Prime Minister Bibi Netanyahu should have known better - but he didn't. He has now presided over Israel's greatest diplomatic debacle in years. Bibi knew U.S. President Barack Obama was gunning for him yet he persisted in concocting a ludicrous settlement law to placate forty families at the Amona settlement. This even after Israel's own Supreme Court had ruled it had been built on private Arab land, in violation of both Israeli and international law. Instead, Bibi gave in to the die-hard settlers who have now, in their infinite wisdom, agreed to evacuate peacefully.
So what did the PM do? He let himself be railroaded by cabinet ministers both in the Likud and the Jewish Home parties into approving a new law that would prevent the evacuation of other settlements that were also built on private Palestinian land. It is called the 'Regulation' law. The only hitch is that it opened the door for the UN Security Council to pass a resolution of its own - one that outlaws all Israeli housing built on the West Bank, including East Jerusalem. Since the Six Day War in 1967, this territory was considered to be a subject for negotiation in eventual Israeli-Palestinian peace talks. Now the UN Security Council has weighed in saying in effect that all the West Bank belongs to the Palestinians for their future state. Bibi believed that US President Barack Obama, despite the bad blood between them, would again cast a US veto. But for Obama, soaking up the sun in Hawaii, it was too good to miss; he told Ambassador Samantha Power to simply abstain. The result was a landslide of 14-0 for the pro-Palestinian resolution. Bibi blew it big time and Palestinian President Mahmoud won by a knockout.
Since 1967, all of Israel's nine PMs have succeeded in steering a diplomatic course that could count on a US veto that would block any Palestinian attempt to avoid negotiating with Israel on the future border. Sometimes the road was rocky, but until now the UN Security Council has rejected repeated Palestinian attempts to avoid talking to Israel. Remember how Ariel Sharon even persuaded former President George W. Bush to hand over a document stipulating that the settlement blocs near Jerusalem, such as Gush Emunim, Maale Adumim, and even Ariel should remain permanently inside Israel? Now Bibi has succeeded in putting question marks after such Jerusalem neighborhoods such as Ramat Eshkol, Hagiva Ha'tzarfatit, Ramot, and Gilo into question. Consider this: according to the UN resolution even the Western Wall of the First and Second Biblical Temples would not be located inside the Jewish state. For all Israelis, including Left wingers, this is mind-boggling.
Naturally Bibi hit the roof. Even on the Sabbath eve, when political activities come to a standstill, the irate PM issued a blistering rebuttal of the resolution:
'Israel rejects this shameful anti-Israel resolution and will not abide by its terms. At a time when the Security Council does nothing to stop the slaughter of half a million people in Syria, it disgracefully gangs up on the one true democracy in the Middle East'.
But America's Samantha Power begged to differ:
'Today the Security Council reaffirmed its established consensus that settlements have no legal validity'.
And she added:
'One (that is Bibi) cannot simultaneously champion expanding Israeli settlements and champion a viable two state solution that would end the conflict'.
The problem is that Bibi actually thought that he could and get away with building settlements and doing nothing to advance peace. In fact, he got too big for his britches. Israel's High Court of Justice tried to tell him otherwise. So did former Likudniks such as MK Benny Begin, Dan Meridor, and certainly MK (now Labor) Tzipi Livni. His old defense minister Ehud Barak has been taking pot shots at the PM trying to show the folly of his ways, but to no avail. These critics have been telling Bibi he holds all the cards and whole world expects him to make some offers to the Palestinians even if Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas does not want truly seek peace.
The Likud ministers who helped get Israel into this diplomatic dead-end are also blasting Obama for selling out Israel to get even with Netanyahu. Question - so if everyone knew Obama might try and ambush Bibi in the last days of his term, the smart thing would have been to make some concession to the Palestinians. Such a conciliatory step would have made it tougher for Obama to mug Bibi in a dark alley of the UN. But Jewish Home leader Naftali Bennett, a settlement fanatic if there ever was one, was breathing down Bibi's neck in the coalition. Bibi, for fear of losing Right wing supporters, went along with the Regulation Law - internal politics trumps the national interest, so to speak.
Netanyahu is now banking on Trump to pull the settlement chestnuts out of the fire. For his part, the President elect issued a cryptic response criticizing Obama:
'Things at the UN will be different after January 20th'.
After the Sabbath, the firestorm raged in Israel. Opposition Leader Yitzhak Herzog of Labor (now the Zionist Camp) called on Bibi to resign as a result of the UN resolution which is so damaging to the Jewish state and future peace talks with he Palestinians. Herzog said he and his colleagues have long been warning the PM that this would be the result of dragging his feet. In fact, Herzog had even tried joining Bibi's Right wing coalition to prevent what has now transpired at the UN. This is the intended theme of the Centre and Left opposition:
We told you - Netanyahu got us in this fix by standing in the middle of the road and doing nothing but build settlements. Now he's been run over and we're right next to him'.
There will be a demand for an urgent Knesset session where the Opposition members will go after Bibi with hammer and tong. The only thing is that Labor (Zionist Camp) needs is a dynamic leader who can lead the charge, and the truth is that Yitzhak Herzog is not up to the task. On the other hand, the Far Right is demanding a 'a fitting Zionist response' to the UN resolution - Bennett proposes annexing the community of Maale Adumim near Jerusalem on the West Bank, adding that 'this UN resolution will wind up in the trash bin of history!'. Spoken like a true settler fanatic who lives in the well-to-do neighborhood of Tel Aviv.
Netanyahu has also gone on the war path. He has recalled Israel's ambassadors to New Zealand and Senegal and cancelled a foreign aid program to Senegal. These two countries tabled the resolution in the Security Council. Netanyahu also canceled an upcoming visit to Israel by the President of Ukraine after that country voted for the resolution. The PM also cancelled Israeli payments of $30 million dollars to UN bodies that adopt flagrant anti-Israeli policies. But what about punitive steps against Russia, France and Britain, who also voted for the resolution? These states are simply too big to mess with. And this is the truth of international politics that Bibi, Bennett, and the rest of the Israeli far Right don't seem to understand. Size is important at the UN and in the international arena.
- If you are the US you can carpet bomb Vietnam, and bomb the hell out of Iraq or whatever
- If you are Russia you can deliberately bomb Syrian civilians, level Chechnya, invade Ukraine
- If you are China you can just breeze into tiny Tibet and send the Dalai Lama Packing
- If you are Britain you can send an armada 8,000 miles to the Falklands off the coast of Argentina to protect an estimated 2,900 British citizens and 500,000 sheep
But if you are minuscule Israel fighting for survival in the vortex of a Muslim bloodbath, you must mind your P's and Q's - and most certainly Bibi, don't get too big for your britches! Like ever trying to take on the President of the USA! On this score, remember former Prime Minister Arik Sharon, a much tougher customer than Bibi Netanyahu. Once former US President George W.Bush took him by the arm and told him something like: 'Now listen Arik I'm sure you'll understand I need support from the Big Powers for my war in Iraq but they want an Israeli-Palestinian peace plan in return'. A doubtful Arik took the hint but added one proviso - the first clause of the Road map peace plan was a clause that insisted in no uncertain terms that the Palestinians must cease all terror attacks on Israel. Nothing else would be discussed unless and until this happened. Of course halting terrorism against the Jews was totally unacceptable to the Palestinians and so the Road map was discarded on the wayside. Bibi should learn from Arik who once chided:
'Bibi, sometimes I think your left hand doesn't know what your right hand is doing!'
Naturally the Palestinians are jumping for joy after Bibi handed them a victory on the silver platter.
Summing up: the UN resolution is more declarative than anything else at present. It does not mention the Chapter 7 clause that could include economic sanctions on Israel. Prime Minister Netanyahu is defiant, but he is likely to wait until Trump takes office before taking any further dramatic response.