The Washington Post reports: Through eight years of escalating criticism from the world’s most powerful leader, Israeli construction in these sacred, militarily occupied hills never stopped.
Thousands of homes were built. Miles of roadway. Restaurants. Shopping malls. A university.
Here in Shiloh, a tourist center went up, with a welcome video in which the biblical figure Joshua commands the Jewish people to settle the land promised to them by God.
Israeli settlements may be illegal in the eyes of the U.N. Security Council and a major obstacle to Middle East peace in the view of the Obama administration.
But every day they become a more entrenched reality on land that Palestinians say should rightfully belong to them. As the parched beige hilltops fill with red-tiled homes, decades of international efforts to achieve a two-state solution are unraveling.
And global condemnations notwithstanding, the trend is poised to accelerate.
Already, Israel has a right-wing government that boasts it is more supportive of settlement construction than any in the country’s short history. Within weeks, it will also have as an ally a U.S. president, Donald Trump, who has signaled he could make an extraordinary break with decades of U.S. policy and end American objections to the settlements. [Continue reading…]
Tony Karon writes: Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu has long based his settlement strategy on the assumption that the international community will ignore the plight of the Palestinians. But the United Nations proved him wrong on Dec. 23, passing Security Council resolution 2334, which reaffirms the longstanding UN ruling that all Israeli settlements built outside Israel’s pre-1967 borders violate international law.
Israel has reacted with predictable fury to the UN resolution, with Netanyahu engaging in theatrical attempts to humiliate the resolution’s supporters. Netanyahu has also jousted verbally with US secretary of state John Kerry over the Obama administration’s reasons for withholding its veto, presumably hoping to impress his domestic political audience with an almost comical display of assumed international authority.
But even though Israel has made it clear that the non-binding resolution won’t restrain its continued settlement construction on the ground, the tone of its response reflects a well-grounded anxiety over the potential consequences of renewed international engagement on the conflict.
Despite Netanyahu’s confidence that the incoming Trump administration will back Israel on its settlement enterprise, the fact that not a single Israeli ally voted against the resolution deals a staggering blow to the prime minister’s core belief that Israel can normalize its international standing while denying the rights of millions of Palestinians. Netanyahu frequently boasts of Israel’s diplomatic gains, claiming it has made common cause with Sunni Arab states against Iran. But these statements are based on the unspoken assumption that amid more dramatic developments elsewhere, the world will simply forget about the Palestinians’ plight. [Continue reading…]
Ynet reports: An Israeli TV channel reported Thursday that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is suspected of receiving valuable gifts from two businessmen.
The Channel 2 segment was the latest in a series of reports in Israeli media saying that police are close to opening a criminal investigation against the prime minister.Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit is expected to order the head of police investigations to open the probe into allegations of bribe-taking and aggravated fraud leveled against Netanyahu.
The station said Netanyahu had accepted large-scale “favors” from businessmen in Israel and abroad. It said there had been a breakthrough in the case three weeks ago, but gave no further details.
Channel 2 said Netanyahu was the central suspect in a second investigation that also involves members of his family. It said some 50 witnesses were involved in the case.
The station, along with the Ynet news site, said a formal criminal probe is expected to be opened next week. [Continue reading…]
Gregg Carlstrom writes: Netanyahu is a cautious politician. He prefers the status quo to dramatic steps. For all their personal animosity, Obama was actually a great help in this respect: Netanyahu invoked his name in Cabinet meetings like a father warning his unruly children about the boogeyman. He used the specter of an American response to deter the far-right impulses of his coalition partners. With Trump in office, he loses that ability.
In order to stay in power, Netanyahu will have to appease the growing chorus of voices on his right. Some of the extreme views in his Cabinet are no longer so extreme. For example, a November poll by the Israel Democracy Institute found that 44 percent of Israeli Jews support annexation of the full West Bank, with just 38 percent opposed. Perhaps more striking, a plurality does not believe the Palestinians living there should be granted equal rights. “That is, a small but significant minority of the Jewish public supports a situation that the international community regards as apartheid,” the pollsters noted.
Any move toward annexation would cause irreparable harm to Israel’s relationships with its closest allies. As Kerry said in his speech [on Wednesday], “if the choice is one state, Israel can either be Jewish or democratic, it cannot be both.”
In September, Netanyahu announced at the General Assembly that Israel had broadened its diplomatic relations, not just with traditional allies in the West, but with emerging powers and markets in Africa, Asia and Latin America. But many of these “new allies” were part of the 14 nations that voted unanimously for the resolution last week. Netanyahu speaks with Vladimir Putin more frequently than any Western leader, but Moscow voted in favor. He has spent years cultivating ties with tiny Senegal, which benefits from a major Israeli agricultural aid program. When it came time to vote at the Security Council, though, they supported the resolution.
And, at a news conference last year, Bennett said that Asian countries could become Israel’s closest friends, because they “lack a heritage of anti-Semitism” found in the West. But China and Japan backed the resolution, too. In fact, Asian diplomats in Tel Aviv tend to laugh when asked whether they would play a role as Israel’s protectors at the United Nations. “We’re not a very active player in this conflict, and I think that would continue to be the case,” one high-ranking Asian diplomat told me. “We want to maintain our distance and focus on other issues.”
Israel’s newest allies, in other words, are happy to increase trade, tourism and security cooperation — but when it comes to diplomacy, they won’t stick their necks out. And if the Netanyahu government provokes a stronger reaction from the U.N., they might even retreat.
Even more worrisome for Israel, however, is the growing alienation of American Jews, who find it more and more difficult to support a religious, right-wing government that they perceive as supporting Israeli racism and endless occupation. The tension between liberalism and Zionism, always lingering below the surface, has become more pronounced. And the Israeli government’s embrace of a president-elect (and his controversial political coterie) loathed by the vast majority of American Jews will only widen the chasm. [Continue reading…]
In an editorial, the New York Times says: Many of Mr. Netanyahu’s accusations and those of his supporters misrepresent the history of Israeli-American relations, malign Mr. Obama and his secretary of state, John Kerry, and confuse what should be a serious debate over the future of a negotiated peace between Israelis and Palestinians, which seems further away every day. With less than three weeks before Mr. Obama leaves office, Mr. Kerry on Wednesday finally gave the speech he wanted to give two years ago — a passionate, blunt and detailed warning about why the two-state solution is in jeopardy and how it might yet be salvaged before incalculable damage is done to Israel and the region.
Inconveniently for Mr. Netanyahu’s claim that the Security Council resolution was the result of perfidy by Mr. Obama, the measure was adopted 14 to 0, with support from Russia, China and Egypt, among others. It declared that the settlements, in territory that Israel captured from Jordan during the Arab-Israeli War of 1967, have no legal validity; affirming longstanding United Nations and American policy, it cited the Fourth Geneva Convention of 1949, which prohibits any occupying power from transferring its own people to conquered territory.
The most politically volatile feature of the new resolution was that it explicitly condemned Israeli settlements in East Jerusalem. Mr. Netanyahu has emphasized that the language did not distinguish between Jerusalem and the West Bank and hence treated the Jewish Quarter of Jerusalem’s Old City and the Western Wall, the holiest place where Jews can pray, as occupied territory.
Under any negotiated solution to the conflict, Israelis expect their capital to be Jerusalem. But Palestinians also expect to have areas of Jerusalem as their capital, and to have access to Muslim holy sites there. That is why this resolution did not represent a change in the position of the United Nations, which has referred to Jerusalem in many such statements backed by past American administrations. Under Mr. Obama, the United States continues to subscribe to the position enshrined in the 1993 Oslo accords that the future of Jerusalem, like that of the West Bank, should be decided through negotiation — not by diktat by either side.
Anyone who doesn’t think so hasn’t looked at the map or studied the history of the settlement movement. Right-wing Israeli settlers have been quite open for decades about their patient approach to claiming Jerusalem and the West Bank by strategically placing settlements to prevent the creation of a viable Palestinian state. Since 2009, when Mr. Obama took office, the number of Israeli settlers in the West Bank has grown to around 400,000, a gain of more than 100,000, and the number of settlers in East Jerusalem has grown to roughly 208,000, from 193,000, according to Americans for Peace Now. During the same period, construction has begun on over 12,700 settlement units on the West Bank.
Supporters of Mr. Netanyahu argue that Mr. Obama has now only inflamed the Israeli right and encouraged more settlement-building, as if this Israeli government would otherwise show restraint. This is the cynical logic of the settlement movement: When the world is silent, Israel can build settlements; when the world objects, Israel must build settlements. Under any scenario, settlements will grow, and the possibility of a two-state solution will recede. [Continue reading…]
The Washington Post reports: On Dec. 21, amid his morning workout, an afternoon round of golf and a family dinner with friends, President Obama interrupted his Hawaii vacation to consult by phone with his top national security team in Washington. Egypt had introduced a resolution at the U.N. Security Council condemning Israeli settlements as illegal, and a vote was scheduled for the next day.
The idea had been circulating at the council for months, but the abrupt timing was a surprise. Obama was open to abstaining, he said on the call, provided the measure was “balanced” in its censure of terrorism and Palestinian violence and there were no last-minute changes in the text.
Skeptics, including Vice President Biden, warned of fierce backlash in Congress and in Israel itself. But most agreed that the time had come to take a stand. The rapid increase of Israeli settlements in the West Bank and East Jerusalem, despite escalating U.S. criticism, could very well close the door to any hope of negotiating side-by-side Israeli and Palestinian states. Pending Israeli legislation would retroactively legalize settlements already constructed on Palestinian land.
The resolution’s sponsors, four countries in addition to Egypt, were determined to call a vote before Obama left office. A U.S. veto would not only imply approval of Israeli actions but also likely take Israel off the hook for at least the next four years during President-elect Donald Trump’s administration.
The United States, in discussions with New Zealand and indirectly with Egypt, insisted it would not even consider the matter unless the resolutions were more balanced to reflect criticism of Palestinian violence along with condemnation of Israeli settlements, according to U.S. officials.
The officials categorically denied Israeli allegations this week that the United States secretly pushed the resolutions. An Egyptian newspaper report alleging that Rice and Kerry met in early December with Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erekat and the head of Palestinian intelligence to plot the resolution was false, officials said. While Kerry and Rice met separately with Erekat during a visit here, they said, there was no intelligence official and no discussion of a resolution. [Continue reading…]
As far as these claims of orchestration go, the most likely collaboration going on has been between the offices of Prime Minister Netanyahu and Egyptian President Sisi. The Egyptians don’t want to get punished by Israel or the incoming Trump administration and thus duly conjured up or at least obligingly published a “leaked document.”
The Times of Israel reports: Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit has reportedly approved a full criminal investigation of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu into allegations of bribery and fraud.
Netanyahu will be investigated by police for two separate cases and will be called in for police questioning in the coming days, Channel 10 reported on Wednesday.
Asked by The Times of Israel, the Justice Ministry — under whose auspices the attorney general operates — declined to comment Wednesday evening on the report. There was no immediate response from the Prime Minister’s Office.
Earlier this month, Zionist Union MK Erel Margalit and Eldad Yaniv, a lawyer and Labor party activist, petitioned the High Court of Justice to demand the Attorney General answer why had not yet opened an investigation despite what they called “overwhelming evidence.”
Writing on Facebook hours before the Channel 10 report, Yaniv said that Mandelblit “realized there was no other choice but to open an investigation’ after meetings with senior investigators.
“The police have weighty proof linking Bibi to suspicions of bribery and fraud,” Yaniv wrote. [Continue reading…]
The New York Times reports: Secretary of State John Kerry warned Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu of Israel on Wednesday that the Israeli government was undermining any hope of a two-state solution to its decades-long conflict with the Palestinians, and said that the American vote in the United Nations last week was driven by an effort to save Israel from “the most extreme elements” in its own government.
With only 23 days left as secretary of state, Mr. Kerry, the former presidential candidate who made the search for peace in the Middle East one of the driving missions of his four years as secretary, spoke with clear frustration about Mr. Netanyahu’s continued support of settlements “strategically placed in locations that make two states impossible.” But he spoke knowing that the incoming administration of President-elect Donald J. Trump may well abandon the key principles that the United States has used for decades of Middle East negotiations.
“The status quo is leading toward one state, or perpetual occupation,” Mr. Kerry said, his voice animated. He argued that Israel, with a growing Arab population, could not survive as both a Jewish state and a democratic state unless it embraced the two-state approach that a succession of American presidents have advocated. [Continue reading…]
The New York Times reports: Israeli leaders postponed plans on Wednesday to move ahead with new housing in East Jerusalem, just hours before Secretary of State John Kerry delivered a much-anticipated speech outlining an American vision for peace with the Palestinians.
The Jerusalem city planning committee, which was reported to be acting at the behest of the national government, canceled at the last moment a scheduled vote on permits for 618 new housing units in the predominantly Palestinian eastern section of the city. Members of the committee said the delay came at the request of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. [Continue reading…]
The New York Times reports: In a last-chance effort to shape the outlines of a Middle East peace deal, Secretary of State John Kerry is to outline in a speech on Wednesday the Obama administration’s vision of a final Israeli-Palestinian accord based on bitter lessons learned from an effort that collapsed in 2014.
A senior State Department official said that Mr. Kerry, who will be out of office in less than a month and no longer in a position to negotiate any deal, will use his remarks to confront Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu of Israel, who has charged that the United States “orchestrated” a United Nations Security Council resolution last week condemning Israel’s continued building of settlements in the West Bank and East Jerusalem. The United States abstained from the resolution, infuriating Mr. Netanyahu.
The speech, the latest salvo in a final conflict between Mr. Netanyahu and Mr. Obama as Donald J. Trump prepares to assume the presidency, will make the case that “the vote was not unprecedented” and that Mr. Obama’s decision “did not blindside Israel.” Mr. Kerry, the official said, would cite other cases in which Washington officials had allowed similar votes under previous presidents.
The official, who spoke on the condition of anonymity to describe a coming speech, said Mr. Kerry would also argue that, with the notable exception of Israel, there was a “complete international consensus” against further settlements in areas that might ultimately be the subject of negotiations.
At this late date, weeks ahead of the inauguration of Mr. Trump, who openly lobbied on Israel’s side against the United Nations resolution, it is unclear what Mr. Kerry hopes to achieve from the speech, other than to leave a set of principles that he believes will one day emerge as the basis for talks, if and when they resume.
Mr. Kerry, the official said, has long wanted to give a speech outlining an Israeli-Palestinian peace deal but was held back by White House officials, who saw it as unnecessary pressure on Israel that would anger Mr. Netanyahu. But that objection was lifted last week as Mr. Obama and Mr. Kerry agreed the time had come to abstain on the United Nations resolution. That decision led to one of the biggest breaches yet in the rocky American-Israeli relationship during the Obama years. [Continue reading…]
The Guardian reports: Benjamin Netanyahu reportedly told New Zealand’s foreign minister that support for a UN resolution condemning Israeli settlement-building in the occupied territories would be viewed as a “declaration of war”.
According to reports in Israeli media, the Israeli PM called Murray McCully, the foreign minister of New Zealand, before Friday’s resolution, which was co-sponsored by Wellington. Netanyahu told him: “This is a scandalous decision. I’m asking that you not support it and not promote it.
“If you continue to promote this resolution, from our point of view it will be a declaration of war. It will rupture the relations and there will be consequences. We’ll recall our ambassador [from New Zealand] to Jerusalem.”
McCully, however, refused to back down, telling Netanyahu: “This resolution conforms to our policy and we will move it forward.”
A western diplomat confirmed that the call took place and described the conversation as “harsh”.
The details of the call – disclosed in Haaretz – suggest a mounting sense of panic on the part of Netanyahu in the run-up to the UN security council resolution that passed on Friday demanding an end to settlement building.
As well as the Netanyahu call, a senior official in Israel’s foreign ministry called New Zealand’s ambassador to Israel, Jonathan Curr, and warned that if the resolution came to a vote, Israel might close its embassy in Wellington in protest.
Israel responded furiously to the vote, threatening diplomatic reprisals against the countries that voted in favour. Diplomatic ties with New Zealand were temporarily severed and ambassador Itzhak Gerberg was recalled.
But in a sign that the international pressure may be being felt by the Netanyahu administration, scheduled plans to consider for approval 600 new settlement houses in occupied east Jerusalem were abruptly removed from the agenda of the city’s municipality on Wednesday.
Netanyahu’s language and behaviour – which has resulted in ambassadors being reprimanded and consultations with foreign leaders, including the UK’s Theresa May, cancelled – has raised eyebrows among foreign diplomats, who point out that the UN resolution does no more than confirm the longstanding view of the international community on Jewish settlements. [Continue reading…]
Raphael Ahren writes: One of the thirteen principles of the Jewish faith, compiled by the medieval philosopher Maimonides, reads as follows: “I believe with perfect faith in the coming of the Messiah, and although he may tarry, I wait every day for his coming.”
Replace “the Messiah” with “a drastic increase in Israel’s global popularity,” and you’ll get the first article of faith from Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s foreign policy gospel.
It is his ironclad belief, despite significant evidence to the contrary, that Israel’s standing in the world is terrific and will imminently become even better that lies behind the array of dramatic punitive steps he took this week against the 14 countries who supported Friday’s anti-settlement resolution at the UN Security Council, and the one who abstained — the United States.
Netanyahu’s deep-seated conviction that the world no longer much cares about the settlements, or Palestinian statehood, but is extremely thirsty for Israel’s high-tech prowess and anti-terrorism know-how, has been undented by even the most crushing diplomatic defeats. [Continue reading…]
David Horovitz writes: …the failed pre-vote diplomatic maneuvering by Netanyahu gives credence to those of his critics who argue that he has entered panic mode. For all the serenity and confidence he exudes in his public appearances, and for all that he is appeasing parts of his right-wing constituency — a critical imperative for retaining power — his tactics on Thursday were a mess, and he now seems to be deepening the damage.
While you might justify calling in the next president to thwart the current president if you’ve thought the high-risk gambit all the way through, you’re going to look worse than foolish if you fail to do your homework and wind up losing.
And that’s exactly what happened. Trump answered Netanyahu’s call, reached out to Egypt’s President Abdel-Fattah el-Sissi, and the resolution was withdrawn. A Pyrrhic victory. Within hours, Senegal, Venezuela, Malaysia and New Zealand had stepped in to advance the very same resolution, and there was nothing that even the president-elect could do about that. So Trump wasted his pre-presidential capital, Sissi was humiliated, and Israel lost the vote.
The big loss yesterday for Israel in the United Nations will make it much harder to negotiate peace.Too bad, but we will get it done anyway!
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) December 24, 2016
Netanyahu, and those advising him, might be sensibly dismayed by Trump’s dispassionate response to the setback. Initially, at least, there was no fervent defense of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital, no pledge to reverse the pernicious decree, just a mild, rather ho-hum tweet on Saturday, that the “big loss yesterday for Israel in the United Nations will make it much harder to negotiate peace. Too bad, but we will get it done anyway!”
More urgently, though, the prime minister should be considering whether a similar inadequately calculated process is now playing out again. Those who seek to harm Israel will themselves be harmed, he has been warning. This is “the swan song of the old world, that is anti-Israel,” he declared on Saturday night. Soon Trump will be president, and the Israel-bashers will have hell to pay.
But there are two major flaws in that argument. Trump is not yet president. And not everybody who voted for that UNSC resolution loathes Israel.
Yet Netanyahu has taken them all on. With a lack of courtesy he would rightly castigate if the tables were turned, he summoned the ambassadors of the 12 yes-voting countries with which Israel has diplomatic relations for a dressing-down on Christmas Day. Imagine the outrage were a host country to call in the Israeli envoy on, say, Rosh Hashanah.
He ordered his ministers to minimize their dealings with these 12 countries. He canceled, or chose not to schedule, a meeting — depending on whose account you believe — with Britain’s Prime Minister Theresa May at the World Economic Forum in Davos next month. Theresa May, who last week enthused about “remarkable” Israel at a Conservative Friends of Israel lunch, in a speech overflowing with admiration and empathy for the Jewish state. Likewise, he chose not to arrange a meeting with Xi Jinping, the president of China, a country with which Netanyahu has striven for years to bolster relations. He summoned home his ambassadors from Senegal and New Zealand. He cancelled a visit to Israel this week by the prime minister of Ukraine, who just so happens to be Jewish.
“They are spitting at us,” he was reported on Sunday to have been telling colleagues. “We will respond with power.” But we are one, small Israel, and it is our interest to widen support for our cause among the nations, to engage, to dialogue, to explain. We rightly condemn boycotts. Now Netanyahu is instituting them.
For all his fury at the perfidy of the international community, his sense of grievance and injustice, the question he must be asked is whether this is going to work. The Obama administration still has more than three weeks left in office. Kerry has said he will soon make a speech setting out his Middle East vision. On January 15, France is convening a summit on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, and Netanyahu now reportedly fears that the scheming US administration, in coordination with the other Middle East Quartet members — Russia, the EU and the reviled UN — will utilize that gathering to draw up a second UN Security Council resolution to enshrine the parameters of a Palestinian state.
To again quote Kerry at the Saban Forum, “we have always stood against any imposition of a, quote, ‘final status solution.’” But in the current frenetic atmosphere, Netanyahu — rightly or wrongly — sees danger. Casting around for leverage, on Saturday night he warned that Israel’s friends in Congress would draw up legislation to punish states and organizations, such as the UN, that seek to harm Israel. “We won’t let anybody hurt the State of Israel,” he vowed.
But the inconvenient truth is that while 14 nations supported Resolution 2334, and the US chose not to oppose it, those 14 are not all enemies of Israel, far from it, and the United States certainly isn’t. The Czech Republic and Panama might, just might, have voted no, or abstained, but basically the entire world rejects the legality of the settlement enterprise. And much of that world, as Netanyahu has in the recent past enthusiastically highlighted, either broadly supports Israel or is moving in that direction. [Continue reading…]
The New York Times reports: Undeterred by a resounding defeat at the United Nations, Israel’s government said Monday that it would move ahead with thousands of new homes in East Jerusalem and warned nations against further action, declaring that Israel does not “turn the other cheek.”
Just a few days after the United Nations Security Council voted to condemn Israeli settlements, Jerusalem’s municipal government signaled that it would not back down: The city intends to approve 600 housing units in the predominantly Palestinian eastern section of town on Wednesday in what a top official called a first installment on 5,600 new homes.
The defiant posture reflected a bristling anger among Israel’s pro-settlement political leaders, who not only blamed the United States for failing to block the Council resolution, but also claimed to have secret intelligence showing that President Obama’s team had orchestrated it. American officials strongly denied the claim, but the sides seem poised for more weeks of conflict until Mr. Obama hands over the presidency to Donald J. Trump.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has lashed out at Security Council countries by curbing diplomatic contacts, recalling envoys, cutting off aid and summoning the American ambassador for a scolding. He canceled a planned visit this week by Ukraine’s prime minister even as he expressed concern on Monday that Mr. Obama was planning more action at the United Nations before his term ends next month.
The prime minister defended his retaliation. “Israel is a country with national pride, and we do not turn the other cheek,” he said. “This is a responsible, measured and vigorous response, the natural response of a healthy people that is making it clear to the nations of the world that what was done at the U.N. is unacceptable to us.” [Continue reading…]
Let’s suppose the resolution that just passed in the Security Council was now presented to the General Assembly. It would, without doubt, also receive overwhelming support there too.
In that event, what would Netanyahu then do? Look for ways in which Israel can punish the whole world?
That Netanyahu insists Israel does not “turn the other cheek,” says two things:
He views the resolution as a form of victimization. The UN, supposedly under Obama’s direction, is “ganging up” on Israel.
And this victimization is an expression of anti-Semitism — by referencing the Christian dictum, he is insinuating that the resolution is implicitly an attack on Jews.
But this is a reflex doomed for endless repetition. Those who truly believe that the whole world stands against them, not because of what they do but because of who they are, allow themselves to be snared by their own identity.