The Israeli government is bracing itself for more condemnation from the international community this week at an upcoming meeting of the Quartet scheduled for March 19. It's expected that the gathering will become another diplomatic opportunity for international leaders to blast Israel regarding West Bank settlements and Jerusalem building projects. Condemning Israel has now become commonplace for world leaders, especially those wanting to successfully implement their new policy objectives -- and for those striving to solidify a more influential position in Middle East politics and diplomacy.
After the faux pas on Israel's part during the recent visit of American Vice President Joseph Biden, media headlines once again highlighted the glaring divisions between the Jewish State and its main western ally. As Biden was attending a ceremony at Yad Vashem, Israel's Ministry of Interior announced the approval of new construction on 1,600 housing units in a northeast neighborhood of Jerusalem.
The announcement caused an American uproar because the Palestinians, with the backing of the Arab League, had finally agreed to proximity talks with Israel. The United States had been working on getting the Palestinians and Israelis back to the peace table since American President Barack Obama took office more than a year ago. Failing to witness any progress, U.S. envoy George Mitchell was finally able to see a possible breakthrough on the horizon -- temporary indirect talks, leading to direct talks in a few months' time. Having secured the indirect talks, American leaders were now set to go with their new foreign policy plan, already eagerly putting a fresh timetable on the yet-to-begin proximity talks but not paying attention to continued timetable failures in the past.
But America's new policy soon unraveled after the brouhaha in Jerusalem during Biden's visit. What followed was Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's attempt to recoup his political losses, hoping to regain the trust of U.S. leaders. He's being challenged not only on the diplomatic front, but also from within his own government. A shake-up among his coalition partners is unfolding as left-wing Labor Party members claim that they will quit his government by September 2010 if no diplomatic progress has been achieved. New elections, and a left-leaning Israeli government, would sit well with the Obama administration.
Meanwhile, the ill-timed northeast Jerusalem housing announcement has resulted in the Palestinians, backed by the Arab League, voicing their original demand of Israel. They are insisting, once again, that Israel meet their precondition (no building in the West Bank or Jerusalem) or they won't sit down for proximity talks. This domino effect has infuriated not only the White House, but also the State Department. The U.S. has perceived that the Israeli government's announcement weakened America's foreign policy efforts, which were already weakened by Israeli-Palestinian intransigence during Obama's first year in office.
Trying to clean up the diplomatic mess, Netanyahu has offered several apologies to the Obama administration which have fallen on deaf ears. He has promised that construction on the Jerusalem neighborhood will not start for several years. But the Americans and the Palestinians are not listening. They want more. This has now become a new opportunity by the U.S. State Department to exert public pressure on Israel to stop building in east Jerusalem, a red line that the current Netanyahu government has been unwilling to cross.
The issue goes much deeper than what appears on the surface. The State Department has never recognized Jerusalem as Israel's sovereign, eternal, and undivided capital. This has put the State Department in the Palestinian camp on this issue in a very public way.
What makes matters worse is that Biden came to the Middle East to prove to Israelis just how much the Obama White House cares and is on Israel's side. Obama's public relations effort was meant to emphasize the unique partnership of two democratic allies who have formed a strategic alliance of cooperation in this volatile region. During his visit, Biden stated over and over again America's unswerving commitment to Israel's security.
Yet, that commitment apparently does not include protecting Israel's capital and holy sites by respecting and honoring Israel's sovereign historical and biblical right to rule over Jerusalem. America's commitment also apparently does not require the U.S. to show concrete confidence-building measures to the Israeli people by moving the U.S. Embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem. Furthermore, in this American commitment, President Obama does not feel that it is important to visit the Jewish State after fawning on Arab leaders in several neighboring states since he was elected.
In other words, the White House commitment to Israel is about vital security interests, but not within the framework of building a trusting relationship to help Israel overcome its uncertainty about Obama's true intentions. Biden's visit made this all the more apparent to Israeli citizens in a way that no Tel Aviv University public relations speech could.
Condemning Israel for building in a neighborhood that in any case will remain under Israeli jurisdiction in any future agreement with the Palestinians shows the deep misunderstandings between the U.S. and Israel over the peace process.
The U.S., once again, is overplaying its hand -- appearing to be pro-Palestinian in its policies, acquiescing to Palestinian demands, and hurting peace efforts. This has further jeopardized American's role as an honest peace broker in the Middle East. So why continue the unrelenting pressure on Israel in such a public way?
Pressuring Israel has become a path on the part of previous American administrations toward squeezing out Israeli concessions. Obama is now using this same tactic, but in the public arena for global consumption. Continuing to bring the dispute into the international limelight emboldens other politicians and diplomats to follow suit. This, then, contributes to Obama's efforts at leading and building a comprehensive Middle East peace coalition which will be supported and backed by international bodies respecting international law.
The Palestinians have already successfully used the United Nations as a forum to internationalize their dispute with Israel, resulting in the condemnation of the Jewish State through many U.N. resolutions. They would like this to continue until the U.N. imposes stiff sanctions on Israel.
The European Union has also entered the fray. Last week, while the media was busy highlighting Biden's visit to Israel, it almost went unnoticed that the European Parliament announced its endorsement of the Goldstone Report, which accuses Israel of alleged war crimes in the 2008-09 Gaza war with Hamas. Meeting in Strasbourg, just over 50% of the Parliament voted to take a stand in favor of the report. Israel's Foreign Ministry was disappointed that the announcement came at a time when Israel and the Palestinians had finally agreed to proximity talks. Furthermore, the untimely decision of the Parliament members bolstered the visit of EU foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton, who is set to travel to Israel and Gaza, where more condemnation of Israel can be expected.
Moreover, the European Parliament's decision to side with the Goldstone Report highlights the ongoing campaign to delegitimize Israel under the false allegation that Israel has violated international human rights laws. This erodes global public support of Israel through a biased and distorted picture of the Jewish State as an "illegal occupier" and the Palestinians as "innocent victims."
The Palestinians, working diplomatically to help Hamas in Gaza, have been successful in diverting public attention away from the terrorist activities of the Hamas government. Focusing international attention on condemning Israel has also helped to minimize the focus on gross human rights violations on the part of Hamas, especially the use of women and children as human shields during times of war. This is a real violation of international human rights laws which is virtually being ignored by the international community.
The Palestinians have not only become successful in fighting Israel within the framework of international bodies, but they have also tried to undermine Israel's capacity for self-defense in any future war. This campaign of delegitimizing Israel has been working well. Anti-Israel hatred and anti-Semitism against Jews in the Diaspora is now more publicly accepted and legitimized through continued international condemnation of Israel. This is occurring not only through the Goldstone Report, but also through the laws of international jurisdiction, where ordinary citizens can take Israeli leaders to court over alleged war crimes, threatening their arrest upon arrival in certain European nations.
The Dubai attack against a high-level Hamas terrorist was blamed on Israel, backed by one eager UAE police commander who twisted the plot to delegitimize the work of Israel's main security agency. This put the focus on the Mossad instead of on the arch-terrorist who had murdered Israelis and smuggled highly sophisticated arms into Gaza. It also gave international leaders excuses for bashing Israel and bringing the Jewish nation to task for a crime yet to be proven.
When Netanyahu put the Cave of the Patriarch's and Rachel's Tomb on the list of important Israeli heritage sites for refurbishing, America and Europe condemned the move, saying it would not help advance peace efforts with the Palestinians. Never mind that Israelis see the sites as their biblical and historical roots to the land, and despite the fact that the Israeli government is willing to give oversight of those holy places to the Palestinians in any future peace agreement.
According to international law expert Irwin Cotler, the recent condemnation by international leaders claiming that Israeli settlements are "illegal" has further played into the delegitimization of Israel. He explains that people can have their opinions that the settlement policy is bad or wrong-thinking.
That is very different from saying that Israel is systematically violating international law in its settlement policy. That raises the specter of Israel as being an international outlaw.
So why is the international community taking a stand against Israel in such a public demonstration of condemnation? Blaming Israel has become an accepted diplomatic path towards weakening Israel's resolve and forcing the Jewish State to give up its claim to its land.
This is a new policy initiative that does not appear to be a formally coordinated and planned effort among nations and international bodies. But it does help the United States, the U.N., the EU, Russia, the Arab League, and the Palestinians to further their goal of imposing a two-state solution on Israel according to the pre-1967 or 1948 borders. This goal is set to endanger the vital security interests of the Jewish State. This is the very thing that America has publicly promised Israel it would not do. So far, Israel's main Western ally has not convinced Israelis of what its true intentions really are.