x Abu Dhabi, UAESunday 23 July 2017

UN vote piles more pressure on Netanyahu

The Israeli prime minister has contradicted himself on 1967 borders in just the latest example of how the UN vote on Palestinian statehood has changed the rules of Middle East peace.

Washington's political theatre in May featured high-stakes betrayal. In his keynote Middle East speech, President Barack Obama called for peace talks between Israelis and Arabs based on modified 1967 borders. A few days later, on the floor of the American Congress, Israel's Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu tried to deal those borders a death blow, saying they would be indefensible.

Nearly two months later, Mr Netanyahu has changed his tune. In recent days, the Israeli administration has made noises about renewing negotiations with the Palestinian Authority premised on the 1967 borders.

Anyone who puts much faith in that overture has not been paying attention. Mr Netanyahu has told his constituents that he will never agree to 1967 borders, promising to undermine any deal that is made. The intransigence of Israeli negotiators last year - despite unwise concessions offered by the Palestinian Authority - indicated not only a refusal to make concessions, but a deliberate agenda to drive peace talks into the ground.

What is significant is not what the Israelis are trying to achieve with negotiations, but what they are trying to prevent. The precondition for new talks would be for the Palestinian Authority to abandon its bid for recognition of a Palestinian state and UN membership in September. A vote before the UN General Assembly - and international public opinion - is sure to favour Palestinians, who play to their own strengths through non-violent resistance.

Mr Netanyahu has scored points with Israelis by taking a hard line, but this is not in his country's interest. His administration is now under pressure because of protests about the rising cost of living. It is easy to connect the dots between Israel's occupation policy, every settlement built and every injustice that further isolates it, and the country's economic problems.

Israel's latest prod, thinly disguised as an olive branch, might buy it diplomatic cover in the halls of Washington. But May's spectacle showed that audience is already dominated by unthinking fans of Israel's policy.

There is no reason that UN recognition, along the outlines of 1967 borders, precludes negotiations in the future - in fact, they go hand-in-hand. Non-violent resistance and rallying the international community give Palestinians strength they did not have in Washington or in armed conflict. Perhaps Israel has begun to recognise this too.