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Israel's Ambassadors Criticize Governments Settlement Building

Israel's Ambassadors Fault Government's Recent Decision To Build New Housing Units Adjacent To Jerusalem In West Bank

Benyamin Netanyahu

 Israeli ambassadors have dropped a bombshell on Israel's current election campaign. At a Foreign Ministry gathering of Israeli diplomats serving abroad, Israel's UN representative Ron Prosor appeared to take issue with Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu's recent decision to announce the building of 1300 new housing units in the area of E-1 near East Jerusalem on the West Bank. The Palestinians claim this construction would drive a wedge between a Palestinian state on the West Bank. Netanyahu said the announcement was in response to Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas's violation of the Oslo Accord in pushing for a Palestinian non-member observer state by the UN General Assembly on Nov.29th.

 Both Israel and the Palestinians are committed not to take any such unilateral steps and Abbas had clearly breached this obligation. Israel's announcement about new settlement building in Judea & Samaria sparked sharp criticism from the international community, including the U.S., as well as from opposition parties in Israel. Moreover, it is now clear that Israeli diplomats abroad are perplexed by their own government's announcement. At an annual Foreign Ministry gathering of its foreign diplomats in Jerusalem, the respected UN Ambassador Ron Prosor reflected this consternation when he asked IDF Gen.(res.) Yaacov Amidror, the head of Israel's National Security Council, what can only be perceived as a provocative question: "What was the logic behind the government decision to announce the building units in E-1 the day after the UN General Assembly recognized Palestine as a non-member observer state?" IsraCast has learned a number of other Israeli ambassadors applauded Prosor for his provocative query. Bear in mind that Prosor is on Israel's front line in the diplomatic warfare being waged against the Jewish state at the U.N. Apparently sensing that a group of disgruntled diplomats concurred with Prosor, Amidror reportedly snapped: "We are officials and we represent the government. Anyone who can't do that should resign and go into politics. Our job is to represent the government and it's the elected leaders who make the decisions".

A Foreign Ministry source at the conference later said Prosor had not intended to criticize the government's announcement on settlement construction. He had asked the question in good faith and 'wanted to express the difficulty that Israel's diplomats had in defending the government's policy when they do not comprehend it and had to suffice with fact sheets sent from Jerusalem'.

Conclusions: If Prime Minister Netanyahu has now lost the basic support of Israel's top diplomats his handling of the Palestinian issue at the U.S. is in deep trouble. The ambassadors are professionals, not political hacks, with many years experience in defending Israel abroad and have a reputation for being apolitical. It is reasonable to presume that Prosor and his colleagues felt the government announcement on E-1 was simply an egregious decision, almost impossible to defend in the international arena, even if it might have been taken in order to curry favor with Right-wing voters in Israel. In addition, the ambassadors have let off steam after the departure of former Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman who turned the ministry into a virtual pressure cooker.

Shimon Peres (Photo: Amit Shabi)

It was the second diplomatic dustup at the ambassadors' conference. Just a few days ago, state President Shimon Peres also sparked fireworks when he also crossed swords with the Netanyahu government. Peres, begged to differ with the Prime Minister by contending that Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas was a genuine peace partner and Israel should initiate some new peace moves. Then to add insult to injury, Peres spoke of negotiating even with Hamas, provided they gave up their vow to annihilate Israel. Right-wingers hit the roof accusing Peres of violating his presidential role that obligates him to remain neutral in Israeli politics, particularly in the midst of an election campaign. However it can be argued that Peres has done more to defend the Netanyahu government abroad than anyone else and therefore he has earned the right to speak his mind, even if it runs counter to the government of the day.

And when it comes to the current election campaign both the Peres protest and the ambassadors' criticism provide much needed ammunition to Netanyahu's rivals. In the Center, former foreign minister Tzipi Livni can roast Netanyahu if even Israeli ambassadors complain they cannot defend his foreign policy decisions. Nevertheless, polls show that although Likud-Beiteinu may have slipped from 44 to 34 seats in the Knesset, Netanyahu is still front-runner when it comes to forming the next coalition government after Jan 22. The question is whether runner-up Shelly Yachimovich of Labor can now cash in on the 20% floating voters who have yet to make up their minds.

David Essing

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