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.
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”.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Why is Netanyahu acting like a bull in a diplomatic china shop over Iran, and doing so at the cost of imperilling relations with the US, when his own advisers say there is no obvious threat and a deal next month is unlikely? The answer is to be found on two levels: one related specifically to Netanyahu’s personal political survival; and the other to Israel’s longer-term regional interests.
The contents of a secret report by Israel’s Mossad spy agency on Iran’s nuclear programme leaked to the media are shocking and predictable in equal measure. Shocking because the report shows Netanyahu spent years lying to the international community against Mossad’s advice; predictable because for four years Israel’s security establishment has been screaming as loudly as it realistically could that Netanyahu was not to be trusted on the Iran issue.
A leaked government report paints a dark future for Israel. Western support for the Palestinians will increase, the threat of European sanctions will grow, and the US might even refuse to “protect Israel with its veto” at the UN. One might assume that, faced with this, Israel would reconsider its obstructive approach to peace negotiations and Palestinian statehood. Instead, Netanyahu has begun looking elsewhere for patrons.
For 20 years, the White House stood guard over the peace process, reserving for itself the role of stewarding Israel and the Palestinians to a resolution of their conflict. But Washington’s primacy in the relationship with both the Israeli and Palestinian leaderships is unravelling at astonishing speed, opening up for the first time diplomatic wriggle room.
While Europe is tentatively finding a voice in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, silence reigns across the Atlantic. The White House appears paralysed, afraid to appear out of sync with world opinion but more afraid still of upsetting Israel and its powerful allies in the US Congress. Now there is an additional complicating factor: the Israeli public, due to elect a new government in three months’ time, increasingly regards the US role as toxic.
In casting a popular resistance movement like Hamas as ISIS, Netanyahu has tarred all Palestinians as bloodthirsty Islamic extremists. Israeli fear-mongering is designed both to further undermine the Palestinian unity government between Hamas and Fatah, and to sanction Israel’s behaviour by painting a picture, as after 9/11, of an Israel on the front line of a war against global terror.
With Israel and Hamas locked in military stalemate after their 50-day confrontation in Gaza, attention had returned to reviving a peace process between Israel and Palestinian president Mahmoud Abbas. That is the context for assessing Israel’s decision to antagonise all its main partners against Hamas by announcing plans this week for the biggest land grab in the West Bank in three decades.
Two investigations by the Israeli media illustrate the profoundly unhelpful role played by the US. They suggest that, whatever its public statements, the US is assisting Israel not only in what Barack Obama called its right to “self-defence” but in actively damaging Palestinian interests. And it seems not to matter whether the Palestinians in question are Hamas or the preferred negotiating partner, Mahmoud Abbas.
The biggest paradox of the two-decade peace process is that, to realise his goal of statehood, Mahmoud Abbas is using a vehicle, the Palestinian Authority, that is incapable of bringing him to his destination. The nearer he gets to real statehood, or a prosecution against Israel for war crimes, the more certain it is that Israel and the US will pull the plug on the PA. But if the PA never becomes more than a security contractor for the occupation, then it will be brought down by the wrath of the Palestinians themselves.
The US and Israel have relied on the endless theatrics of the two-decade peace process as a distraction from the main developments on the ground. UN special rapporteur Richard Falk noted that Israel has cynically exploited the peace process to expand its settlement programme. The innocuous term “settlements” conceals their true role: as Israel’s primary vehicle for ethnic cleansing.