Dec 4th 2012

Netanyahu’s Brazen And Perilous Defiance

by Alon Ben-Meir

A noted journalist and author, Dr. Alon Ben-Meir is professor of international relations and Middle East studies at the Center for Global Affairs at New York University. Ben-Meir holds a masters degree in philosophy and a doctorate in international relations from Oxford University. His exceptional knowledge and insight, the result of more than 20 years of direct involvement in foreign affairs, with a focus on the Middle East, has allowed Dr. Ben-Meir to offer a uniquely invaluable perspective on the nature of world terrorism, conflict resolution and international negotiations. Fluent in Arabic and Hebrew, Ben-Meir's frequent travels to the Middle East and meetings with highly placed officials and academics in many Middle Eastern countries including Egypt, Israel, Jordan, the Palestinian territories, Syria and Turkey provide him with an exceptionally nuanced level of awareness and insight into the developments surrounding breaking news. Ben-Meir often articulates

One would think that Prime Minister Netanyahu and his cohorts would one day come to their senses and realize that there are limits to which they can defy the international community, including the United States, without serious, if not perilous, repercussions for the state of Israel. As long as he is in power, Netanyahu has no intention, now or ever, to allow for the establishment of a functioning and independent Palestinian state. His talk of a two-state solution is nothing but an empty slogan designed to mislead the international community, and tragically he is leading the Jews’ third commonwealth to a historic disaster akin to the destruction of the Second Temple. Those Israelis from the left and center of the political spectrum must wake up and stop him in his tracks before it’s too late. Otherwise, they will be judged as harshly and mercilessly as history will judge Netanyahu by not preventing the looming disaster from destroying the Jews’ last refuge.

I may sound overly dramatic, but anyone who witnessed last week’s events at the United Nations and condemned the General Assembly’s overwhelming support in granting the Palestinians a non-voting observer state is contributing to the demise of a two-state prospect, which offers the only solution that preserves and safeguards Israel’s very existence. Leading Israeli figures, including former Prime Minister Olmert, applauded the UN resolution not because they care about the Palestinians as much as they are concerned about the future of Israel itself. Israel’s isolation has already reached its zenith as was displayed at the UN vote, and further defiance of the international community will make Israel a pariah state living in darkness and uncertainty, with no friends left to watch its back.

Due to the converging political events and circumstances in Israel and in the region, I for one feel, like millions around the world and in Israel, that the Palestinian Authority’s (PA) successful UN bid offers a momentous opportunity to resume in earnest the Israeli-Palestinian peace process. Israel and the United States for that matter, who claim that the PA’s unilateral action only undermines the peace negotiations, have yet to produce a shred of evidence that supports their contention. In fact, Israel has been taking unilateral measures in the occupied territories, including expropriating Palestinian land with impunity, to which the whole world is opposed.

There are several central reasons why I feel that further delay in resuming the negotiations for tactical or strategic reasons by either side will erode the last vestiges of a mutually accepted agreement with dire consequences for both.

First, as the peace negotiations have been frozen for the past three years, I believe that the PA’s elevated status could change the dynamic of the conflict in an unprecedented manner, compelling the Israelis to face a new reality. For many years now, as long as there was no spike in violence or threat of imminent danger emanating from the West Bank, the Israelis became increasingly complacent, preferring the status of “no peace, no war.” This condition allowed Netanyahu to have it both ways, which is precisely what he wished to accomplish as he continued unabatedly with the expansion of settlements. President Abbas’ effort at the UN has now shaken that status quo. Mr. Olmert expressed his support, stating that the move is in “line with the strategy of a two state solution,” and any attempts to stifle this momentum will herald a return to the status quo ante, which will severely cripple the viability of the two-state solution and acutely harm Israel’s national interests.

Second, although the Obama administration voted against the UN resolution, the timing of the PA move is particularly important as President Obama prepares for his second term where he must now deal with the ever-changing conditions in the Middle East. Recent events in Gaza have added further urgency for direct U.S. involvement in solving the Israel-Palestine conflict. The Obama administration has largely neglected the conflict after attempts were made in 2010, but the latest flare-up of violence between Israel and Hamas provided a “rude awakening”- that the U.S. cannot ignore the Israeli-Palestinian conflict without consequences to America’s strategic interests. The fact that the U.S. has backed Israel at the UN does not suggest that President Obama supports Netanyahu’s ever obstructionist policy toward the Palestinians.

The Netanyahu government’s announcement, the day after the PA’s successful bid, that it was moving ahead with plans to build a new city in the contentious area known as E1 between Maale Adumim and Jerusalem making the contiguous Palestinian state virtually impossible, was nothing short of a slap in the face to President Obama. Defying Israel’s sole ally is not only short-sighted but extremely damaging to Israel as the US is becoming increasingly frustrated with a prime minister who has lost his bearings and his mind. Regardless of Netanyahu’s loathsome behavior, however, the PA move should prompt the US to interject itself directly, actively and consistently, as it must, to push for an accord while making it abundantly clear to the Netanyahu government that it can no longer take U.S. blanket support for granted.

Third, regardless of who wins the January 2013 elections in Israel, the next prime minister will have to face the Palestinian problem in one way or another. Playing for time, as Netanyahu has done over the past four years, will no longer work. The election in January can be fateful only if the center and left political parties come to grips with the danger that Israel will face should Netanyahu be given another chance to form a new government. These are no ordinary times; the splintered political groups in Israel must either rise to the occasion and literally save the country from sliding toward the abyss, or allow their personal interests and inflated egos to stand in the way of fighting for their country. I know this is a tall order, but if they do not match their criticism of Netanyahu with action, they will have sacrificed the future of the nation on the altar of their blind self-indulgence. Then again, should Netanyahu form a new government, he will have to face, or must be made to face by the US, the changing dynamics. The Palestinians now have other tools by which to constantly refocus the attention of the international community on their plight by going, for example, to the International Criminal Court (ICC) and exercising their newly gained leverage. Israel should look at the changing conditions constructively. Instead of opting to punish the Palestinians, the next government must respond to the majority’s demands that Israel exorcize the evil of occupation and restore dignity to both Israelis and Palestinians alike.

Fourth, the overwhelming support from the international community has sent a loud and clear message to the current and future Israeli governments that Israel has no friends left. The biggest blow to Netanyahu’s policy came from the European countries that either chose to support the resolution (like France) or abstain (like the United Kingdom and Germany). Denying Netanyahu even a minimal face-saving outlet represented nothing short of exposing his unseemly bankrupt policy. The disproportionate vote at the UN (138-9, with 41 abstentions) provided a glaring testimony to Israel’s near complete isolation, which necessitates that something must now be done to face the conflict squarely. No new Israeli government, even if led by Netanyahu, can afford to ignore the consensus of the international community, provided that the leading European nations, especially, Britain, Germany, and France under the leadership of the US, are determined to use whatever diplomatic tools and leverage they can muster to resolve the conflict. In that sense, what happened in the UN provided a new momentum because the stakes for all countries concerned are extremely high.

Finally, the Palestinians are not likely to remain idle in the wake of the Arab Spring when young men and women have and continue to die for their freedom and dignity in places such as Libya, Egypt, and Syria. It would be only a question of when, not if, they will rise against the humiliating occupation. The PA’s success is likely to forestall the potential uprising in the territories and give more time for negotiations. Moreover, the successful UN bid strengthens the PA’s position as well as that of other moderate voices over Hamas, whose political standing along with other extremist groups was boosted in the wake of the latest Israel-Hamas flare-up. This development offers the US in particular a new opportunity to re-engage Israel and the Palestinians in a productive dialogue.

To fully benefit from these developments, the Palestinians would be wise to use their elevated position in a constructive way. Instead of threatening to go to the ICC, they should focus intently on the resumption of negotiations unconditionally and leave it to the US to establish the rules of engagement. In so doing, they will deprive Netanyahu from playing for time particularly because it was he who insisted on resuming the negotiations unconditionally. Israel, for its part, would be wise to refrain from taking even symbolic punitive actions against the PA, which will not only worsen the situation but weaken Israel’s hand as it would be acting against its own interest while further alienating the entire international community. The recent decision by Netanyahu’s government to build 3000 units in East Jerusalem and West Bank settlements is exactly the wrong prescription for the immediate resumption of negotiations, but since this project is still at the planning stages, the US can play a direct role in diffusing this conflicting issue.

The Obama administration has an equally important task in pushing to resolve the conflict by demonstrating that it can be an honest and impartial mediator. The US should retract its ownthreat of taking action against the PA. President Obama can make a convincing argument to Congress that taking punitive action would further undermine US influence in the region and that withholding aid from the PA will only strengthen the extremists among the Palestinians.

It should be made clear, though, that none of the above exempts the Palestinians from responsibility. They have all along abstracted the peace process and resorted to violence, especially the second Intifada, which was a turning point for Israel providing justification for its concerns, suspicions, and complete lack of trust. In that regard, while the Palestinians “never miss an opportunity to miss an opportunity,” Israel cannot afford to miss this opportunity and bring an end to seven decades-old debilitating conflict with dignity.

Fundamentally, the dwindling prospect of achieving a two-state solution demands a creative and principled approach by the United States and Israel. The latest move by the PA may well provide the impetus to seek a solution, however elusive it may seem.

Browse articles by author

More Current Affairs

May 7th 2021
EXTRACT: " Would the United States be prepared to risk a catastrophic war with the People’s Republic of China to protect the Republic of China, better known as Taiwan? "
May 5th 2021
EXTRACT: "Human history, ancient and contemporary, is replete with instances of genocide – that is, the effort to eradicate a people, erase their history, denigrate their culture, and destroy their physical presence. Many of these atrocities have been recognized by the victims and other nations who support them. But, with the notable exception of the German acknowledgment of the Holocaust, rarely have the perpetrators of these crimes accepted responsibility and offer recompense "
May 2nd 2021
EXTRACT: "The best way to defend liberal democracy is to practice it at home and abroad with the “courage and self-confidence” that Kennan touted at the dawn of the Cold War. This is also the best way to ensure the survival of our own conception of human freedom. And survive it will."
May 1st 2021
EXTRACT: "Ann Arbor (Informed Comment) – Sammy Roth at the LA Times/ Boiling Point Newsletter reports that California’s main power grid was powered for several hours last Saturday by 90% renewables. For just four seconds that day, the grid, which covers 4/5s of the state, reached 94.5% generation by green energy. California is the world’s fifth largest economy. The main grid does not cover Los Angeles County. On the other hand, these figures do not include the electricity generated by the Diablo Canyon nuclear plant, which is not counted as renewable but which is also very low-carbon."
Apr 23rd 2021
EXTRACT: "It is no accident that there has been an economic divergence in Central and Eastern Europe. Those countries that have joined the European Union have improved their economic governance, and GDP has begun to converge with Western Europe. Between 2014 and 2019, Hungary, Poland, and Romania grew at an annual average rate of 3.9%, 4.1%, and 4.7%, respectively. Meanwhile, Belarus and Ukraine experienced minimal growth during this period, and Russia’s economy expanded at an average annual rate of just 0.7%. Though Russia had a higher per capita GDP (in terms of purchasing power parity) than Croatia, Poland, Romania, and Turkey as recently as 2009, all of these countries have since overtaken it. Russians today are shocked to learn that they are worse off than Romanians and Turks. Among EU member states, only Bulgaria is still poorer than Russia. With its close proximity to the EU single market, Russia could have had higher growth if it had pursued sound economic policies. Instead,..... "
Apr 22nd 2021
EXTRACT: "As far as anyone can tell, the US military is not on the verge of an internal breakdown, let alone primed to stage a coup d’état. But few predicted anything like the US Capitol riot before protesters equipped with body armor, stun guns, and zip-ties breached the building. Before the US is blindsided again, its leaders must act resolutely to root out extremism in the military."
Apr 17th 2021
EXTRACT: "The new report on 2020 by the International Renewable Energy Agency reveals that the world’s renewable energy generation capacity increased by an astonishing 10.3% in 2020 despite the global economic slowdown during the coronavirus pandemic." .... "In 2020, the global net increase in renewables was 261 gigawatts (GW). That is the nameplate capacity of some 300 nuclear power plants! There are actually only 440 nuclear power plants in the whole world, with a generation capacity of 390 gigwatts. So let’s just underline this point. The world put in 2/3s as much renewable energy in one year as is produced by all the existing nuclear plants!"
Apr 16th 2021
EXTRACT: "When we examined the development of nations worldwide since 1820, we found that among rich Western countries like the United States, the Netherlands and France, improvements in income, education, safety and health tracked or even outpaced rising gross domestic product for over a century. But in the 1950s, even as economic growth accelerated after World War II, well-being in these countries lagged.
Apr 11th 2021
EXTRACT: "Some presidents indulge in the “Mount Rushmore syndrome” making an obvious effort to achieve greatness. Normally soft-spoken and apparently modest Biden is making his own bid for immortality."
Apr 9th 2021
EXTRACT: "New ways of thinking about the role of government are as important as new priorities. Many commentators have framed Biden’s infrastructure plan as a return to big government. But the package is spread over eight years, will raise public spending by only one percentage point of GDP, and is projected to pay for itself eventually. A boost in public investment in infrastructure, the green transition, and job creation is long overdue."
Apr 7th 2021
EXTRACT: " One can, and perhaps should, take the optimistic view that moral panics in the US blow over; reason will once again prevail. It could be that the Biden era will take the sting out of Trumpism, and the tolerance for which American intellectual life has often been admired will be reinvigorated. This might even happen while the noxious effects of American influence still rage in other countries. For the sake of America and the world, one can only hope it happens soon.  "
Mar 28th 2021
EXTRACT: "By refusing (despite having some good reasons) to end electoral gerrymandering, Chief Justice John G. Roberts, Jr., has directly enabled the paralyzing hyper-partisanship that reached its nadir during Donald Trump’s presidency. By striking down all limits on corporate spending on political campaigns in the infamous 2010 Citizens United decision, he has helped to entrench dark money in US politics. And by gutting the 1965 Voting Rights Act in Shelby County v. Holder, Roberts has facilitated the racist voter-suppression tactics now being pursued in many Republican-controlled states."
Mar 24th 2021
EXTRACT: "the UK’s tough choices accumulate, and the problems lurking around the corner look menacing. Britain will have to make the best of Brexit. But it will be a long, hard struggle, all the more so with an evasive fabulist in charge."
Mar 15th 2021
EXTRACT: "Over the years, the approach of most American policymakers toward the Israeli-Palestinian conflict has been Israel-centric with near total disregard for the suffering endured by the Palestinian people. The architects of policy in successive US administrations have discussed the conflict as if the fate of only one party (Israel) really mattered. Israelis were treated as full human beings with hopes and fears, while Palestinians were reduced to a problem that needed to be solved so that Israelis could live in peace and security.  ..... It is not just that Israelis and Palestinians haven’t been viewed with an equal measure of concern. It’s worse than that. It appears that Palestinians were judged as less ​human than Israelis, and were, therefore, not entitled to make demands to have their rights recognized and protected."
Mar 8th 2021
EXTRACTS: "XThere’s a global shortage in semiconductors, and it’s becoming increasingly serious." ...... "The automotive sector has been worst affected by the drought, in an era where microchips now form the backbone of most cars. Ford is predicting a 20% slump in production and Tesla shut down its model 3 assembly line for two weeks. In the UK, Honda was forced to temporarily shut its plant as well." ..... " As much as 70% of the world’s semiconductors are manufactured by just two companies, Taiwan Semiconductor (TSMC) and Samsung."
Mar 5th 2021
EXTRACT: "Back in 1992, Lawrence H. Summers, then the chief economist at the World Bank, and I warned that pushing the US Federal Reserve’s annual inflation target down from 4% to 2% risked causing big problems. Not only was the 4% target not producing any discontent, but a 2% target would increase the risk of the Fed’s interest-rate policy hitting the zero lower bound. Our objections went unheeded. Fed Chair Alan Greenspan reduced the inflation target to 2%, and we have been paying for it ever since. I have long thought that many of our economic problems would go away if we could rejigger asset markets in such a way as to make a 5% federal funds rate consistent with full employment in the late stage of a business cycle."
Mar 2nd 2021
EXTRACT: "Under these conditions, the Fed is probably worried that markets will instantly crash if it takes away the punch bowl. And with the increase in public and private debt preventing the eventual monetary normalization, the likelihood of stagflation in the medium term – and a hard landing for asset markets and economies – continues to increase."
Mar 1st 2021
EXTRACT: "Massive fiscal and monetary stimulus programs in the United States and other advanced economies are fueling a raging debate about whether higher inflation could be just around the corner. Ten-year US Treasury yields and mortgage rates are already climbing in anticipation that the US Federal Reserve – the de facto global central bank – will be forced to hike rates, potentially bursting asset-price bubbles around the world. But while markets are probably overstating short-term inflation risks for 2021, they do not yet fully appreciate the longer-term dangers."
Feb 28th 2021
EXTRACT: "To be sure, calls to “build back better” from the pandemic imply some awareness of the need for systemic change. But the transformation we need extends beyond constructing modern infrastructure or unlocking private investment in any one country. We need to re-orient – indeed, re-invent – global politics, so that countries can cooperate far more effectively in creating a better world."
Feb 23rd 2021
EXTRACT: "So, notwithstanding the predictable release of pent-up demand for consumer durables, face-to-face services show clear evidence – in terms of both consumer demand and employment – of permanent scarring. Consequently, with the snapback of pent-up demand for durables nearing its point of exhaustion, the recovery of the post-pandemic US economy is likely to fall well short of vaccine development’s “warp speed.” "