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

Dec 14th 2019
EXTRACT: "Conspiracy theories about sinister Jewish power have a long history. The Protocols of the Elders of Zion, a Russian forgery published in 1903, popularized the notion that Jewish bankers and financiers were secretly pulling the strings to dominate the world. Henry Ford was one of the more prominent people who believed this nonsense."
Dec 13th 2019
EXTRACT: "In previous British elections, to say that trust was the main issue would have meant simply that trust is the trump card – whichever leader or party could secure most trust would win. Now, the emerging question about trust is whether it even matters anymore."
Dec 5th 2019
EXTRACT: "Europe must fend for itself for the first time since the end of World War II. Yet after so many years of strategic dependence the US, Europe is unprepared – not just materially but psychologically – for today’s harsh geopolitical realities. Nowhere is this truer than in Germany."
Nov 23rd 2019
Extdact: "The kind of gratitude expressed by Vindman and my grandfather is not something that would naturally occur to a person who can take his or her nationality for granted, or whose nationality is beyond questioning by others. Some who have never felt the sharp end of discrimination might even find it mildly offensive. Why should anyone be grateful for belonging to a particular nation? Pride, perhaps, but gratitude? In fact, patriotism based on gratitude might be the strongest form there is."
Nov 20th 2019
Extract: "Moody’s, one of the big three credit rating agencies, is not upbeat about the prospects for the world’s debt in 2020 – to put it mildly. If we were to try to capture the agency’s view of where we are heading on a palette of colours, we would be pointing at black – pitch black."
Nov 17th 2019
Extract: "Digital money is already a key battleground in finance, with technology firms, payment processing companies, and banks all vying to become the gateway into the burgeoning platform-based economy. The prizes that await the winners could be huge. In China, Alipay and WeChat Pay already control more than 90% of all mobile payments. And in the last three years, the four largest listed payment firms – Visa, Mastercard, Amex, and PayPal – have increased in value by more than the FAANGs (Facebook, Apple, Amazon, Netflix, and Google)."
Nov 14th 2019
Extract: "Trump, who understands almost nothing about governing, made a major mistake in attacking career public officials from the outset of his presidency. He underestimated – or just couldn’t fathom – the honor of people who could earn more in the private sector but believe in public service. And he made matters worse for himself as well as for the government by creating a shadow group – headed by the strangely out-of-control Rudy Giuliani, once a much-admired mayor of New York City, and now a freelance troublemaker serving as Trump’s personal attorney – to impose the president’s Ukraine policy over that of “the bureaucrats.” "
Nov 4th 2019
Extract: "Trump displays repeated and persistent behaviours consistent with narcissistic personality disorder and antisocial personality disorder. These behaviours include craving for adulation, lack of empathy, aggression and vindictiveness towards opponents, addiction to lying, and blatant disregard for rules and conventions, among others." The concern is that leaders with these two disorders may be incapable of putting the interests of the country ahead of their own personal interests. Their compulsive lying may make rational action impossible and their impulsiveness may make them incapable of the forethought and planning necessary to lead the country. They lack empathy and are often motivated by rage and revenge, and could make quick decisions that could have profoundly dangerous consequences for democracy.
Oct 31st 2019
EXTRACT: "......let’s see what happens when we have less money for all the things we want to do as a country and as individuals. Promises and predictions regarding Brexit will soon be tested against reality. When they are, I wouldn’t want to be one of Johnson’s Brexiteers."
Oct 21st 2019
EXTRACT: "Were Israel to be attacked with the same precision and sophistication as the strike on Saudi Arabia, the Middle East would be plunged into war on a scale beyond anything it has experienced so far. Sadly (but happily for Russian President Vladimir Putin), that is the reality of a world in which the US has abandoned any pretense of global leadership."
Oct 20th 2019
EXTRACT: "Europe also stands to lose from Trump’s abandonment of the Kurds. If, in the ongoing chaos, the thousands of ISIS prisoners held by the Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces escape – as some already have – America’s estranged European allies will suffer. Yet Trump is unconcerned. “Well, they are going to be escaping to Europe, that’s where they want to go,” he remarked casually at a press conference. “They want to go back to their homes." "
Oct 15th 2019
EXTRACT: "Assuming the House ultimately votes to impeach Trump, the fact remains that there are far fewer votes in the Senate than will be needed to convict him and remove him from office. But the willingness of Congress – including the Senate – to continue tolerating his dangerous conduct in office, including threats to US national security, is now truly in question."
Oct 7th 2019
EXTRACT: "The problem didn't start with the election of Donald Trump. Nor did it begin with the Democrats launching an impeachment inquiry against Trump. This is a developing crisis that has been growing like a cancer within our polity for at least the past 25 years. Its main symptoms are a lack of civility in our political discourse, a "take no prisoners" mindset, and a denial of the very legitimacy of "the other side." Trump didn't create this crisis; he was the result of it.   When Newt Gingrich took the helm of Congress in 1995, unlike previous Republican leaders, he embarked on a campaign not only to obstruct the efforts of then President Clinton, but to destroy him. Congress launched a series of investigations accusing Clinton of everything from corruption to obstruction of justice – with hints of even more nefarious plots to assassinate those who might pose a problem to his presidency.  "
Oct 4th 2019
EXTRACT: "As the story spreads, it grows darker. Meanwhile, Trump is trying to learn the identity of the whistleblower (who is protected by law), which could expose that person to great danger. And he is accusing some people – including Adam Schiff, the chair of the House Intelligence Committee – of treason. My sense is that Trump fears the tough, focused Schiff. Trump has ominously noted that traitors used to be shot or hanged. And he hasn’t helped himself with members of either party by declaring, in one of his hundreds of febrile tweets, that forcing him from office could lead to a “civil war.” Trump has taken the United States somewhere it’s never been before. His presidency may not survive it."
Sep 24th 2019
EXTRACT: "But regardless of whether the Ukraine scandal remains front-page news, it will haunt the US intelligence community, which has been Trump’s bête noire since the day he took office. Trump has relentlessly attacked US intelligence agencies, cozied up to Russian President Vladimir Putin, and divulged secrets to foreign officials, potentially burning high-value sources. This behavior had already raised serious concerns about whether Trump can be trusted to receive sensitive intelligence at all. Now, intelligence leaders must ask themselves how far they are willing to go in toeing the White House line."
Sep 21st 2019
EXTRACT: "As Lobaczewski pointed out, pathological leaders tend to attract other people with psychological disorders. At the same time, empathetic and fair-minded people gradually fall away. They are either ostracised or step aside voluntarily, appalled by the growing pathology around them.......As a result, over time pathocracies become more entrenched and extreme. You can see this process in the Nazi takeover of the German government in the 1930s, when Germany moved from democracy to pathocracy in less than two years.......In the US, there has clearly been a movement towards pathocracy under Trump. As Lobaczewski’s theory predicts, the old guard of more moderate White House officials – the “adults in the room” – has fallen away. The president is now surrounded by individuals who share his authoritarian tendencies and lack of empathy and morality. Fortunately, to some extent, the democratic institutions of the US have managed to provide some push back."
Sep 16th 2019
EXTRACT: "If the Supreme Court does agree with the Divisional Court that the question is political rather than legal, it will take the UK constitution into quite peculiar territory. Prime ministers will be the new kings and queens. They will be free to suspend parliament at will, and for as long as they wish, without any judicial interference. Parliament will meet not out of constitutional necessity but in the service of the government’s interests – namely, to pass its legislation and to maintain appearances, rather than to hold it to account."
Sep 12th 2019
Extract: "The Republican Party has lashed its fate to an increasingly unhinged leader. Though three other presidential hopefuls for 2020 now stand in Trump’s way, none can defeat him. But they can damage his reelection effort, which is why the Republican Party has been scrapping some primaries and caucuses. How well Trump does in November next year may well depend on how his fragile ego withstands the coming months."
Sep 2nd 2019
EXTRACTS: "Most people think of revolutions as sudden earthquakes or volcanic eruptions that come without warning and sweep away an entire political system. But historians, political scientists, and even the odd politician know that the reality is very different: revolutions happen when systems hollow themselves out, or simply rot from within. Revolutionaries can then brush aside established norms of behavior, or even of truth, as trivialities that should not impede the popular will............ Only time will tell whether we are currently witnessing the hollowing out of British democracy. But Prime Minister Boris Johnson may well have crossed some invisible Rubicon by.......... Whatever happens now, British parliamentary democracy may never be the same again. It will certainly never again be the model that so many people around the world once admired."
Aug 29th 2019
EXTRACT: "Events such as prorogations and dissolutions happen when countries face difficult times. Therefore, because of the disastrous effects of Brexit: sterling in freefall; a recession looming on the horizon and Britain’s international standing at its lowest ebb since Suez, it is no surprise that the country is in this position now. The worrying thing is that using the monarchical power of prorogation does not solve problems – it has a history of turning them into frightening and often violent crises. There is a worrying relationship between the use of such powers and a complete breakdown in government."