US President Donald Trump and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu at the Israel Museum.
(photo credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM)
Thirty-six years ago this month, prime minister Menachem Begin issued the most passionate and unprecedented protest against the US government of the time, headed by today’s right-wing icon Ronald Reagan.
“Are we a vassal state of yours? Are we a banana republic? Are we youths of fourteen who, if they don’t behave properly, are slapped across the fingers?” Begin memorably wrote, protesting the US decision to “punish” Israel following the Knesset’s decision to pass the Golan Heights Law annexing the Golan to Israel.
Can one imagine Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu ever responding to Donald Trump with the same verve should the US president suddenly take umbrage at a certain Israeli action or Knesset decision? While Trump and Netanyahu may today be best buddies, with Netanyahu sycophantically lauding any and every Trump move, Washington’s automatic support for anything Israel does cannot be taken for granted. International relations are like a marriage, and these two thrice-married men both know the ups and downs of any relationship.
But for now, Netanyahu’s deliberate binding of Israel to Trump’s United States, and encouraging Trump to recklessly upset the status quo over Jerusalem, is severely detrimental to Israel’s own international standing. Last week’s humiliating vote in the United Nations, where 128 countries voted in favor of a General Assembly resolution condemning the US for deciding to move its embassy to Jerusalem, in addition to 14 out of the 15 members of the UN Security Council voting earlier against Trump’s move, shows just how premature Israel’s celebrations were.
No matter how the prime minister tries to spin it, whether by calling the UN “the House of Lies” or pathetically pointing to the list of 35 countries who abstained as proof of improved bilateral relations between Jerusalem and some of the African and South American countries he’s visited, the fact is the vast majority of the international community still refuses to recognize any change in Jerusalem’s status.
Indeed, outside of the violence it has sparked throughout the West Bank, the only “accomplishment” of Trump’s declaration recognizing Jerusalem as Israel’s capital has been this resounding international rejection of the move. The Arab world, both the extreme and the moderate – despite the latter, according to Netanyahu, edging ever closer to improved relations Israel – refused to bow to Trump’s threats to cut off aid and voted against Washington.
For all of Trump and Netanyahu’s bluster, the true fate of Jerusalem as Israel’s internationally recognized capital will only be settled through negotiations with the Palestinians, with Jewish sovereignty over west Jerusalem, Palestinian control in east Jerusalem and a special regime to govern the “Holy Basin” area.
Meanwhile, to use a phrase much loved by Trump and slavishly recycled by Netanyahu, the UN vote also highlights how Netanyahu’s self-declared successful foreign visits are nothing more than “fake news.”
Despite Netanyahu’s frequent visits to Russia (five in the past two-and-half years) and declarations of close ties to Russian President Vladimir Putin, Russia had no compunction in voting in favor of last week’s UN resolution. More worryingly, Russia’s interests in Syria and the coalition it has formed with Iran on Israel’s northern border seriously endanger Israel’s security.
And to ram the message home as to how ineffectual Netanyahu’s one-on-ones with Putin actually were, only a day after Putin met with Netanyahu in August, Russia worked behind the scenes at the UN to protect Hezbollah during discussions in the UN Security Council on a resolution to renew the mandate of the UN peacekeeping forces in southern Lebanon.
The same is true with regard to India. Here’s how Netanyahu described Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s historic visit to Israel in the summer and their bromance strolls on the beach: “I have a feeling that today, India and Israel are changing our world and maybe changing parts of the world. Because this is a cooperation, it’s a marriage really made in heaven, but we’re implementing it here on earth.”
Guess how India voted in the UN last week. One wonders how Netanyahu will raise India’s condemnation of the Trump declaration concerning Jerusalem with Modi when he visits New Delhi next month.
The truth is that Israel’s relationship with the international community only improves when the world sees that Israel is serious in its attempts to resolve the conflict with the Palestinians. The real renaissance in Israel’s standing in the world came only after the Madrid Peace Conference in 1991, when Israel and the Palestinians first began official negotiations under an international umbrella. It was only then our diplomatic ties, from the Vatican to China, truly expanded.
To pretend otherwise is simply foolish, while cozying up so closely to Trump – becoming a vassal state as Begin would have it – is not the path a sovereign nation should seek to follow.The writer is a former editor-in-chief of The Jerusalem Post.