Israel increasingly defiant as the world loses interest in Palestine

From the prime minister down, the Israeli government has effectively dropped the charade that the occupation is temporary, or that it actually fears consequences for its intransigence.

Israel Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in the Knesset, November 1, 2016. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)
Israel Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in the Knesset, November 1, 2016. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

Israel’s leadership wants you to think it is worried about some bold move by President Barack Obama during his lame duck period between the November 8 U.S. elections and his successor’s inauguration on January 20. After all, there’s a compelling argument to be made that it would be bad for Israel if Washington threw its support behind a UN Security Council resolution reaffirming that Israeli settlements are illegal, or one that codifies a framework for an eventual peace deal.

Yet the Israeli government doesn’t seem to be worried at all.

An Israeli prime minister worried about international condemnation of his country’s illegal settlements probably wouldn’t declare that, “[t]here is no government that supports, or will support, settlement more than my government.”

An Israeli government concerned with the world’s perception of its intransigence wouldn’t send the deputy foreign minister (Netanyahu is technically the foreign minister) and parliament speaker to demand the annexation of Israel’s third-largest settlement. “The answer to the international battle over Jerusalem is to impose sovereignty over Ma’aleh Adumim,” Deputy Foreign Minister Tzipi Hotovely said Monday.

An Israeli government concerned with preserving the feasibility of a two-state solution wouldn’t promote an extensive rail project to connect West Bank settlements to Jerusalem, which the transportation minister announced on Tuesday. “If someone comes and says ‘we must place an artificial division since [those Israelis] live beyond what was once defined as the Green Line’ — we won’t accept that claim, of course,” Transportation Minister Israel Katz said, defending the plan.

An Israeli prime minister that wants to reassure the international community that his government is committed to a two-state solution, and not using the absence of a peace process to create facts on the ground that would preclude such a two-state outcome, would immediately fire a senior minister who consistently declares that Israel should annex more than 60 percent of the West Bank. Naftali Bennett said just that Sunday — that a UN Security Council resolution condemning Israeli settlements should trigger the annexation of Area C of the West Bank.

The Israeli government knows that bringing about an end to its military occupation of Palestine has fallen to a record low spot on the world’s list of priorities. Between the war in Syria, the refugee crisis it has created, the accelerating re-polarization of the Middle East into American and Russian spheres of influence, the craziest American elections in recent history, and the world’s awakening to damage caused by the Israeli-Palestinian peace process over the past two decades, the Israeli government is feeling pretty confident that the international community is too preoccupied to pose any serious challenge to its brazen attitudes and behavior.

The truth is that even if the UN Security Council does pass a resolution reaffirming that Israeli settlements are illegal (there are already several saying the same thing), the chances of such a move being backed up by sanctions or any tangible consequences are slim to none. Netanyahu also knows that a UN resolution codifying a framework for a two-state solution can always be manipulated down the line, should peace talks ever reemerge, not that that’s a real fear: Netanyahu has stated clearly, on multiple occasions, that he will not allow a Palestinian state to emerge on his watch. And when he has had his hand forced, he’s always found ways to undermine existing agreements that stood in his way.

Prime Minister Netanyahu may believe that the chances of President Obama taking a bold step to counter the West Bank settlement enterprise are low. Netanyahu also seems to believe that even if his assessment is wrong, that Israel can weather the storm. Even a spiteful Obama, as many Israelis see him, would only go so far — not daring to exert, or even allow, the type of pressure that might make Israel consider changing its behavior, certainly not when there are so many other matters on the international agenda far graver and more urgent than ending the occupation.

Netanyahu’s bet, which is evident in the behavior of his entire government, is that if nobody has come to end the occupation for the past 50 years, he can probably get away with another 10 or 20 years without significant consequences.

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