“Well,” we imagine Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu telling his worried supporters this week, “we’ll always have Palau.”
It may well be true, but we’d rather have Paris.
Certainly we appreciate that in the United Nations vote that gave the Palestinian Authority (now “Palestine”) upgraded status last Thursday, the government of Palau cast one of nine votes in Israel’s favor. It’s just that we would have preferred the support of the European continent over the citizens of that small island in the Pacific, population 21,000.
In the face of what is being described in the Israeli press as the country’s worst diplomatic crisis in the last two decades, one wonders if the prime minister miscalculated the reaction to his government’s decision to announce housing plans for the area known as E-1, between Jerusalem and Ma’ale Adumim, a city of 40,000.
Denmark, England, France, Spain and Sweden called in their respective Israeli ambassadors to condemn the decision, seen by many as a nail in the coffin of Israeli-Palestinian peace talks. But Netanyahu is digging in his heels, blaming the international community for the UN vote that was, in the words of a government spokesman, “a blatant and fundamental violation of agreements to which the international community was a guarantor.
“No one should be surprised that Israel is not sitting with its arms folded in response to the unilateral Palestinian steps.”
But there’s a difference between folding one’s arms and poking Washington in the eye.
International hypocrisy is reaching new heights. It is beyond frustrating that while the government in Damascus continues the slaughter of its citizens the world expresses outrage over a government decision in Jerusalem to build housing in an area where, as Mideast expert Elliott Abrams notes, every Israeli prime minister since Yitzchak Rabin has “insisted on the right and intention to build eventually.”
And yes, Israel had warned that it would react if the UN allowed Mahmoud Abbas to avoid negotiating with Israel, an abrogation of the Oslo Accords. But Israel had also said that the UN vote was symbolic and wouldn’t really change anything on the ground. Now, it seems, Jerusalem has given Abbas an opening to go to the International Criminal Court and have Israeli leaders charged as war criminals. And Netanyahu has upset the White House, whose support he needs most as a major confrontation with Iran looms.
Israel is in an impossible diplomatic position; it needs to be tough in a neighborhood that respects power over conciliation, but it needs to be seen as willing to advance peace in addressing the U.S. and a Western world fed up with Israeli settlements and occupation.
Somewhere in the middle is an American Jewish community that finds its heart with Israel but, increasingly, its stomach queasy over the prospect of a Jewish state more and more isolated in the world.
Of course we would like to see Netanyahu and President Barack Obama walk off into the sunset together, with Bibi declaring, “Barack, I think this is the beginning of a beautiful friendship.”
But the Mideast is not “Casblanca,” and what looked like a warming of the two leaders’ relationship during the Gaza crisis has turned very cold very fast.
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