Are things moving in relation to Israel?

In yesterday’s blog post I spoke of ‘wishful thinking’ – but it seems as if there really might be some positive change occurring in relation to Israel.  I was not expecting to write another blog on this topic so quickly, but I do want to capture a remarkable change in mood.

Of course, British readers will probably giggle at the thought of me quoting Nick Clegg, but despite everything he IS the deputy PM, and is significant in that regard.  Haaretz reports him as saying:

British Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg has criticized Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu for reneging support for a two-state solution, saying that if the Israeli leader does not backtrack from those remarks, Britain would have no choice but to recognize a Palestinian state.

Clegg, the leader of the Liberal Democrats, called Netanyahu’s vow not to create a Palestinian state “alarming,” the Guardian reported Thursday.

Netanyahu, while campaigning Monday, said that if he were to be reelected, a Palestinian state would not be created, in a definite disavowal of his 2009 speech, in which he had voiced support for the principle of two states for two peoples.

Peter Beinart, writing in the same newspaper, discussed American disillusionment with Netanyahu, which is obviously far more significant than anything Clegg might come out with.  This is in particular in relation to the ‘there will be no Palestinian state’ comments from Netanyahu before the election, which seem to have finally made the Obama Administration wake up (a spokesperson explicitly rejected attempts to explain that comment away – Netanyahu’s damage limitation efforts do not appear to be working).  Beinart wrote:

It is the Palestinian state comments, in particular, that are leading the Obama administration to, in one official’s words, “reassess our options.” The administration’s basic problem is this: For years, America has fought Palestinian efforts at the UN by insisting that bilateral negotiations offered the only path to Israeli-Palestinian peace. Administration officials stress the extraordinary, exhausting, diplomatically costly lengths to which they went to stymie various Palestinian UN moves. Obama and Kerry lobbied world leaders personally. Now, they argue, Netanyahu has destroyed their argument. How can they tell other countries that negotiations offer the best path to a Palestinian state when the leader of Israel has said he will not allow a Palestinian state? “It’s the prime minister taking this position,” says a senior administration official, “that forces this reassessment.”

… most of the discussion is about policy. One policy option is to let the Palestinian Authority collapse and let Bibi deal with the calamity that follows. Early this year, Israel began withholding more than $100 million in tax revenue to punish Palestinians for trying to join the International Criminal Court. Since then, the Obama administration has been going around, cup in hand, trying to get European and Persian Gulf countries to give the Palestinian Authority the money to stay afloat. US officials estimate the PA can survive only another month or two without an infusion of cash. Already, the PLO has voted to suspend security cooperation with Israel. And although Mahmoud Abbas has made such threats before, this time Obama administration staffers think he is serious.

From a security perspective, Obama officials think Netanyahu would have to be insane to let the PA—which effectively serves as Israel’s West Bank subcontractor—go belly up. If it does, they predict terrorism, anarchy, and young Israelis having to directly patrol every Palestinian village and town. But they think Netanyahu, especially surrounded by a right-wing government, may be reckless enough to let that happen. And after this election campaign, they’re not sure they want to keep saving him from himself.

In another Haaretz piece, Beinart makes a point that many Americans will be feeling: “If Israelis have the right to vote for permanent occupation, we in the Diaspora have the right to resist it.”

These comments have all been from the Israeli Haaretz paper (sometimes compared to Britain’s Guardian). But American papers offer no solace to Netanyahu either.  Here, Judi Rudoren and Michael D Shear of the New York Times explain the Obama Administration’s changing position:

Josh Earnest, the White House press secretary, said on Thursday that regardless of the prime minister’s clarifications, his [Netanyahu’s] pre-election statements demonstrated that he was “no longer committed to a two-state solution,” which “means that the United States is in a position to re-evaluate our thinking.”

A day after other White House officials suggested that the administration might now support a Security Council resolution calling for the establishment of a sovereign Palestine roughly along the pre-1967 lines that divided Israel from the West Bank and Gaza, Mr. Earnest said Mr. Netanyahu’s statements “do have consequences for actions that we take at the United Nations and other places.”

The standoff showed the lasting damage done to Mr. Netanyahu’s already-strained relationship with Washington during a divisive Israeli campaign. The tensions were worsened when the prime minister spoke to Congress, against White House wishes, to protest the emerging nuclear deal between six world powers and Iran.

Of course, whilst this is all welcome (and long overdue), neither the USA nor the UK are about to become staunch defenders of BDS, cut military aid (gifts) to Israel, and suspend financial support.  But it may be that UN Security Council protection is going, and whilst Netanyahu has assiduously cultivated relationships with important countries like India (a huge market for Israeli arms, in particular), India does not have a veto on the UNSC – America does.  Losing the automaticity of the American veto might be come as a bit of a shock to Israel, which is used to behaving shockingly badly and getting away with it.  William Saletan has written about the situation, interestingly making several of the points I made yesterday, and pointing to what the consequences might be:

We [Americans] have enabled this behavior, and we must end it. Friends don’t let friends drive drunk. We must clarify the price Israel will pay for continuing to flout international norms and commitments. The challenge is to find the right measure. It can’t be destructive, vengeful, or disproportionate. That rules out sanctions, cutting military aid, and subjecting Israel to prosecution under the International Criminal Court. It also rules out supporting a Palestinian-backed United Nations resolution that would demand the establishment of a Palestinian state within a year, with no corresponding promises to Israel.

The right vehicle is a different resolution, floated three months ago by France, which would authorize a two-year timetable for resolving the terms of statehood. It would stipulate a “non-militarized” Palestine, as well as a “full-phased withdrawal of Israeli security forces.” The terms of the French draft aren’t much different from what the United States informally accepts. But by endorsing the resolution and making clear that we will no longer use our veto in the Security Council to fend off such measures, the United States would signal to Israel that our patience has run out. Israel can join the discussions and move toward recognition of Palestine. Or it can stand alone.

No revolution then, but nobody should expect that. However, something really does appear to be changing here, and not before time.  Let’s hope it isn’t just posturing.

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