Lost in Jerusalem 17.3.2011

Lost in Jerusalem

Published in Asian Times (speaking freely)  03/11

It is becoming more apparent every day that the present Israeli government is frightfully unaware of the changes in the political environment and is not acting in the best interests of the people of Israel. With relations to the US administration reduced to “correct” at best, those with Europe more often than not below that level and the UN General Assembly preparing for the declaration of the State of Palestine coming September, the State of Israel is coasting into ever more turbulent waters while its leadership is totally removed from reality.

With the attention of the world focused on the catastrophe in Japan, the popular uprisings in North Africa and the Middle East and last not least, a world economic crisis that is far from over, Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu has discovered his panacea to deal with the stalemate in the peace process: Building more settlements, ostensibly as a reaction to the recent grisly murder of 5 Israeli settlers including children and an infant by Palestinian terrorists.

While the idea of responding to the murder of settlers with renewed settlement activity in the occupied territories is hardly new, until now it had mostly been the settlers themselves to promote such an approach. For a serving prime minister to come up with such a response to an act of terror under the present political circumstances is a clear indication that all the suspicions regarding Benjamin Netanyahu’s attitude have been justified. His demand from the Palestinian Authority to improve on the wording of its quick enough public condemnation and denounce the act of terrorism with words suitable to placate the Israeli psyche, followed in short order by a verbal attack on PA President Abbas’ declared efforts to bring Fatah and Hamas together again, are indicative of an ideological mindset not suitable for the tasks at hand.

Netanyahu’s refusal to either negotiate based on the 1967 borders with mutually agreed upon land-swaps or else, to suggest alternative terms of reference for negotiations with the PA, pretty much settles the issue: When it comes to peace with the Palestinians, Netanyahu, and not for the first time, is a non-performer. Left on his own, this is not going to change.  The Netanyahu government still has two years before general elections and while there are indications that the continued diplomatic stalemate is beginning to make some members of parliament restless, the opposition is not strong enough to seriously challenge Netanyahu’s right wing coalition. While opposition leader Tsippy Livni heads Kadima, the largest party in the Knesset, her performance has been less than stellar.  She has been reluctant to pounce on Netanyahu’s miserable performance and been unable to woe other parties and improve on her political position to bring down the present right wing coalition. Having failed twice before at forming a government it is unlikely that her party will give her another chance and she is liable to be replaced once elections are imminent.

Netanyahu’s closest partner in running the country, Minister of Defense Ehud Barak, who recently left the Labor party that he chaired, is on record as sharply critical of the Prime Minister’s inaction. Unfortunately he appears not man enough to leave the governing coalition and take the three fellow ministers and one parliamentarian that constitute his upstart “Independence”  party with him.

Under these circumstances it appears unlikely that any dramatic change will come from inside Israel. The relatively calm security situation and a robust economy that so far has stood up well to the challenges of the world economic crisis, do their share to keep the public mood in check. Israelis remain firmly in denial regarding the upcoming political tsunami and continue to deal with the government’s maddening inaction on the diplomatic front by blissfully ignoring it.

Come September, this is going to change and all hell will break loose. Anywhere between 120 and 150 countries including Israel’s closest allies are likely to support a Palestinian declaration of statehood and it is almost immaterial whether the actual declaration will include a reference to the 1967 borders or not. Once the United Nations General Assembly will vote on the declaration and pass it, Israel will be in a most unenviable situation. While a UN General Assembly vote is non-binding, world public opinion will find it hard not to compare the situation to 1947 when another UN General Assembly decided on the partition of Palestine calling for a Jewish State and a Palestinian State on the territory of the former British Mandate. That resolution was not implemented but did bring about the creation of the State of Israel.

The upcoming General Assembly decision will result in unprecedented international pressure to create the State of Palestine. Should Israel decide not to play along or worse, resist, it is quite likely that it will be pushed into a position that heretofore had been reserved only for South Africa, before the end of apartheid. Lest anybody forget, international efforts against South Africa included boycotts, divestiture and sanctions (BDS), all activities that have already been initiated against Israel on a minor scale but have only had very limited success with hardly any economic repercussions for the Jewish State. A lopsided UN vote will legitimize these BDS efforts and will have the potential to do serious harm to Israel’s largely export based economy. And should all else fail, the Palestinians have the ultimate doomsday weapon: All they have to do is dissolve the Palestinian Authority and return the keys to the occupying power, Israel.

Should the Israeli body politic not have found a way by September to dispose of the Netanyahu coalition, Israeli citizens who will bear the brunt of the economic impact of international sanctions and/or the dissolution of the Palestinian authority, will find it considerably more difficult to continue life as usual and ignore the looming developments.

While few will argue the likelihood of the scenario just described and there are only 6 month left before this will go down in this way or another, Israel’s present government has little to offer either in preparation, or in response. In a totally predictable march of folly, the Netanyahu government has painted Israel into a corner. Getting the Jewish state out again will be difficult and costly. But, as the saying goes, democracies take the right steps only once they have exhausted all other possibilities. Thankfully, Israel appears to be just about there.

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