In Davos, Prime Minister Bibi Netanyahu charted a new course. In a memorable interview with Fareed Zekaria, Netanyahu stressed that new clandestine ties with the Sunni Arab countries will supersede a solution to the Palestinian issue:
‘There is a great shift taking place – we used to think that if we solved the Israeli-Palestinian conflict it would solve the larger Israeli-Arab conflict. The more I look at it, the more I think it may be the other way round. That by nurturing these relationships that are taking place now with the Arab world, that could actually help us resolve the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, and we’re actually working towards that end’.
When queried about ‘Saudi Arabia also chopping off peoples heads’, like Daesh, Netanyahu agreed that Riyadh needed a path to reform but ‘they see Israel as an ally not as an enemy’.
Obviously, this major pivot in the Middle East is the direct outcome of America’s nuclear deal with Iran. Sunni Arab countries such as Saudi Arabia, most of the Gulf States and Egypt feel more threatened than ever by the non-Arab Shiite Iran. They believe Tehran will break out for A-bombs in the future, but meanwhile divert part of the initial $100 billion dollars to fund subversion and terror in their territory. America is seen as siding with Iran and no longer their bulwark against Iran’s goal of gaining regional hegemony.
After sizing up the new situation, they identified a joint interest with Israel in taking on Iran. It is not without precedent. For years Turkey and Israel maintained a strong, silent alliance that even allowed Israeli Air Force jets to be stationed at Turkish airports, which deployed them closer to Iran. It was only the ascendancy of Turkey’s current leader, Recepp Tayyip Erdogan, who severed the alliance, but is also having second thoughts these days.
If Israel now has the back of Saudi Arabia, this could explain Riyadh’s more aggressive approach to Tehran.
What does it all mean? For Netanyahu to have made such a bold statement indicates that diplomats on both sides have been busy putting some quiet understandings in place. If Israel now has the back of Saudi Arabia, this could explain Riyadh’s more aggressive approach to Tehran.
On the other hand two of Islam’s most holy sites, Mecca and Medina, are in Saudi Arabia, which has taken on the responsibility of guarding Islamic shrines. Naturally, this includes the Al Aqsa mosque built on the Jewish Temple Mount in Jerusalem, which has become a flashpoint between Muslin and Jewish zealots. Netanyahu must be very careful in preventing any new flare-ups that could sabotage the new relationship with Saudi Arabia. On this score, Hamas and other Palestinian extremists could deliberately instigate renewed violence such as stoning Jewish worshippers at the Western Wall.
Reading between the lines, Netanyahu does not hold out much hope for a renewal of negotiations with the Palestinians in the foreseeable future. Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas was not ready to come to the table but sought an ‘international diktat’, an imposed agreement on Israel. Now that Netanyahu is bent on building relations with Sunni Arab states the smart thing for him to do would be to cool off any controversial settlement building, but whether he will be able to curb his far Right coalition partners remains to be seen.
Cabinet Minister Naftali Bennett, of the Jewish Home party, has ridiculed Netanyahu for not doing enough to penalize the Palestinians for the current wave of ‘lone-wolf’ terrorism. On this score, two vicious stabbing attacks by two 15-year-old Palestinians have highlighted the situation. How could a teenager stab one mother to death in front of her children, while the other stabbed a pregnant woman? Surely it is the result of the indoctrination they have received since early childhood. Case in point: a Palestinian video clip shows kids in a Palestinian kindergarten being given knives to stab a doll in the shape of a sheep. When they’re all through with stabbing, the teacher then spills a red fluid on the dolls to the applause of the parents. Guess whom the doll was to represent?
When asked what the U.S. should do now after the nuclear deal, Netanyahu replied: ‘Keep their feet (the Iranians’) feet to the fire!’ The problem is that the U.S. is doing it to Israel. In an unprecedented address, America’s Ambassador Dan Shapiro hauled Israel over the coals about its control over the Palestinians in the West Bank. Shapiro did just about everything but use the word apartheid:
‘Too much Israeli vigilantism in the West Bank goes unchecked – there is a lack of thorough investigations – at times it seems Israel has two standards of adherence to the rule of law in the West Bank – one for Israelis, one for Palestinians’.
In Davos, Netanyahu rejected the ambassador’s caustic criticism, which was obviously directed straight from the White House. Arguing that the Palestinians had their own local government and police force, the PM said Israel’s security came first and he viewed himself as the protector of the Jewish state:
‘Look what happened in southern Lebanon and Gaza – we walked out and the terrorists walked in. I want a solution – we don’t want to govern the Palestinians, but all we get is terrorism. It can only be resolved by negotiation, but President Abbas refuses to negotiate or to even recognize the Jewish people or a Jewish state’.
Meanwhile in Ramallah, Abbas told a different story. In low-level contacts, Abbas had proposed a meeting with Netanyahu but it was Bibi who backed out. Netanyahu’s spokesman said this was not true – he was ready to go anywhere anytime. When asked about Bibi’s demand that he recognize the right of a Jewish state, Abbas replied this was a ‘Netanyahu invention’. No other Israeli leader had made such a demand.
This is disingenuous on the part of Abbas. In the peace negotiations with Egypt’s President Anwar Sadat that concluded with Prime Minister Menachem Begin and Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin’s peace accord with Jordan’s King Hussein, there was no territorial dispute or question of refugees. The two sides simply recognized each other’s borders and compromised on the agreement. But now Abbas himself and the rest of the Palestinians have categorically denied Israel’s right to exist as a Jewish state. They declare the Jewish people have no right to self-determination, as do the other members of the UN. In other words, this leaves the door open to eliminating Israel as a Jewish state in the future. If Israel is ready to recognize a Palestinian state why would they not be ready to recognize the Jewish state of Israel?
But via the Ambassador Shapiro’s address in Tel Aviv, Obama was venting his ire on Netanyahu for his fierce fight against the nuclear deal. But the key question will come in the UN Security Council next fall when the French are expected to table a resolution branding the settlements as illegal. Will the U.S. cast its traditional veto in Israel’s cause to kill it?
At the Davos conference, Netanyahu appeared to be optimistic and confident about the future of U.S.-Israeli relations. He had meetings with Vice-President Joe Biden and Secretary John Kerry. The Israeli leader came away saying ties were ‘rock-solid’ and a new and bigger military aid package was in the pipeline. It would exceed the current $1.3 billion dollars annually, that money goes back to the U.S. in the form of arms purchases. He justified this by noting Iran was now about to cash in on some $100 billion with the lifting of the sanctions.
While the EU had chosen to boycott, defame and slander the Jewish state … there was a contrary move by such ‘small countries’ as India, China, Japan, Russia, virtually every African state, and now even in the Arab world that were eager to work with Israel.
But there are signs of growing international pressure on Israel over the Palestinian question. The EU decided to label, but not ban, all Israeli products from the West Bank. Netanyahu argued there were two opposing trends when it came to Israel’s international relations. While the EU had chosen to boycott, defame and slander the Jewish state while it was fighting terrorism, there was a contrary move by such ‘small countries’ as India, China, Japan, Russia, virtually every African state, and now even in the Arab world that were eager to work with Israel.
Syria: it will not be possible ‘to put Humpty Dumpty back together again’ and the likely outcome will be a benign ‘Balkanization or cantonization’ of the Syrian territory. (It goes with saying that under such circumstances the Golan Heights would remain in Israeli hands: DE)
Daesh: Netanyahu said Daesh (Arabic acronym for ISIL) was present in Sinai where Israel is cooperating with Egypt in combatting the terrorists. In fact, at least one Daesh cell has been uncovered in Israel, and only a small number of Israeli Arabs have gone to join its forces. And in a crack at Sweden’s Foreign Minister Margot Wallström, Netanyahu said that was probably ‘far less’ than the number of Swedish citizens.
Overall, he believed it was ‘doable’ to smash Daesh – it would take both the will and a consistent campaign. He pointed to mounting an attack on their power bases in Raqqah and Mosul. Moreover, half of Daesh funding came from the sale of oil that should also be knocked out. Israel has been in contact with the U.S. and others on how to confront Daesh.