Nastiness at the top

A considerable portion of the world is being nasty to Israel.
The list of governments inviting the Israeli ambassador in their capital city to the halls of their foreign ministry for a drubbing includes virtually all of the European worthies, along with Australia and Brazil. The list may be longer by the time this note reaches you.
The deluge of denunciations is formally directed at Israel''s declaration to build 3,000 housing units in what the world considers to be Palestinian territory, or at least open to negotiations with Palestinians. Especially sensitive is the area called E 1, where Israeli construction would complicate Palestinian connections between the north and south of the West Bank, and direct access to neighborhoods of Jerusalem which they claim as their capital.
Israeli commentators chronically critical of Prime Minister Netanyahu, and politicians opposing Likud are piling on and accusing him of callous disregard of Israel''s friends. While an action against Mahmoud Abbas'' UN maneuver may have been appropriate, Netanyahu blew away whatever support he might have enjoyed--as well as the support he earned by his conduct of a mini-war in Gaza--by the magnitude of his response and its direct challenge to the conventional wisdom about a Palestinian state.
Also in the background, and perhaps a major source of the animosity appears in comments made by Rahm Emanuel. He told a gathering that included American and Israeli elites--presumably not for publication but sure to be leaked--that Netanyahu had erred severely in his relations with President Barack Obama. Not only did his bet on the wrong horse in the American election campaign, but earlier he had insulted the President and broke the well-established rules of protocol by improper behavior in the Oval Office.
The message was clear. It was payback time less than two months before an Israeli election.
It was not difficult to break the dam of international restraint. Few if any Western leaders seem to enjoy their encounters with Benyamin Netanyahu. Some of their comments--whether intentionally or not--got into the public arena. Most famous was an interchange between Obama and Nicolas Sarkozy, with each claiming to suffer from their need to deal with the Israeli Prime Minister.
There is no end of the speculation about the intentions of the Israeli Prime Minister, or the real source of denunciations concerned with his retaliatory building plans.
  • Does the Prime Minister really intend to build in E1?
  • Did he ever intend to send 70,000 troops into Gaza?
  • Did he ever intend to attack Iran''s nuclear facilities, or were his threats meant only to increase Western sanctions against Iran?
  • Do foreign governments object to Israel building in Jewish neighborhoods of East Jerusalem as much as they object to E1?
  • Is the campaign ostensibly against Israeli construction actually a vendetta against an excessively impolitic Prime Minister, triggered by a campaign engineered by the White House retaliating for Netanyahu''s support of Obama''s opponent?
Confusing for any simple view of recent events is the cooperation between Netanyahu, Obama, and major European governments during the IDF''s operation against Gaza. And although few governments voted against the Palestinians'' UN gambit, many of them had sought to convince the Palestinians to avoid the action.
Just as we hear about animosity toward Netanyahu, we hear a different kind of criticism--but no less extreme--about the Palestinian regime of the West Bank. Unlike criticism focused narrowly on Netanyahu, that against the Palestinian leadership is collective. Along with the conventional wisdom about a two-state solution are comments conceding that West Bank leaders are old, unimaginative, corrupt, unable to depart from a list of demands bound to lose, and stubbornly rejecting the possibility of negotiations. Abbas'' principal rivals remain on the world''s list of terrorist organizations. Rockets aimed at Israeli civilians come in for harsher condemnation than decisions to advance planning for construction in E 1.
We remain with the classic lack of certainty as to whether international relations reflect national interests, or personal relations between the elites of different governments. It is hard to discount national interests as the major element, but it is equally hard to discount entirely personal relationships that might help governments over the bumps inherent in competing economies and geopolitical aspirations, and the maintenance of rival alliances,
Also in the air is the doubtful wisdom of meddling in someone else''s politics. No matter how much Bibi indicated his endorsement of Mitt Romney by means of words or body language, and no matter how much their mutual backer Sheldon Adelson invested in the campaign, Romney did not come close. Obama''s margins of 332 vs 206 electoral votes and about 51 percent of the popular vote were about mid-way in the record of presidential elections since the end of World War II.
If Barack Obama, Rahm Emanuel et al are thinking of revenge, they have their work cut out for them. Current projections see the world''s political elites having to endure more years of Benyamin Netanyahu at the head of the Israeli government.
Likely to be more important on election day are what is happening in Israeli politics. More than 40 parties have registered for the election. Within the list of the dozen or so that are realistic candidates for the Knesset, there continues the strained efforts of three centrist-leftist parties to distinguish themselves one from the other, a verbal civil war at the summit of the Labor party, and Avigdor Lieberman behaving like a Russian autocrat in the manner in which he has passed out rewards and punishments while personally ranking candidates on his party''s joint list with Likud.
Once the campaign reaches the nightly running of party TV advertisements in the time slots paid for by government funds, this week''s international condemnations will be a month or so in history.
And insofar as international condemnations of Netanyahu''s actions come along with endorsement of Palestinian aspirations, they limit their drawing power with the Israeli population.
Europeans and Americans may think of a Palestinian state as essential for peace in the Middle East. Israelis have trouble separating that linkage from a comic opera image of the West Bank regime, rockets falling on their cities, Palestinians who would flood Israel with the descendants of refugees, Palestinian claims of victory in Gaza, and their frequent mention of 1967 borders.