x Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 26 July 2017

Pride comes before the fall for Netanyahu

When Israel ignores its strongest allies when they call its behaviour insulting, one wonders if the word hubris has a translation in Hebrew.

When Israel ignores its strongest allies when they call its behaviour insulting, one wonders if the word hubris has a translation in Hebrew. Judging by his comments to the pro-Israeli lobby group Aipac, a shameless Benjamin Netanyahu went further earlier this week, taking the fight straight to Washington. Despite the US administration's vocal denunciation of his decision to continue building settlements in occupied East Jerusalem and its warning that this would endanger much-needed peace talks, the Israeli prime minister did not budge.

"Jerusalem is not a settlement," he said to thunderous applause. "It's our capital." A catchy line, but it shows how little consideration Israel has for the rights and plight of the Palestinians. Mr Netanyahu may be excellent at working a hardline crowd - this audience a gave cold reception to Hillary Clinton's solid case for peace - but he must have felt a lot less triumphant the next day. He met the US president Barack Obama but did not get the special treatment reserved for visiting dignitaries: no joint statement to the media and no photographs of smiling leaders on a cosy couch.

Very little has filtered from the meeting (leaks from Israeli officials stress that Iran, not peace, was the main topic of the discussion), but Mr Obama assuredly did not prove very friendly. This is no surprise. Mr Netanyahu's ideological rigidity undermines Mr Obama's credibility in the Middle East and the US effort in Iraq and Afghanistan. To make matters worse for Mr Netanyahu on Tuesday, Britain, a self-declared friend of Israel, announced that it would expel an Israeli diplomat who has been called the Mossad chief of station in London. So far, the move has been the strongest measure taken by a third party against Israel for the fraudulent use of foreign passports in the January assassination of the Hamas official Mahmoud al Mabhouh in Dubai.

The British foreign secretary David Miliband picked the right words, which may inspire other nations whose passports were similarly used: "The fact that this was done by a country which is a friend only adds insult to injury." Strong words from an ally of Israel about the violation of UAE sovereignty, although much of the groundwork was done by the methodical investigation conducted by the Dubai police.

Mr Netanyahu will not reverse his controversial decisions or make amends, but his already diminished standing is proof that deceit and stubbornness has a cost. Fifty-one per cent of Israelis feel that Mr Obama has been fair in dealing with Israel. If Mr Netanyahu was trying to derive political benefits from his provocations, it was a flawed calculation. No Israeli prime minister can spurn relations with the US. Mr Netanyahu should remember that lesson: in 1999, Israeli voters kicked him outafter his relationship with Bill Clinton soured. If Mr Netanyahu calculated that he could wait out Mr Obama and use Israel's friends to undermine him, he was wrong. The road to peace has not become any easier and Mr Netanyahu's bullying tactics have done Israel no favours.