Netanyahu’s government hasn’t been out to advance a Two-State Solution. Don’t get me wrong. I’m not coming from this way-left position that he’s all talk and no walk – that he has no interest in a peace process. I think Netanyahu’s very pragmatic, both when it comes to his personal interests and those of the country. But he’s not in a good position. Regardless, European politicians are sick of Israel’s delaying tactics. These are their views whether I like them to be true or not.
He can’t make any gestures, even token ones, without threatening his political position. Before Likud’s primaries, he had to worry about Shas and Yisrael Beiteinu torpedoing the government coalition. Now, it’s his own party. Likud shifted to the right in its primaries last week, meaning getting decisions through his own party’s reps in the cabinet is tougher. When the elections come in January, he’ll likely lead the winning party, but he’ll have to decide whether to create a coalition with right-wing parties (HaBayit HaYehudi and Shas) or the center-left (Yesh Atid or Tenua). Considering how Israeli domestic politics are hurting its international options, I’d at least grab Yesh Atid as a partner.
Israel’s strongest diplomacy is in Europe, even though by the way Israelis talk you wouldn’t know it. These are the countries willing to lean toward the Israelis in international votes (like last week at the United Nations) when other continents give the Jewish State no love. The United Kingdom, France and Germany usually abstain from or vote against anti-Israel resolutions, especially regarding the Palestinians. These countries tilted the other way this time. Israel hasn’t even come close to gaining diplomatic ground with these countries, and it’s time it really consider how to do that.
These countries didn’t do Israel a favor, but that might be a good thing. This vote was essentially meaningless. It only made official what most of the world already considers – the Palestinian Authority is essentially a national government of a country that most people would call Palestine. It’s mostly symbolic, even if it gives the Palestinians some momentum and some leverage to Mahmoud Abbas. But Palestine isn’t a member of the United Nations and hasn’t advanced the peace process either. While the Palestinians celebrate a minor win, now they have to pay back those European countries for their votes and show they can be serious.
European governments don’t take Netanyahu’s seriously. Many leaders distrust him and think of him as a “liar.” Former President of France Nic Sarkozy called him exactly that in an overheard conversation at an international summit. Barack Obama, who was the one talking with him, added his own $.02. Whether it’s Netanyahu himself, his coalition partners or his lazy government, it all has to change.
Because they distrust Netanyahu, they distrust Israel.
Israel needs to get closer to Europe. It has many inroads already, and with the main issue being the peace process with the Palestinians, Netanyahu has a lot of things he can give to at least get the country on track to improve its ties with Europe in real, substantive ways. The Czech Republic still voted with Jerusalem on this one, even when other countries caved in.
They Want Progress
Europe will push a Two-State Solution no matter how hard Israeli governments like his one try to delay it. If the Two-State method fails, let it. But it’s not going to happen by blocking votes at the UN. Israel doesn’t have the strength to do that so it should stop pushing against a brick wall. There’s no better choice than to recalibrate the country’s interests and stress them – borders, security and definitely emphasizing Jerusalem is Israel’s capital.
Israel has spent so much time demanding the world recognize Jerusalem as the country’s indivisible capital that it has no half-way point. There are still no embassies located in Jerusalem. There are still no countries that even acknowledge just West Jerusalem as indisputably Israeli. Israel can and should argue that West Jerusalem is not going to ever be Palestinian and that the countries should define their stance on what’s disputed in Jerusalem as being only the eastern half of the city – East Jerusalem. The Old City works the same way. Speaking just for myself, I’d trade Sheikh Jarrah or Abu Tur in a heartbeat for something more meaningful like the Temple Mount (though that simple a trade isn’t going to happen) – certainly we can say we’ll relinquish claims to parts of the eastern half of the city to get something in return as part of a peace deal.
But Germany has a long-standing policy to vote in Israel’s interests even in the many cases it disagrees with Israeli policy. Considering Angela Merkel (the German Chancellor) abstained from the vote is a really bad indicator of how things are right now. Germany wants to have a good relationship with Israel; Netanyahu needs to reciprocate. Netanyahu shouldn’t squander the connection.
A quick tangent: there are still a lot of right-wing Israelis who hate the idea of ties with Germany. It’s weird. It’s awkward for them, and they show it with a visceral anger. But those people are a very loud minority of Israelis. Modern Germany isn’t Nazi Germany; Berlin’s expressed remorse for the Holocaust and solidarity with Israel innumerable amounts of times. Some punks in Bavaria joining a neo-Nazi party aren’t worthy of international headlines or Jews’ attention. Germany is Israel’s best connection in Europe.
These are the Cards
There are things to be done. There are deals to be made. Nothing’s impossible. If Israel stresses things even Europe acknowledges are critical elements of negotiations (rather than just avoiding negotiations), Europe will play ball and pressure the Palestinians. Israel’s got to keep moving to press its advantages in Europe. There’s no bloc of countries closer to Israel culturally and politically. There’s no 20-member group called the Jewish League in Israel’s corner.
Ultimately, Israel’s going to have to find a way to build its clout in the United Nations and stop resigning itself to being a diplomatic loser. The avenue to do that goes through Europe where it has extensive connections already. Israel wants to be able to set the tone of international policy: have pull in corners of the General Assembly; influence the Human Rights Council; sit on the UN Security Council. Those are where Israel needs to be. Those are the places the country will build up old relationships and find new ones.
There’s no option to fold its hands on Europe and the UN shouting “Everybody hates us!” These are the cards the country is dealt. Buy in.