‘The minute the Israeli government agrees to cease all settlement activities, including in and around Occupied East Jerusalem, and agrees to implement the signed agreements on the basis of mutual reciprocity, the Palestinian leadership stands ready to resume permanent-status negotiations on the basis of international law and relevant international legality resolutions, including UNSC [Security Council Resolution] 2334, under a specified time frame.”
And there you have it.
In that immediate response by Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas Wednesday night to Secretary of State John Kerry’s speech on the Israeli-Palestinian issue, you have the reason for Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s bull-in-a-china-shop rage at the US decision to allow – indeed promote – passage of that Security Council resolution.
In his response Abbas did not cite UN Security Council Resolution 242 – the one that has served as the cornerstone of all diplomatic efforts since 1967 and talks about land for peace and secure borders for Israel – but rather Security Council Resolution 2334.
And that resolution is a much different beast than 242, which basically called for an Israeli withdrawal from territories – not all the territories, but territories – in return for peace. It made no mention of Jerusalem.
Security Council Resolution 2334, however, essentially delegitimizes any Israeli presence beyond the 1967 Green Line, including in Jerusalem. Its point of departure is that any Israeli presence beyond the 1967 lines lacks legal validity and must be noted and actively opposed by the international community.
No wonder Abbas wants to enter into negotiations on the basis of this resolution: it deprives Israel of any leverage in negotiations.
Or, as Ambassador Ron Dermer said this week in an MSNBC interview: “The only card that Israel has in negotiations is a territorial card. But in this resolution, they pretend as if that territory is occupied Palestinian territory. All the territories where Israel is supposed to trade for an eventual peace, according to this resolution, is occupied Palestinian territory – including the Western Wall. It’s ridiculous.”
Abbas says he will enter into negotiations on the basis of this resolution. Who wouldn’t? The resolution’s overriding assumption is that Israel is in the wrong.
Why should the Palestinians make any territorial compromises of their own, if the international community says that the whole pie under discussion is legitimately theirs – including the Western Wall? In this equation, the Palestinians appear to be the “compromising” party if, for instance, they allow Israel to hold on to Ramot beyond the Green Line in Jerusalem.
Israel, on the other hand, will not be seen as compromising if it leaves any of Judea and Samaria, because – according to the logic of this resolution – it is no compromise to give up what is not rightfully yours in the first place.
And therein lies the reason for Netanyahu’s rage. This Security Council resolution will now be the new international reference point – its starting point – for dealing with the conflict, and from Jerusalem’s standpoint it is a reference point that puts it at a distinct disadvantage when negotiations restart.
NETANYAHU’S RAGE was manifested this week in a wide array of steps aimed at punishing the countries involved in the move, and acting as a warning sign to other countries that there will be a price in the future for supporting moves Jerusalem perceives as anti-Israel.
Netanyahu recalled Israel’s ambassadors to Senegal and New Zealand, which sponsored the move; canceled a visit here by Ukraine’s prime minister; ended assistance to Angola; and asked his ministers to curtail dealings with the countries that supported the measure, which include Russia, China, France, Britain, Japan and Spain.
And beyond all that, he and Dermer used unprecedentedly harsh language in slamming the Obama administration, not only saying Washington abandoned Israel but also implying that it lied to it.
But fury is not strategy, or at least it shouldn’t be. Rather, it is a tactic.
And it is a tactic that Netanyahu has deployed in the past, not with negligible results.
The last time Netanyahu responded with the same type of anger was last November, after the EU issued guidelines on the labeling of settlement products.
Following that measure, Netanyahu slammed the EU, suspended diplomatic contacts with it on the Mideast peace process and ordered a “reassessment” of the EU’s role in that process.
And the result: since that time, only one country, France, has adopted those guidelines and mandated the labeling of settlement goods in accordance with them (Britain and the Netherlands already had a settlement-labeling ordinance in place before the guidelines were adopted).
Another time Netanyahu acted with a similar type of rage was in May 2011, when – in a landmark speech – Obama stated for the first time that America’s policy was two states “based on the 1967 lines with mutually agreed swaps.”
Netanyahu, who heard that speech just as we was on his way to the airport to fly for a meeting with Obama, issued a very sharp response, and his meeting with the president will be remembered as “the lecture.” It was at that meeting that he schooled Obama on some basic Mideast “realities” in front of the cameras.
Netanyahu reaped benefit from that rage as well, certainly not in his relationship with Obama but definitely on the domestic political scene, where his poll numbers went up after that meeting.
The Israeli public likes to see its leaders stand up for their interests, even if it means standing toe-to-toe with the president of the United States.
Need proof? Netanyahu won the election in April 2015, even though in March 2015 he picked a huge and public fight with Obama by going to Congress and delivering a speech against the Iran nuclear deal.
Therefore, Netanyahu can be forgiven for concluding that, as a tactic, rage pays and has benefits.
BUT THERE are also costs. One of those costs is the now complete alienation of Obama.
Since Friday’s vote, Netanyahu and those around him have spoken of Obama in terms they have not used before: that he abandoned Israel; that he stabbed it in the back; that he deceived Israel on this vote, just as he deceived Israel when he began a channel of talks with Iran in 2013, also behind Israel’s back.
“So what?” some may argue. In another three weeks, Obama is history. Except he isn’t. Yes, he will no longer be president of the United States, but he will still be an influential figure on the US political scene. He will surely be a major opposition figure to Trump.
His voice will still have weight in certain circles, certainly inside the Democratic Party.
To those who don’t think he can do any harm to Israel’s interests out of office, look at Jimmy Carter, whose 2006 book, Palestine: Peace not Apartheid, helped legitimize the use of the term “apartheid” in reference to Israel.
Netanyahu, in his reactions, is also gambling that the countries he is penalizing really care that much if their bilateral ties with Israel are harmed.
While in regard to countries like Russia, China, France and Britain, that seems hard to believe, Israel does provide valuable assistance – water, agriculture, security and technology – to many smaller countries in the world, especially in Africa and Latin America.
Recalling the ambassador to Senegal seems less a step directed against Senegal than a warning to Ethiopia, which is the African state that will replace it on the UN Security Council starting January 1. And canceling the visit by the Ukrainian prime minister sends a message to Kazakhstan, which will replace Malaysia on the council on the same day.
Or as one senior official said in describing Netanyahu’s reactions, when a mortar is fired at the Golan Heights from Syria, Israel responds with far greater force.
This is a gamble, because it could lead to an escalation. But it could also serve as a deterrent.
Netanyahu’s rage was meant to serve as a deterrent to other countries that do, indeed, stand to lose if their ties with Israel get worse. This week he drew a line in the sand, saying to these countries that it is no longer acceptable to believe they can separate their bilateral relations from their behavior on Israel in multilateral forums.
Netanyahu sits in the meetings with the leaders of African and Latin American nations, as well as some European states, and knows precisely what they want from Israel. His conclusion – as evident by his rage – is that threatening to deprive them of what Israel can offer them is significant. Again, it won’t make a dent in China. But it could have an impact on a country like Sierra Leone, for instance, whose president is due to visit next month, and who one day may be sitting in the Security Council.
By seeming to “go crazy” over this resolution, Netanyahu is also trying to fend off other moves, trying to convince policy-makers abroad that if this is how he is reacting on this resolution, it is not worth pushing for further moves. And this is happening at a time when Netanyahu is genuinely concerned that there are other moves afoot.
In his reaction Wednesday night to Kerry’s speech, Netanyahu made clear that he does not believe the US administration when it says that it is not planning any further steps, and that it will not dictate the terms of a solution in the Security Council or recognize a Palestinian state, absent an agreement.
“I wish I could be comforted by the promise that the US says ‘we will not bring any more resolutions to the UN,” Netanyahu said.
“That’s what they said about the previous resolution.”
Netanyahu said that “they could take John Kerry’s speech with the six points. It could be raised in the French international conference a few days from now and then brought to the UN. So France will bring it, or Sweden – not a noted friend of Israel – could bring it. And the United States could say, well, we can’t vote against our own policy, we’ve just annunciated it.”
Netanyahu’s fierce reaction indicates that the only way he believes he can block future measures in the next three weeks is by taking off the gloves. He feels there is no other way to stop it.
And by taking off the gloves, he is also making an impression on President-elect Donald Trump.
Only the strong are respected in the region, Netanyahu repeatedly says in speech after speech, the weak are not.
Netanyahu believes that this is true not only of the region but also of Trump, a man who likes to radiate strength and power.
A huge battle is under way in the US, and Trump is committed to undoing much of what Obama sees as his legacy items, from Obamacare to environmental issues to Iran and relations with Cuba. It does not hurt Trump in this battle to have Netanyahu squarely in his corner, shouting from the rooftops that Obama abandoned an ally.
Rather than lowering Netanyahu in Trump’s mind, this rhetoric – Netanyahu’s rage and his fury at the Obama administration – could actually elevate him in the president-elect’s estimation and win him points.