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MAYBE IT'S TIME TO RESTRICT SETTLEMENT BUILDING AGAIN

Itamar, a Jewish settlement in the West Bank (Menachem Brodi / Wikimedia Commons)

US President Barack Obama has given Israel's leader Bibi Netanyahu an ultimatum - offer a concession to the Palestinian peace process or the US won't block new anti-Israeli resolutions at the UN General Assembly this fall. This was the gist of Obama's warning to the Israeli people when he was interviewed on Channel 2 TV.

Netanyahu is now ‘behind the eight ball' and Obama is exploiting it. Nearly the whole world supports a negotiated two-state solution to be negotiated by Israel and the Palestinians. However, in order to gain right-wing votes during the recent election campaign, Netanyahu declared:

 "On my watch there will never be a Palestinian state."

  

In short, Obama demands actions not words from Netanyahu.

It did the trick with the far Right and Netanyahu emerged to form the current Israeli coalition government. However, he sacrificed Israel's national interest for his own personal political gain. Obama has pounced on it to ramp up the pressure on the Jewish state. In effect, Obama says he can no longer believe that Netanyahu supports a two-state solution - it's not enough for Netanyahu to recant and now say he does. In short, Obama demands actions not words from Netanyahu.


 But this is only half the story. Israel is now trapped in a political pincer movement. While Obama pressures Netanyahu, the EU countries are acting to ban Israeli exports from the West Bank or from Israeli companies that have branches there. Europe is Israel's biggest trading partner and the threat of a trade boycott could harm the country's economy. Moreover, the BDS (Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions) movement is also gaining steam. For example, the National Union of Students in the UK has voted to adopt measures against Israel. In the US, a number of universities have also severed academic ties with their Israeli counterparts. While Netanyahu and other Israeli officials blame this on blatant anti-Semitism this is not the whole story, if even some Jews condemn Israel.

 

The real reason is also linked to Israel's continued occupation of the West Bank (Judea and Samaria) that has been exacerbated by the building of Israeli settlements there. This flies in the face of the territory being earmarked for Palestine, the other part of the two-state solution. Netanyahu and the new Israeli government have simply lost all credibility in negotiating for a Palestinian state. In the eyes of the world even if the Palestinians are not prepared to accept Israel as the homeland of the Jewish people, this does not justify Israel's continued encroachment on the West Bank. If this is the crux of Israel's predicament it also contains the solution to improving Israel's international standing.

The smart thing for Netanyahu to do now would be to announce a halt to Israeli building outside of the 'settlement blocs' that will presumably remain a part of Israel...

 

The smart thing for Netanyahu to do now would be to announce a halt to Israeli building outside of the 'settlement blocs' that will presumably remain a part of Israel, if a two-state peace agreement is ever worked out. (Former President George W. Bush made such a commitment to the late Prime Minister Ariel Sharon, and even Obama has gone along with the idea). Such a step by Netanyahu would show the world he is serious about a peace process and would put the onus on the Palestinians.


But there is not the ghost of a chance this will happen. Such a shift would torpedo his right-wing coalition - Naftali Bennett and his eight-member party would bolt, toppling the Likud's one-seat majority in the Knesset. Secondly, inside the Likud, a rebellion would probably oust Netanyahu as party leader.


Fédération Internationale de Football Association

Israel did manage to survive the recent Palestinian attempt to kick it out of the FIFA football federation, but only just. It had to offer the setting up of a special investigation committee. It is a sign of things to come. Coupled with Obama's veiled warning, it does not bode well for Israel over the coming 18 months before a new President enters the White House. For his part, Netanyahu has very little leeway for political maneuvering in the match-up with the Palestinians in the international arena.


...even the 'moderate' Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, who does not represent a majority of the Palestinian people, rejects the idea of a Jewish state, contending the Jews are not a people but a religion and a religion is not entitled to a state!

Don't get me wrong, it's not as if the Palestinians are champing at the bit to reach real peace and co-existence with the Jewish state. On the contrary, even the 'moderate' Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, who does not represent a majority of the Palestinian people, rejects the idea of a Jewish state, contending the Jews are not a people but a religion and a religion is not entitled to a state! The majority of Palestinians led by Hamas, and a growing number of ISIL followers in Gaza, are more direct - like Iran, they vow openly to annihilate the Jewish state. My bottom line is that in recent years Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, who is actually to blame for the lack of a negotiating process, has succeeded in running diplomatic rings around Netanyahu.


But all is not gloom and doom - Canada's Foreign Minister Rob Nicholson visited Jerusalem articulating a strong message of support from Ottawa:

Canada's Foreign Minister Rob Nicholson with PM Netanyahu

 "I am here to demonstrate emphatically, Canada's unwavering support for Israel…We understand that Israel's neighborhood is as dangerous as Canada's is peaceful, and so we know that Israel's leadership has no choice but to take at all times every step necessary to protect itself from the forces that are openly committed to its destruction…Israel is on the frontline of free and democratic nations the world over."


And this comment by Foreign Minister Nicholson could serve as a reminder to US President Barack Obama, so bent on achieving a nuclear deal with Iran:

"Those who turn their back on Israel, or turn a blind eye to the nature of Israel's enemies, do so in the long run at their own peril."

 "Those who turn their back on Israel, or turn a blind eye to the nature of Israel's enemies, do so in the long run at their own peril."


And again, slowly but quietly, Jerusalem has forged strong ties with New Delhi, which has announced that Prime Minister Narendra Modi will be its first Indian leader to visit the Jewish state later this year. Modi and Netanyahu also have a close relationship - he refers to 'my friend Netanyahu'. The Times of India has reported:

 "Israel is among the top defense suppliers to India, having already inked deals and projects worth around $10 billion over the past fifteen years...During his visit to India in February, Israel's Defense Minister Moshe Ya'alon even offered the advanced Iron Dome missile defense system to India."


Dr. Dore Gold & Gen. (ret) Anwar Eshki at a conference of the Council of Foreign Relations in Washington (photo credit: Bloomberg)

But one of the most dramatic results of Obama's policy of appeasing the radical Iran could be a growing cooperation between Israel and Saudi Arabia. Both countries share a deep concern that the US is ready to risk a reckless nuclear deal that will lead to Tehran acquiring atomic warheads for its advanced missiles that can already target all of the Middle East and many European capitals. A sign of this joint interest was the appearance of Dr. Dore Gold, a close confidant of Netanyahu, and Saudi Arabia's Gen. (ret) Anwar Eshki at a conference of the Council of Foreign Relations in Washington where they were even photographed shaking hands. Jerusalem and Riyadh have reportedly shared intelligence on Iran, which they view as a dangerous enemy.


Netanyahu has named Gold to take over as Director of Israel's Foreign Ministry. Unlike Egypt and Jordan, Saudi Arabia has not made formal peace with the Jewish state, but has proposed an initiative for overall peace between Israel, the Palestinians and the Arab states. Recently Netanyahu has said he will examine the possibility of forging closer ties with (Sunni) Arab states that feel let down by the US in the face of what is perceived as Obama's preference for (Shiite) Iran. Could Netanyahu be planning a surprise development on this track?






 

David Essing

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