General / Middle East

If revenge is a dish best served cold, then Meir Dagan must have relished his retribution on Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu – it was delivered from beyond the grave. In damning posthumous remarks, the former Mossad chief described Netanyahu as a man trapped in self-delusion, and “the worst manager I knew”. Their falling out centred on Netanyahu’s belligerent posturing over Iran.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu announced the appointment of a new foreign media adviser and spokesman this week, the latest in a series of moves viewed as snubs to the Obama White House. US-born David Keyes replaces Mark Regev, who became familiar to English-language audiences as the voice of the Netanyahu government during Israel’s repeated attacks on Gaza.

Shir Hever, who has spent years piecing together the murky economics of the occupation, has published a new report that makes shocking reading. Like others, he believes international aid has allowed Israel to avoid footing the bill for its occupation. But he goes further. His conclusion is that at least 78 per cent of humanitarian aid intended for Palestinians ends up in Israel’s coffers.

Israel’s large Palestinian minority held its first-ever conference on BDS in defiance of anti-boycott legislation introduced five years ago that exposes activists to harsh financial penalties. One participant called it a sign that the Palestinian minority was slowly emerging from the law’s “reign of terror”. The question of how feasible it is for Israel’s 1.6 million Palestinian citizens to promote BDS was high on the conference agenda.

Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas has described his security forces’ cooperation with the Israeli military as “sacred”. But an armed attack on an Israeli checkpoint this week by a Palestinian security official, which left three Israeli soldiers injured, suggests that Abbas’ view may not be widely shared among Palestinians.

New legislation is designed to intimidate and silence Israeli human rights organisations – the international community’s eyes and ears in the occupied territories. These groups are to be defined as “moles”, or agents of foreign governments. The problem is that the governments funding the human rights activity are not Israel’s enemies, but some of its staunchest supporters – European states.

Benjamin Netanyahu took advantage of a meeting this week with Barack Obama – their first in 13 months – to suggest it was time the US president recognised Israel’s illegal annexation of the Golan. Though he did not mention it, Netanyahu’s motives may have included the fact that last month US oil firm Genie announced it had found reserves there with the potential to produce “billions of barrels”.

Corbyn is not just threatening to expose the sham of the PLP as a real alternative to the Conservatives, but the sham of Britain’s liberal-left media as a real alternative to the press barons. The talkback sections in the Guardian show its kneejerk belittling of Corbyn has inserted a dangerous seed of doubt in the minds of a proportion of its formerly loyal readers.

Israel’s Benjamin Netanyahu is reluctant to unlock horns with the White House, even as he faces almost certain defeat in trying to block President Obama’s deal with Iran. Is Netanyahu hoping to turn the Iran issue into a doomsday electoral weapon against the Democrats, helping to clear the path into the White House next year for a Republican.

In an interview about his new book, Jeff Halper argues that Israel is cashing in – both financially and diplomatically – on systems of control it has developed in the occupied territories. It is exporting its know-how to global elites keen to protect their privileges from both external and internal challengers. In a world supposedly mired in an endless war on terror, we may all be facing a future as Palestinians.

The appointment by Benjamin Netanyahu of one of his most hawkish and outspoken rivals as Israel’s new ambassador to the United Nations has prompted widespread consternation. As one Israeli analyst noted last week, Danny Danon’s appointment amounts to a “cruel joke” on the international community. The new envoy “lacks even the slightest level of finesse and subtlety required of a senior diplomat”.

As Benjamin Netanyahu warns that Israel must “rebrand” itself to avoid pariah status, ordinary Israelis are being conscripted into an army of spin doctors in a campaign termed “hasbara” – Hebrew for “public diplomacy”. In the latest offensive, the education ministry has launched a compulsory hasbara course for students travelling abroad so that they can learn how to justify Israel’s policies in the occupied territories to outsiders and challenge those who “seek to delegitimise Israel”. It is yet more evidence that hasbara has become a national obsession in Israel.

Barack Obama used an Israeli TV interview last week to gently rebuke Israel’s prime minister, warning Benjamin Netanyahu that his security obsessions made him able only to “see the worst possibilities”. The Israeli prime minister has proved himself a master of mining the rich seam of fear that dominates Israeli political discourse. He understands it is the source of his power.

Only a few weeks into Benjamin Netanyahu’s new government, the intense strain of trying to square its members’ zealotry with Israel’s need to improve its international standing is already starkly evident. But even faced with a cabinet of settlers, ultra-nationalists and religious extremists, President Barack Obama is still choosing to shower Israel with arms and favours.

Israelis soldiers have conducted prominent relief operations following recent natural disasters – not only in Nepal but in Haiti, Japan and the Philippines. There has to be at least a suspicion that Israel is exploiting these catastrophes to win itself new international friends, try to refute global opinion surveys that regularly identify Israel as a major threat to world peace, and reassure a public back home that Israel really does have the “most moral army in the world”.

Palestinian solidarity groups have taken to social media to step up the pressure on UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon to include Israel for the first time on a “shame list” of serious violators of children’s rights. Although indications are that Israel is exerting enormous pressure to avoid being named, a senior UN source said Ban’s chief advisers had recommended that the Israeli army be identified alongside the Islamic State and Taliban.

As potential candidates for next year’s US presidential elections start to declare their hand, the chief donors on both sides of the political divide appear to have one issue uppermost in mind: Israel. The growing diplomatic rupture between Benjamin Netanyahu and Barack Obama appears to have become a motivating factor for major donors. According to analysts, the key bankrollers of both the Republican and Democratic campaigns want to make sure Netanyahu faces a much easier ride with Obama’s successor.

The question of punishing illegal settlements in occupied Palestinian territory was considered separately in Europe and Israel last week, with only superficial differences in the conclusions reached. Israel’s near half-century occupation is in no immediate danger, either at home or abroad. After years of internal debates, only a small majority of the 27 EU states have been able to agree on the most ineffectual measure imaginable against Israel.

Right-wing Israeli groups have been quietly escalating “legal warfare” against the Palestinian leadership in an attempt to dissuade it from bringing war crimes charges at the International Criminal Court. The campaign, which exploits loosely defined anti-terrorism laws in the US, appears designed to push Palestinian institutions toward collapse, as a way to weaken efforts to resist Israel’s occupation and to destroy any possibility of Palestinian statehood.

Netanyahu has found himself in a mounting conflict with the White House because no president likes to be ritually humiliated by the leader of a vassal state. But the very public disagreements between the two are not, as is generally assumed, focused on outcomes: ending the occupation or offering a just solution to the Palestinians. Rather, the feud is itself part of a drama designed to divert our attention from the substantive issues. Washington’s Plan B involves the US and Europe acting the role of the aggrieved party.