A surprisingly strong editorial in the Sydney Morning Herald that indicates the growing anger towards Israel in the Western elites. A healthy sign:
Most of the experts working on Middle East peace think Jewish settlements in the West Bank and East Jerusalem are hindering progress. Not so Benjamin Netanyahu. ”We must not be trapped by an illogical and unreasonable demand,” the Israeli Prime Minister told congressional leaders in Washington this week. ”It could put the peace negotiations on hold for another year.” On top of insulting old allies like Australia by abusing their passports in an assassination operation, and affronting Israel’s main backer by announcing more settlements during the visit of the US Vice-President, Joe Biden, Netanyahu is now insulting everyone’s intelligence with this kind of statement.
He has apparently continued his obduracy on the settlements in his talks with Barack Obama and other US leaders this week, which have been held without the usual cordiality and described as ”candid”, diplomatic-speak for acrimonious. In Britain, the government has taken the unusual step of expelling the Mossad station chief in Israel’s embassy over the passports issue.
The reaction in Israel, as it has been since Obama’s election, has been to suggest this is all a result of either bias or inadequate understanding that will be remedied by a change of president or a change of mind. Yet only two weeks ago, the chief of the US military’s Central Command, General David Petraeus, who is increasingly proposed as a future Republican presidential candidate, made a telling observation about the endless dispute between Israel and the Palestinians: ”The conflict foments anti-American sentiment due to a perception of US favouritism towards Israel.” Biden told Netanyahu that illegal Jewish settlements in the occupied territories meant more risk for American soldiers. In effect, Israel is being seen less as a Western asset in the Middle East, more as a liability.
Netanyahu’s logical contortions reflect the political foundations of his government, where his conservative Likud party needs to keep a host of small religious and ultra-nationalist parties happy. He is also appealing to an Israeli public that overwhelmingly supports the idea of a two-state solution to the Palestinian stand-off – but also supports ”strong” policies like the East Jerusalem settlements that make that solution less likely.
Let us hope the Israeli public comes to see that Netanyahu is leading them into a tighter corner. He relies on the extremists because he cannot get moderates like Tzipi Livni of Kadima to work with his leadership. Perhaps if foreign allies made it clear they cannot work with him either, Israeli opinion would shift, a happier outcome than if Washington pulls on its really big levers of influence, the billions in financial aid and access to high-tech weaponry it provides Israel.