Netanyahu’s brazen and perilous defiance

The PA’s UN success can provide the impetus to seek a solution, but not if Netanyahu continues to respond the way he is.

Netanyahu's speaks about Palestinian UN bid 370 (photo credit: Screenshot)
Netanyahu's speaks about Palestinian UN bid 370
(photo credit: Screenshot)
One would think that Prime Minister Binyamin 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. 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. He is tragically 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.
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, the only solution that preserves and safeguards Israel’s existence. Former prime minister Ehud Olmert applauded the UN resolution, although not because he cares about the Palestinians as much as he is concerned about the future of Israel itself. As was demonstrated by the UN vote, Israel’s isolation has already reached its zenith. 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 converging political events and circumstances in Israel and in the region, the Palestinian Authority’s (PA) successful UN bid offers a momentous opportunity to resume in earnest the Israeli-Palestinian peace process. Israel and the US claim that the PA’s unilateral action undermines the peace negotiations, but they have yet to produce a shred of evidence that supports their contention. In fact, Israel has been continuously taking unilateral measures in the occupied territories, including expropriating Palestinian land with impunity, to which the whole world is opposed.
A delay in resuming negotiations, for tactical or strategic reasons by either side, will erode the last vestiges of a mutually accepted agreement and in the end will only result in dire consequences for both. Opportunities for real talks can and should be seized.
First, the PA’s elevated status could change the dynamic of the conflict in an unprecedented manner. The peace negotiations have been frozen for three years, and now is the time for Israelis to face a new reality. In the past, as long as there was no spike in violence or imminent threat emanating from the West Bank, Israelis became increasingly complacent. They preferred the status quo of “no peace, no war.” This condition allowed Netanyahu to continue expanding settlements unhindered. PA President Mahmoud Abbas’ effort at the UN has now shaken that status quo. Olmert expressed his support for the UN decision, claiming that the move is in “line with the strategy of a two-state solution.” Any attempts to stifle this momentum will herald a return to the status quo ante, severely crippling the viability of the two-state solution.
Second, the latest flare-up between Israel and Hamas provided a rude awakening for the US, and President Barack Obama realizes that he can no longer ignore it without incurring serious consequences to it’s the US’ own strategic interests.
The day after the PA’s successful bid, the Netanyahu government responded that it was moving ahead with plans to build in the contentious area known as E1. Building in this area would make a contiguous Palestinian state virtually impossible. Olmert is right in saying that Netanyahu’s move was nothing short of a “slap in Obama’s face.” Obama must now push for an accord while making it abundantly clear to the Netanyahu government that US support can no longer be taken for granted.
Third, political parties from the Center and Left must come to grips with the danger that Israel will face should Netanyahu be given another chance to form a new government come January. The next prime minister will have to face the Palestinian problem in one way or another. Stalling, as Netanyahu has done over the past four years, will no longer work.
The Palestinians now have new tools by which to refocus the attention of the international community, for example, recognition at the International Criminal Court (ICC. 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. Israel should exorcize the evil of occupation and restore dignity to both Israelis and Palestinians alike.
Fourth, the disproportionate vote at the UN (138-9, with 41 abstentions) provides a glaring testimony to Israel’s near complete isolation. Netanyahu’s policy received further blows from the European countries that either chose to support the resolution (like France) or abstain (like the UK and Germany). No new Israeli government, even if led by Netanyahu, can afford to ignore the consensus of the international community.
Finally, the Palestinians are not likely to remain idle in the wake of the Arab Spring. In places such as Libya, Egypt and Syria, young men and women died for their freedom and dignity. It is only a question of when, not if, the Palestinians will rise against their own humiliating occupation. However, the PA’s UN success is likely to forestall the potential uprising in the territories and give more time for negotiations as well as strengthening the PA’s position over Hamas.
The Palestinians would be wise to use their elevated position in a constructive way to fully benefit from these developments. Instead of threatening to go to the ICC, they should focus intently on the resumption of unconditional negotiations. The US role should subsequently establish the rules of engagement and by doing so, deprive Netanyahu further opportunity to stall - especially seeing as 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 can only worsen the situation and weaken Israel’s hand.
The US should further retract its own threat of withholding aid from the PA, since this 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. The second Intifada was a turning point for Israel. It provided justification for Israeli 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 to bring a dignified end to a seven decade-old debilitating conflict.
The writer is a professor of international relations at the Center forGlobal Affairs at NYU. He teaches courses on international negotiation andMiddle Eastern studies.