The international body has restated what most Israelis wantby Jay Elwes / December 24, 2016 / Leave a comment
Benjamin Netanyahu has dominated Israeli politics since the 1990s. Speak to people on the left in Israel and even those who detest their Prime Minister admit to grudging admiration for the man who has made “left wing” into a political insult. You will hear him called a “genius,” even by those that hate him.
The political equilibrium he has achieved has been an uneasy one. There has been no third intifada, but there has also been no peace process. To bring about a pause in the chaos of Israeli Arab politics is itself an achievement, but it is not enough. Throughout the Obama presidency, Netanyahu has operated a policy of status quo. The UN vote in favour of Resolution 2334 is a direct challenge to his hold on events.
The Resolution, allowed to pass after the US abstained from the vote, has brought Netanyahu to a state of fury. He has recalled his ambassadors from New Zealand and Senegal. Aid programmes have been cancelled. The PM himself has taken to Twitter, and noted that Obama will soon be replaced by—in his view—a more favourable president. The outer reaches of the US right have also weighed in with their objections to the vote.
The Resolution that triggered this anger is by contrast a very meek series of statements. First, it: “reaffirms that the establishment of settlements in the Palestinian territory occupied since 1967, including East Jerusalem, has no legal validity and constitutes a flagrant violation under international law and a major obstacle to the achievement of the two-state solution and a just, lasting and comprehensive peace.”
It then goes on to demand an immediate halt to all settlement construction in the West Bank and for a resumption of “credible negotiations on all final status issues,” ie the peace process.
This is nothing more than a re-statement of what most moderate Israelis have been saying for decades. The tragedy of the situation is that a majority of Israelis want a two-state solution, where Israel achieves a set of agreed borders alongside a Palestinian state. A majority of Palestinians want this too. But the two-state solution is impossible if the part of the map intended for the Palestinians is dotted with Israeli settlements.
The UN’s Resolution is a restatement of a widely-held international preference for an end to Israeli settlement building and for a resumption of the peace process. In reaction Netanyahu, trapped by the febrile political atmosphere that he in part helped to create, knows he must take a hard line or risk attack from the right of his own Likud Party, as well as from the ultra-right Jewish Home party, a coalition partner led by Naftali Bennett, the Education Minister.
As Netanyahu has drifted to the right he has moved further away from Obama. Their relationship was never good. In recent years the two have had no relationship at all. Obama was disgusted when Netanyahu spoke at the US Congress in the run up to the last Israeli election in 2015, and refused to invite him to the White House.
Even more damage was done when Netanyahu told a newspaper in 2015: “I think anyone who moves to establish a Palestinian state and evacuate territory gives territory away to radical Islamist attacks against Israel. The left has buried its head in the sand and ignores this, but we are realistic and understand.”
These remarks suggested strongly that Netanyahu was opposed to a two-state solution. Others in his own Likud party and government are openly opposed to any agreement on borders with the Palestinians.
Netanyahu will wait for Trump in the hope that he will be more amenable than Obama. It is not clear that this will be the case. But losing Obama will give Netanyahu a problem. The US president has been a convenient object of blame for Netanyahu. On 20th January, he will lose this useful political fallback. With Trump in the White House, the Israeli PM will be on the hook for his own mistakes.
The onus is now on Netanyahu. If he rejects the UN vote, if he does not accept the problematic nature of settlements in the West Bank, if he is brought to a state of fury by a suggestion that the peace process should resume—in short, if he does not want a two-state solution, then what does he want?
The one state solution looms. In this arrangement, Israel would control the entire West Bank and Jordan valley, and any notion of Palestine would vanish. This would give a state in which a majority of voters would be Arab. In other words, the one state solution—towards which Israel seems to be drifting—would yield an Israeli-controlled state in which Jewish people were a minority. At that point Israel would face a dilemma: it could be Jewish, or democratic, but not both.
If there is no two-state solution, it will be a catastrophe, not only for Israel, but for the Middle East, and the global order. UN Resolution 2334 is a reminder of that fact.