of Israel’s foreign ministry, by taking away powers and creating unnecessary new ministries in order to be able to have coalition in place. In addition , Israeli diplomats been striking several times in recent years over their employment conditions and small budgets, which are just part of the process to weaken the ministry and letting Netanyahu himself having more power to oversee and execute Israel’s foreign policy. In Israel’s situation, a strong foreign ministry is as important as having a strong military, maybe even more.

Netanyahu retaliated as expected by recalling Israel’s ambassadors from New Zealand and Senegal, and rebuking all the other ambassadors whose countries dared to support the resolution. A facebook post of his equating journalists and left-wing politicians to Hamas was another proof that he will never change and that his priority will be himself rather than Israel’s national interests.

Had Netanyahu listened at any point during the last 8 years to Israel’s friends, this could have been avoided. But he was so focused on straining the relations between Israel and it’s strongest ally the US, by : taking sides in US presidential campaign when Mitt Romney visited Jerusaelm, when he insisted against the wishes of the White House to come and give a speech at the Congress and when he humiliated President Obama in public. The last straw for the Americans was the Knesset’s approval of the settlements regulation bill.

But it’s not just the US who had enough of Netanyahu, it’s also European allies like France and UK that voted in favour of this resolution. Netanyahu’s supporters already started to accuse PM Theresa May of betrayal, but this couldn’t be far from truth. PM May is as strong friend of Israel as David Cameron was, and her speech at the Conservative Friends of Israel event just few weeks ago is an example (same speech that drew praises from the very same people who now attack PM May).

I’m under no illusions that the resolution won’t help delivering immediate peace agreement. However, the resolution in itself isn’t anti-Israel but anti-Netanyahu and anti-settlement, and that’s why Netanyahu don’t like it. No matter how biased Israel feel the UN is, with another PM in place it would have been possible to avoid such a resolution by: freezing settlements construction outside blocks, open direct negotiations with the Palestinians and using diplomatic channels to make Israel’s case. Instead what Israel got is a PM who think he can continue to show the middle finger to his allies and the world – well that clearly backfired.

The key now is what are the next steps to follow. Since we know that Netanyahu will not step down neither as FM nor as PM and we know that he is not going to make a sudden u-turn an freeze settlement activity, we need to wait and see whether there will be a further UNSC resolution in Obama’s last weeks and whether Trump will be Netanyahu’s saviour (I wouldn’t recommend Netanyahu to put his money on that). Also there may be some potential moves by the European Union, although it may be unlikely given the upcoming elections in France and Germany plus the Brexit negotiations process with the UK. Still a symbolic EU resolution along the same lines or a resolution on Palestinian statehood is a scenario that will worry Israeli diplomats.

Internally in Israel, it is clear that the support for Netanyahu isn’t waning as his rhetoric ‘the world is against us’ is working and his recent moves regarding settlements will ensure his coalition is stable. The leader of Israel’s opposition , Isaac Herzog, isn’t perceived as an alternative PM by many Israelis on the centre and centre-left, while popluist Yair Lapid gaining momentum in polls but developed a reputation of making flippant responses. That clearly emboldens Netanyahu and while the opposition don’t have an effective leader who can unite the public and provide an alternative that will resonate, there won’t be a change. Strangely, the key for government change in Israel is held at the moment by attorney-general Avichai Mandelblit, who can instruct the police to conduct some investigations into Netanyahu on several issues (the submarines deal among them). If there are investigations which are then followed by criminal proceedings (as happened to previous PM Ehud Olmert), that could change the whole dynamic of Israeli domestic politics and Israel’s foreign policy.

Meanwhile, while Netanyahu remains the Prime Minister, he will finally need to make a choice whether he supports the two-state solution or whether he support the one-state solution (as many in his party do). That’s why I think it’s overall good for Israel because it will help clarify to Israelis the direction the government wishes to take the country to. Maintaining the status quo of building settlements and claiming support for two state solution, is no longer an option for Mr. Netanyahu.



About the Author
Tal Ofer is a former parliamentary researcher and now Deputy at the Board of Deputies of British Jews. He actively fights antisemitism and delegitimisation of Israel. In Summer 2014 he masterminded a campaign to target Tricycle Theater donors, which led to reverse of boycott of UK Jewish Film Festival.
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