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

Sep 24th 2021
EXTRACTS: "We have found that 47 million American adults – nearly 1 in 5 – agree with the statement that “the 2020 election was stolen from Donald Trump and Joe Biden is an illegitimate president.” Of those, 21 million also agree that “use of force is justified to restore Donald J. Trump to the presidency.” Our survey found that many of these 21 million people with insurrectionist sentiments have the capacity for violent mobilization. At least 7 million of them already own a gun, and at least 3 million have served in the U.S. military and so have lethal skills. Of those 21 million, 6 million said they supported right-wing militias and extremist groups, and 1 million said they are themselves or personally know a member of such a group, including the Oath Keepers and Proud Boys." ----- "..... the Jan. 6 insurrection represents a far more mainstream movement than earlier instances of right-wing extremism across the country. Those events, mostly limited to white supremacist and militia groups, saw more than 100 individuals arrested from 2015 to 2020. But just 14% of those arrested for their actions on Jan. 6 are members of those groups. More than half are business owners or middle-aged white-collar professionals, and only 7% are unemployed."
Sep 11th 2021
EXTRACT: "That long path, though, has from the start had within it one fundamental flaw. If we are to make sense of wider global trends in insecurity, we have to recognise that in all the analysis around the 9/11 anniversary there lies the belief that the main security concern must be with an extreme version of Islam. It may seem a reasonable mistake, given the impact of the wars, but it still misses the point. The war on terror is better seen as one part of a global trend which goes well beyond a single religious tradition – a slow but steady move towards revolts from the margins."
Sep 11th 2021
EXTRACTS: "Is it not extraordinary that in a country that claims to be as enlightened and advanced as ours, the combined wealth of three individuals – Amazon founder Jeff Bezos, Microsoft founder Bill Gates, and investor Warren Buffett – exceeds the total wealth of the bottom half of Americans? One has to return to the days of the pharaohs of Egypt to find a parallel to the extreme wealth inequality that we see in in America today." ...... "The top tax rate remained above 90 percent through the 1950s and did not dip below 70 percent until 1981. At no point during the decades that saw America’s greatest economic growth did the tax on the wealthy drop below 70 percent. Today it is somewhere around 37 percent. President Biden’s American Families Plan would increase the top tax rate to 39.6 percent – a fairly modest alteration, albeit in the right direction. It is true that there was a time when the top marginal tax was even lower than it is today: in the years leading up to the Great Depression it hovered around 25 percent."
Sep 7th 2021
EXTRACT: "But Biden can’t be blamed for the rise of the Taliban, or the fragile state of a country that has seen far too many wars and invasions. The US should not have been there in the first place, but that is a lesson that great powers never seem to learn."
Sep 4th 2021
EXTRACT: "The world is only starting to grapple with how profound the artificial-intelligence revolution will be. AI technologies will create waves of progress in critical infrastructure, commerce, transportation, health, education, financial markets, food production, and environmental sustainability. Successful adoption of AI will drive economies, reshape societies, and determine which countries set the rules for the coming century." ----- "AI will reorganize the world and change the course of human history. The democratic world must lead that process."
Sep 1st 2021
EXTRACT: "Although the Fed is considering tapering its quantitative easing (QE), it will likely remain dovish and behind the curve overall. Like most central banks, it has been lured into a “debt trap” by the surge in private and public liabilities (as a share of GDP) in recent years. Even if inflation stays higher than targeted, exiting QE too soon could cause bond, credit, and stock markets to crash. That would subject the economy to a hard landing, potentially forcing the Fed to reverse itself and resume QE." ---- "After all, that is what happened between the fourth quarter of 2018 and the first quarter of 2019, following the Fed’s previous attempt to raise rates and roll back QE."
Sep 1st 2021
EXTRACT: "Today’s economic challenges are certainly solvable, and there is no reason why inflation should have to spike."
Aug 27th 2021
EXTRACT: "To be sure, they have focused on their agenda, which is totally misguided—not by our own account but by the account of the majority of the American population, who view the Republican party as one that has lost its moral footing to the detriment of America’s future generations, who must now inherit the ugly consequences of a party that ran asunder."
Aug 21st 2021
EXTRACTS: "Now that so many sad truths about Afghanistan are being spoken aloud, even in the major media – let me add one more: The war, from start to finish, was about politics, not in Afghanistan but in the United States. Afghanistan was always a sideshow."--- "....the 2001 invasion was fast and apparently decisive. And so it rescued George W. Bush’s tainted presidency,..." --- "Bush’s approval shot up to 90% and then steadily declined,..."
Aug 17th 2021
EXTRACT: "The Taliban’s virtually uncontested takeover over Afghanistan raises obvious questions about the wisdom of US President Joe Biden’s decision to withdraw US and coalition forces from the country. Paradoxically, however, the rapidity and ease of the Taliban’s advance only reaffirms that Biden made the right decision – and that he should not reverse course. ...... The ineffectiveness and collapse of Afghanistan’s military and governing institutions largely substantiates Biden’s skepticism that US-led efforts to prop up the government in Kabul would ever enable it to stand on its own feet. The international community has spent nearly 20 years, many thousands of lives, and trillions of dollars to do good by Afghanistan – taking down al-Qaeda; beating back the Taliban; supporting, advising, training, and equipping the Afghan military; bolstering governing institutions; and investing in the country’s civil society. .... Significant progress was made, but not enough." ....... "That is because the mission was fatally flawed from the outset. It was a fool’s errand to try to turn Afghanistan into a centralized, unitary state. "
Aug 6th 2021
EXTRACT: "But even in the US, which is more lenient than most countries, the principle cannot be absolute. Inciting imminent violence is not permitted. Donald Trump’s speech on January 6, urging the mob to storm the US Capitol, certainly came close to overstepping this boundary. It was a clear demonstration that language can be dangerous. What the internet media has done is raise the stakes; “fighting words” are spread around much faster and more widely than ever before. This will require a great deal of vigilance, to protect our freedom to express ourselves, while observing the social and legal bounds that stop words from turning into actual fighting. "
Jul 27th 2021
EXTRACT: "When it comes to the Chinese economy, I have been a congenital optimist for over 25 years. But now I have serious doubts. The Chinese government has taken dead aim at its dynamic technology sector, the engine of China’s New Economy. Its recent actions are symptomatic of a deeper problem: the state’s efforts to control the energy of animal spirits." ---- "... the Chinese economy, no less than others, still requires a foundation of trust – trust in the consistency of leadership priorities, in transparent governance, and in wise regulatory oversight – to flourish. --- Modern China lacks this foundation of trust ."
Jul 25th 2021
EXTRACT: "It seems that they are, as the last 18 months have seen a remarkable expansion of the central banks’ fields of activity, largely driven by their own ambitions. So they have moved into the climate change arena, arguing that financial stability may be put at risk by rising temperatures, and that central banks, as bond purchasers and as banking supervisors, can and should be proactive in raising the cost of credit for corporations without a credible transition plan. That is a promising new line of business, which is likely to grow. ---- Central banks are also trying to move into social engineering, specifically the policy response to rising income and wealth inequality, another hot button topic with high political salience."
Jul 25th 2021
EXTRACT: "The EU’s ambitious unilateral climate strategy will transform Europe into a trade fortress, encourage green protectionism worldwide, and give other regions the opportunity to develop using cheaper energy. And without China, India, and the United States on board, other countries will be careful not to follow the EU in its self-appointed role as the world’s green guinea pig. If Europe is not careful, it will risk finding itself in a climate club of one. "
Jul 9th 2021
EXTRACT: ".... ruminants belch and fart methane, an extremely potent greenhouse gas. As a result, rearing beef cattle brings about, on average, six times the contribution to global warming as non-ruminant animals (for example, pigs) producing the same quantity of protein. ..... if projected to 2050 [beef production], would use 87% of the total quantity of emissions that is compatible with the Paris climate agreement’s objective of staying below a 2° Celsius increase in temperature."
Jul 8th 2021
EXTRACT: " .... while China’s leaders never mention it, they are just as embittered over Russia’s theft of Chinese territory in the nineteenth century as they are over the West’s imperial predations. With Western imperialism having been largely rolled back, it is Russia’s continued occupation of historic Chinese territory that stands out the most to ordinary Chinese observers. For example, the city of Vladivostok, with its vast naval base, has been a part of Russia only since 1860, when the tsars built a military harbor there. Before that, the city was known by the Manchu name of Haishenwai." ---- "There is also a demographic argument for Putin to consider: the six million Russians spread along the Siberian border face 90 million Chinese on the other side. And many of these Chinese regularly cross the border into Russia to trade (and a good number to stay)."
Jul 7th 2021
EXTRACTS: "According to a new analysis by researchers at Brown University, America’s two-decade war in Afghanistan cost it nearly $2.3 trillion. Now, Afghanistan’s neighbors – Pakistan, Iran, China, India, and the Central Asian countries – are wondering just how much it will cost them to maintain security after the United States is gone." ----- "After clandestinely supporting the Taliban as a means to undermine the US war effort, Russia now fears broader destabilization in Central Asia and beyond." ---- "Similarly, after having made nice with the Taliban, China also now fears the greater regional instability that the US withdrawal may incite. In addition to disrupting Chinese President Xi Jinping’s Eurasia-spanning Belt and Road Initiative, a revitalized Taliban could re-energize the Islamist extremist threat in China’s western Xinjiang province."
Jul 1st 2021
EXTRACT: "When former Fed Chair Paul Volcker hiked rates to tackle inflation in 1980-82, the result was a severe double-dip recession in the United States and a debt crisis and lost decade for Latin America. But now that global debt ratios are almost three times higher than in the early 1970s, any anti-inflationary policy would lead to a depression, rather than a severe recession. ---- Under these conditions, central banks will be damned if they do and damned if they don’t, and many governments will be semi-insolvent and thus unable to bail out banks, corporations, and households. The doom loop of sovereigns and banks in the eurozone after the global financial crisis will be repeated worldwide, sucking in households, corporations, and shadow banks as well. ---- As matters stand, this slow-motion train wreck looks unavoidable."
Jun 19th 2021
EXTRACT: "Xi Jinping’s call for friendship gives us an opportunity to examine Chinese politics on both the domestic and international stage. On the face of it, it suggests the possibility of rapprochement between the rich liberal democracies represented by the G7 and the authoritarian Chinese state. However, despite appearances of a call for a closer relationship, there is more than one way of being friends – and Xi’s idea might be somewhat different to what many in countries attending the G7 might expect."
Jun 12th 2021
EXTRACT: "China’s recently published census, showing that its population has almost stopped growing, brought warnings of severe problems for the country. “Such numbers make grim reading for the party,” reported The Economist. This “could have a disastrous impact on the country,” wrote Huang Wenzheng, a fellow at the Center for China and Globalization in Beijing, in the Financial Times. But a comment posted on China’s Weibo was more insightful. “The declining fertility rate actually reflects the progress in the thinking of Chinese people – women are no longer a fertility tool.” "