Whenever criticized by foreigners Israelis shrug their shoulder and maintain, in what has become an almost a cult response, “anyway the whole world is against us”. This response is employed according to needs toward friends and foes alike, sometimes towards friends with more venom, as they are expected to support Israeli’s every whim.
In a survey last year 71 per cent agreed with the statement “the countries of the world make moral demands of Israel that they do not make of other countries that are in situations of conflict.” Most recently the British prime minister was on the receiving end of accusations of bias against Israel for daring to criticize the Israeli occupation generally and settlements policy more specifically. Cameron is in truth regarded as one the friendliest of British prime ministers towards Israel ever, and undoubtedly one of the least critical among European leaders of the current Israeli government.
David Cameron has a much bigger fish to fry right now than entering into the Israeli-Palestinian fray. At least until June his big battle is winning the Brexit referendum and keeping his own Conservative party and leadership intact. It is also the case that not a single politician has found it rewarding thus far to try to persuade Netanyahu to see sense regarding his Jewish settlement policy.
Similarly, it has been futile to try to make the Israeli government accept that there is an international consensus that the occupation of Palestinian territory and colonizing it with Jewish settlements is illegal and provocative. It violates international law and it is widely seen as a deliberate Israeli attempt to derail a peace agreement based on two-state solution. On this issue the there is at best a nuanced difference between Israel’s closest ally the United States and the European Union.
By asserting that what Israel is doing in East Jerusalem amounted to an effective encirclement of the Arab areas of the city, and that it was genuinely shocking to him, the British prime minister was merely stating what he observed during his visit to the city. This is the approach taken by all EU countries and reflects numerous UN resolutions.
Attempting to silence countries for their past, in a rather pathetic attempt to avoid accountability for the Israeli occupation and settlement expansion, does not work anymoreYossi Mekelberg
Netanyahu’s compulsive need to react to any criticism, once again provided a window into his patronizing and colonialist set of values. In tandem with the mayor of Jerusalem, they both lectured Cameron that Israel’s control of the city, and by extension of the rest of the West Bank, is the last line of defence from militant Islam taking over and it. Moreover, they stated that Israel brings progress and development to the Palestinians.
They both conveniently ignore that it is for the Palestinians themselves to decide whether they would like Israel to play their knight in the shining armour. A more empirical approach, considering Palestinian resistance and the views they express in public opinion polls, indicates the complete opposite. They would like to determine their future by themselves not leave it for the Israelis to decide.
In the Israeli prime minister’s book, certain countries have a lesser right than others to express even the slightest of concerns regarding Israeli policies. Most obvious is Germany, and to a lesser extent Great Britain due to its role during the Mandate over Palestine and for not doing enough to save Jews during the Second World War.
However, attempting to silence countries for their past, in a rather pathetic attempt to avoid accountability for the Israeli occupation and settlement expansion, does not work anymore.
In recent weeks France, for example, is advancing the idea of convening an international peace summit, despite Israel’s fierce opposition. Laurent Fabius, until last month French foreign minister, not only condemned the constant settlement building, but also pleaded the world not to allow the two-state solution to unravel. He explicitly warned that France would formally recognize a Palestinian state if diplomatic efforts failed to end the conflict.
Fabius, as many others, understands that recognizing Palestinian statehood outside a comprehensive agreement between Israel and the Palestinians is a major lever to pressure Israel to change its current policies. Israel rejects the notion of Palestinian self-determination recognition as separate issue from a peace package deal that addresses all outstanding issues, a notion that most of the international community has subscribed to since the signing of the Oslo Accords in 1993.
The two-state solution
However, there is a growing international realization that the Netanyahu government has no intention of cooperating in advancing peace, hence condemnation and resigning to other ideas and tactics by world leaders has become more frequent.
What should worry Israelis most is that consecutive Israeli governments are blind to the fact that without negotiating in good faith, the two state solution is quickly disappearing, the Palestinian society is abandoning this option and the world is turning against the Jewish state.
Mounting verbal attacks on foreign leaders might provide Netanyahu a sense of instant gratification for standing up for Israeli interests, but in reality he isolates Israel further and further from its closest of friends and allies.
If he had any sense of history, he would have recognized that by delaying a genuine, just and viable solution, Israel encourages the radicalization of considerable parts of the Palestinian society, allows the space for the BDS ideas to prosper and alienates friends. This approach compromises the long term survival of the Jewish state as an independent state.
Yossi Mekelberg is an Associate Fellow at the Middle East and North Africa Program at the Royal Institute of International Affairs, Chatham House, where he is involved with projects and advisory work on conflict resolution, including Track II negotiations. He is also the Director of the International Relations and Social Sciences Program at Regent’s University in London, where he has taught since 1996. Previously, he was teaching at King’s College London and Tel Aviv University. Mekelberg’s fields of interest are international relations theory, international politics of the Middle East, human rights, and international relations and revolutions. He is a member of the London Committee of Human Rights Watch, serving on the Advocacy and Outreach committee. Mekelberg is a regular contributor to the international media on a wide range of international issues and you can find him on Twitter @YMekelberg.