x Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 24 July 2017

Israel fears further isolation globally

Netanyahu afraid that UN recognition of Palestine would weaken Israel's hand in future negotiation, further isolate Israel internationally and undermine his own hold on power at home, say analysts.

Avigdor Lieberman, centre, the Israeli foreign minister, speaks to other delegates during the general debate at the 66th session of the United Nations General Assembly in New York. EPA / JUSTIN LANE
Avigdor Lieberman, centre, the Israeli foreign minister, speaks to other delegates during the general debate at the 66th session of the United Nations General Assembly in New York. EPA / JUSTIN LANE

TEL AVIV // Benjamin Netanyahu, the Israeli prime minister, has long argued that the Palestinians' bid for United Nations recognition of their statehood would badly hurt peace talks and spur violence between Israelis and Palestinians.

But some analysts say the hardline prime minister has bigger worries on his mind.

These include the possibility that UN recognition would weaken Israel's hand in future negotiations over a Palestinian state, further isolate Israel internationally and undermine his own hold on power at home by turning away right-wing backers disappointed that he failed to block the UN move.

Mr Netanyahu has told US officials he was worried that UN recognition would allow Palestine to file lawsuits against Israel in the International Criminal Court in The Hague over issues such as settlements.

Nevertheless, while the Israeli government appears to be panicking over the Palestinians' quest for UN recognition, it is comforting itself with the fact that its staunchest ally, the US, is on its side.

Indeed, the latest indication of the warming relations between Mr Netanyahu's right-wing government and the administration of Barack Obama, the US president, came on Wednesday, when Mr Obama gave what many Palestinians and left-wing Israelis blasted as a pro-Israeli speech at the UN General Assembly.

While the address drew criticism from Palestinians for not addressing issues such as Israeli settlement expansion and for appearing to cater to the US Jewish vote ahead of an election year, it was praised by Avigdor Lieberman, the far-right Israeli foreign minister.

Speaking in New York, he said he was "ready to sign on this speech with both hands. It was a speech by an ally".

Israeli commentators yesterday said Mr Obama made no secret of trying to appear aligned with Israel.

Nachum Barnea and Shimon Shiffer, two prominent reporters, wrote in the mass-selling Yediot Ahronot newspaper that "Obama adopted the basic Israeli narrative - Israel is a small country that is surrounded by Arab states seeking to destroy it … it's no wonder that [Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas], who sat in the auditorium during the speech, hung his head in his hands in disbelief and despair".

Despite his US backing, Mr Netanyahu will speak at the UN General Assembly today as the leader of a country viewed as increasingly isolated by an international community that is growing impatient with its aggressive policies and settlement expansion.

Indeed, in the Middle East, Israel's standing has been significantly damaged in recent months as demonstrations across the Arab world also increased anti-Israeli sentiments.

That was especially evident in Egypt and Jordan, the only two Arab countries with which Israel has peace agreements.

In Egypt, where Hosni Mubarak was ousted in February, demonstrators stormed the Israeli embassy this month, replacing the Israeli flag with Egypt's, tossing embassy documents out the window and forcing the ambassador and his staff to flee the country. The two countries, which signed a peace agreement in 1979, have since been in talks about returning the ambassador but Egypt's prime minister last week sparked doubt about the peace treaty's strength by saying it was "not sacred".

In Jordan, a demonstration at a mosque near the Israeli embassy last week, inspired by the anti-Israeli Cairo protest just days before, prompted Israel to evacuate its mission ahead of the rally.

About half of Jordan's six million inhabitants are of Palestinian descent.

Many have been alarmed at reports that Israel may opt to lobby for Jordan to become the national home for the Palestinians instead of an independent Palestine.

A report in the newspaper Haaretz last Friday said that Uzi Dayan, an Israeli major general, told a conference earlier in the week that Jordan should absorb the West Bank and Gaza Strip, cancelling the notion of a Palestinian state.

The comments appeared to anger Jordan's King Abdullah II, who was widely quoted last week as saying that Jordan and the Palestinians were now in a stronger position than Israel after the Arab uprisings weakened Israel's position.

As Israel's international standing deteriorates, its leadership is also facing condemnation at home for failing to take steps, such as offering concessions on the issue of settlements, to dissuade the Palestinians from pursuing their UN recognition bid.

"Our situation has never been so miserable," wrote Ari Shavit in Haaretz. "The grotesque foreign policy of Netanyahu and Lieberman had made Israel a pathetic and helpless political body.

"They did not initiate anything, offer anything or give anything up.

"Thanks to Netanyahu and Lieberman, there is no country today that is more hated or ridiculed than Israel."

foreign.desk@thenational.ae