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Israeli government implosion over peace process opens door to international isolation

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U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, not happy.

U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, not happy.

Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu has rarely been so politically embattled. His travails indicate the Israeli right’s inability to respond to a shifting political landscape, both in the region and globally.

The context for his troubles was his commitment in 2009, under great pressure from a newly elected US president, Barack Obama, to support the creation of a Palestinian state. It was a concession he never wanted to make and one he has regretted ever since.

The US secretary of state, John Kerry, has exploited that pledge by imposing the current peace talks. Now Netanyahu faces an imminent “framework agreement” that may require him to make further commitments towards an outcome he abhors.

Mahmoud Abbas, the head of the Palestinian Authority, is not helping. Rather than digging in his own heels, he offers constant accommodation. Last week Abbas told the New York Times that Israel could take a leisurely five years removing its soldiers and settlers from a key piece of Palestinian territory, the Jordan Valley. The Palestinian state would remain demilitarised, while Nato troops could stay “for a long time, and wherever they want”.

The Arab League is another thorn. It has obliged by renewing its offer from 2002, the Arab Peace Initiative, that promises Israel peaceful relations with the Arab world in return for its agreement to Palestinian statehood.

Meanwhile, the European Union is gently turning the screws on the occupation. It regularly trumpets condemnation of Israel’s settlement-building frenzies, including last week’s announcement of 558 settler homes in East Jerusalem. And in the background sanctions loom over settlement goods.

European financial institutions are providing a useful barometer of the mood among the 28 EU member states. They have become the unexpected pioneers of the boycott, divestment and sanctions (BDS) movement, with a steady trickle of banks and pension funds pulling out their investments in recent weeks.

Pointing out that boycotts and “delegitimisation” campaigns are only going to gather pace, Kerry has warned that Israel’s traditional policy is “unsustainable”.

That message rings true with many Israeli business leaders, who have thrown their weight behind the US diplomatic plan. They believe that a Palestinian state is the key to Israel gaining access to lucrative regional markets and continued economic growth.

Netanyahu must have been disconcerted by the news that among those meeting Kerry to express support at the World Economic Forum in Davos last month was Shlomi Fogel, the prime minister’s long-time intimate.

Pressure on these various fronts may explain Netanyahu’s hasty convening last weekend of his senior ministers to devise a strategy to counter the boycott trend. Proposals include a $28 million media campaign, legal action against boycotting institutions, and intensified surveillance of overseas activists by the Mossad.

On the domestic scene, Netanyahu – who is known to prize political survival above all other concerns – is getting a rough ride as well. He is being undermined on his right flank by rivals inside the coalition.

Naftali Bennett, the settlers’ leader, provoked a chafing public feud with Netanyahu this month, accusing him of losing his “moral compass” in the negotiations. At the same time, Avigdor Lieberman, the foreign minister from the far-right Yisrael Beiteinu party, has dramatically changed tack, cosying up to Kerry, whom he has called “a true friend of Israel”. Lieberman’s unlikely statesmanship has made Netanyahu’s run-ins with the US look, in the words of a local analyst, “childish and irresponsible”.

It is in the light of these mounting pressures on Netanyahu that one should understand his increasingly erratic behaviour – and the growing rift with the US.

A damaging falling-out last month, following insults from the defence minister against Kerry, has not subsided. Last week Netanyahu unleashed his closest cabinet allies to savage Kerry again, with one calling the US secretary of state’s pronouncements “offensive and intolerable”.

Susan Rice, Obama’s national security adviser, tweeted her displeasure with a shot across the bows. The Israeli government’s attacks were “totally unfounded and unacceptable”, she noted. Any doubt she was speaking for the president was later dispelled when Obama praised Kerry’s “extraordinary passion and principled diplomacy”.

But despite outward signs, Netanyahu is less alone than he looks – and far from ready to compromise.

He has the bulk of the Israeli public behind him, helped by media moguls like his friend Sheldon Adelson who are stoking the national mood of besiegement and victimhood.

But most importantly he has a large chunk of Israel’s security and economic establishment on side too.

The settlers and their ideological allies have deeply penetrated the higher ranks of both the army and the Shin Bet, Israel’s secret intelligence service. The Haaretz newspaper revealed this month the disturbing news that three of the four heads of the Shin Bet now subscribe to this extremist ideology.

Moreover, powerful elements within the security establishment are financially as well as ideologically invested in the occupation. In recent years the defence budget has rocketed to record levels as a whole layer of the senior military exploits the occupation to justify feathering its nest with grossly inflated salaries and pensions.

There are also vast business profits in the status quo, from hi-tech to resource-grabbing industries. Indications of what is at stake were illuminated recently with the announcement that the Palestinians will have to buy from Israel at great cost two key natural resources – gas and water – they should have in plentiful supply were it not for the occupation.

With these interest groups at his back, a defiant Netanyahu can probably face off the US diplomatic assault this time. But Kerry is not wrong to warn that in the long term yet another victory for Israeli intransigence will prove pyhrrhic.

These negotiations may not lead to an agreement, but they will mark a historic turning-point nonetheless. The delegitimisation of Israel is truly under way, and the party doing most of the damage is the Israeli leadership itself.

A version of this article first appeared in The National, Abu Dhabi.

Jonathan Cook

Jonathan Cook won the Martha Gellhorn Special Prize for Journalism. His latest books are “Israel and the Clash of Civilisations: Iraq, Iran and the Plan to Remake the Middle East” (Pluto Press) and “Disappearing Palestine: Israel’s Experiments in Human Despair” (Zed Books). His new website is

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15 Responses

  1. seafoid on February 13, 2014, 9:58 am

    So happy for bibi, jewish mr fixit Who fuckedit all up.

    • on February 13, 2014, 4:19 pm

      i was watching the travel guru rick steves in iran. he stood off the sidewalk in tehran having a very friendly conversation with an iranian man in the passenger seat of a car stopped in traffic.
      the iran man said to rick,” i hope america and iran can become good friends. ” and rick said in turn “i hope so too” shaking hands together all the time smiling.
      what a great ambassdor he would make, but forget about it, he wouldn’t allow himself to take orders, like a slave, from AIPAC.

  2. American on February 13, 2014, 10:28 am

    “The delegitimisation of Israel is truly under way”

    I agree but dont want to over estimate its effects. What does encourage me is the growing number of high placed officials of other nations and the EU stepping up and speaking ‘bluntly’ about Israel and to Israel very publically for world comsumption.
    I am also encouraged by the Israeli attacks on the US,Kerry, Obama.
    I am less encouraged becuase of our US media problem that does not let the Israeli potty mouth attacks on the US and true facts thru to US public because the money and intimidation grip of the Lobby on the political parties cant be really broken without more public outrage over this.
    I will consider we are getting close to killing off I-Firstdom and I/P when a US politician steps up and makes the same kind of speech about Israel as Minister Kaufman did in the UK.
    OTOH I do feel certain that Israel will push the US so far that we are either ‘isolated with Israel’ or by some miracle of fear striking the congressperps we jump off the Isr train to save ourselves.

  3. HPH on February 13, 2014, 10:52 am

    I certainly agree with the bottom line. The post by Annie Robbins about the tempest in a teapot at the Knesset illustrates this fact.

  4. Justpassingby on February 13, 2014, 11:43 am

    This is nonsense frankly, Israel will never get isolated by the west. And who said that Israel would be blamed for anything anyway?

  5. HarryLaw on February 13, 2014, 11:45 am

    That’s a great scam, steal the Palestinians water and gas, then sell it back to them at great cost, sounds worse than the mafia, anyone complaining gets “intensified surveillance of overseas activists by the Mossad”, does that mean staff and contributors at Mondoweiss? By the way I take back all the comments I have made over the years, my errors were all the fault of reading Mondoweiss.

  6. seafoid on February 13, 2014, 12:03 pm

    The Torah lesson that deals with the kosher chickens coming home to roost is my favourite.

  7. Mndwss on February 13, 2014, 1:03 pm

    “Last week Abbas told the New York Times that Israel could take a leisurely five years removing its soldiers and settlers from a key piece of Palestinian territory, the Jordan Valley. The Palestinian state would remain demilitarised, while Nato troops could stay “for a long time, and wherever they want”.”

    I think this is a good plan. NATO soldiers would then see how IDF treats Palestinians.

    I think this is what changed the discussion in Norway. A lot of norwegian soldiers served in UNIFIL in Lebanon. Many believed they went there to protect Israel.

    Almost everyone came back with a negative view of Israel.

    Of the people that i know, friends and family, my sister and brother in law, that served in UNIFIL, not a single person has a positive view of Israel. They all describe Israelis as the most arrogant people on the planet.

  8. Real Jew on February 13, 2014, 6:06 pm

    All these are good signs, the EU stepping up pressure, the bds movement growing, the US’ s growing impatience. But nothing will change on the ground unless we take away or reign in Israel’s most powerful weapon, AIPAC and its ilk. As long as aipac has our government in its pocket our politicians will never have the will to truly put pressure on israel via sanctions. Its just not gonna happen. Until we break thru the media censorship of the conflict and educate the american masses of the costly effect blindly supporting israel has on the US and israel itself significant change is just a dream

  9. James Canning on February 13, 2014, 7:43 pm

    Maybe Netanyahu should endorse the 2002 Saudi Peace Plan. “Should”.

    • puppies on February 13, 2014, 10:07 pm

      @Canning – Why should he? Nothing is forcing him. No one will threaten and force him to endorse anything but the Zionist plan that wants all of Palestine, cleared of its inhabitants. Period.
      The game is to push the pseudo-counterpart (“Palestinian” Quisling government, Saudis, all the other twenty-some US puppets, etc.) to make ever further-reaching ridiculous, nay suicidal concessions (not to mention to have such criminal concessions trumpeted by propagandists or naive people, like you.) The one just refuses and asks for new concessions, obtains them, and the game continues to the new step.

  10. traintosiberia on February 13, 2014, 8:07 pm

    Israel is where Pakistan was in 1980s with all the elements that shaped the successive socio political developments of Pakistan ,are now operating in political military religious realms of Israel. Israel does have an escape route that is underpinned by it’s high technological and science sectors . But that turnaround depends on the political courage and readiness to assert itself.

  11. DaBakr on February 13, 2014, 8:43 pm

    Everyone seems to focus on Netanyahu but what happens when he’s voted out? What if he is replaced by a more right PM? Or a left wing PM that faces the wraith of our crazy religious fanatics? The problem with Israel negotiating is everybody knows that Israel has free and fair elections-for better or worse. But Israelis? They have to live with the shaky Hasemite monarchy (propped up by IDF in the first place), the shaky Egyptian treaty where a large majority of Egyptians want to chuck out the Camp David accords., The hudnah with Hezbollah? Only good as long as Hezbollah doesnt go too crazy in its provocations. And Syria? Who the heck knows what will end up with Syria. We stay out of this because we know we can’t win on pokitical stage no matter what. Support Assad? Evil, Support his ouster at hands of those even more committed to Israeli destruction? Absurd. Sit on the fence and offer aide that is turned down by the refugees so-called ‘leaders’? What else to do.

    So don’t go telling Israelis that their “facing isolation”. It is an empty threat. We know isolation. We know ostracism. We know that the large ecomonic giants like Russia, US and China will continue to depend on Israeli technology in tech/bio/pharma/agro/etc so that we really don’t worry about the threats that come from the unelected EU-despite are multi-billion euro contracts there

    • Ecru on February 14, 2014, 4:59 am

      I wonder if Zionists could be successfully treated with psychoactive drugs since they seem as divorced from reality as any delusional psychopath.

      The problem with Israel negotiating is everybody knows that Israel has free and fair elections-for better or worse…

      Sorry no. Free and fair elections don’t rely on ethnic cleansing and discriminatory laws to maintain the privilege of one section of the population. Even the USA with it’s huge gerrymandering problems doesn’t do that. Even the Republican party hasn’t gotten round to enforcing mass expulsions to prop up the power of its voting base. Well not yet anyway.

      …the large ecomonic giants like Russia, US and China will continue to depend on Israeli technology in tech/bio/pharma/agro/etc so that we really don’t worry about the threats that come from the unelected EU-despite are multi-billion euro contracts there…

      US rely on Israel? Russia rely on Israel? China rely on Israel? These all have quite successful high tech industries of their own in case you missed it (which Israel spies on and then copies to sell on to other parties in the case of the USA). China in particular is investing more than just about any nation on the planet on research right now. Or was Jade Rabbit Israeli? Look I know, judeo-supremacy means you have to claim you’re much more important than you are but please let’s not go from the usual levels of silliness into pure pie-in-the-sky absurdity.

      As for Europe being unelected what on earth are you on about? The Commission is unelected but guess what, they’re the ones who are more pro-Israeli than anyone else, the elected officials they’re the ones you have to worry about. The ones whose jobs rely on a voting public that is increasingly seeing Israel as the problem. And a dangerously insane problem at that.

    • TheWatcherWatching on February 16, 2014, 6:11 pm

      If he’s replaced with a more insane politician then it’s easier for people to boycott Israel. Give you enough rope and you will hang yourselves

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