Israel’s Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has incurred harsh waves of criticism against his government’s policy over the past few months, not only from Europe and the United States, who threaten to expand international isolation against Israel if the peace negotiations with the Palestinians fail, but also from domestic critics. The main opposition Labour Party and Netanyahu’s two major coalition partners, Yair Lapid of the Yesh Ated Party and Tzipi Livni of the Hatnuah Party, have criticised the lack of progress in the peace talks. The situation is serious enough for senior journalists to predict Israel’s fate under Netanyahu to be the same as South Africa’s apartheid government.
The Labour Party’s new leader, Isaac Herzog, has repeated his invitation to Netanyahu to take advantage of the opportunity to reach a peace agreement with the Palestinians: “We stand at the moment of truth. If Netanyahu cannot take the much-needed historic decision, he should vacate his seat for those who know and those who are aware of which decision should be taken.” Speaking to hundreds of Israeli left-wingers in Tel Aviv, Herzog added, “I tell you very clearly… We have a partner for peace, and there is an opportunity to achieve peace and it’s time to stop sparring. We must stop blaming the Palestinians for our problems. Israel has been controlling two societies since 1967 which puts us before a moral burden.” There is an immediate necessity to reach an agreement, insisted the Labour leader. “We are in the final minutes but Netanyahu continues to waste time.”
Left of centre Meretz Party leader Zahava Gal-On said, “The ball is in our court and we have a partner for peace, but I’m not sure whether Netanyahu is a partner for peace… Would anyone really believe that Netanyahu intends to make peace while he is held captive by a group of settlers, Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman, who has tarnished our relations with the world, and the Jewish Home Party Leader Naftali Bennett?”
The local media believes that a decision by several European companies to boycott Israeli companies with business in settlements in the occupied territories constitutes “a cautionary action”. However, there is talk of more serious actions if the negotiations with the Palestinians fail.
The Dutch Vitens Water Company has ended its partnership with the Israeli Water Company Mekorot because of the latter’s activities in the occupied territories. The Romanian government has also informed Israel that it will not send constructions workers because of Israel’s refusal to pledge not to employ them in construction projects in the illegal settlements. South Africa has stopped importing Dead Sea products saying that they were produced “beyond the Green Line”. The government in Pretoria has also informed large British and French companies of its intention to halt their activities in South African territories if they are involved in the Israeli settlements. The same media reports noted that the British government has warned businesses that investing, transferring funds or the acquisition of real estate in the settlements should make them “fear litigation and the damage that could be inflicted upon their reputation”.
According to Haaretz diplomatic correspondent Barak Ravid, a meeting will take place this week in Jerusalem between a senior European diplomat and his Israeli counterpart to discuss what sounded like “a clear European threat to expand the EU sanctions against the Israeli companies that are active in the settlements if the negotiations with the Palestinians reach an impasse”. Ravid said that the meeting coincides with a similar warning by US Secretary of State John Kerry to Netanyahu this week. “A campaign has started to delegitimise Israel and to introduce a comprehensive boycott against it,” Kerry told the prime minister. US Vice President Joe Biden has also warned of such a campaign, describing it as “the most serious threat to Israel’s existence and security for the long term”.
Furthermore, the death of the former South African President Nelson Mandela this week and Israel’s hesitation over attending his funeral saw commentators comparing Israel’s position in the international community with South Africa during the minority apartheid regime.
Chaim Shalev wrote in Haaretz that since Mandela’s death the world has recalled the shameful relations between Israel and the apartheid regime. “Today we feel uncomfortable due to our historical support of Mandela’s enemies… and our image as the heirs of that apartheid regime.” Shalev said that when South Africa was isolated in the world, Israel established an alliance with the white regime at a time when the international community started to mobilise against it. “The European Union guidelines to ban scientific relations with institutions that are active in the Israeli settlements constitute the beginning of a boycott campaign which resembles those suffered by the white regime [in South Africa] during its last years,” he pointed out. “What began at the time as an unorganised academic boycott of the Pretoria regime in Britain and some African countries spread gradually to sports and the entertainment business and then to ending trade relations, forcing the regime’s last allies, the United States and Israel, to boycott it, which had a tsunami effect in toppling the regime.”
This primary boycott is “a turning point” if the negotiations fail, said Shalev. The provocative construction projects in the settlements and the continued confrontation with the US administration over the Iranian nuclear programme, he insisted, are causing “grave damage” to Israel’s reputation, as are the manifestations of racism in Israeli society in the presence of an extremist right-wing government. “These are all preparing the ground for the turning point.”
Israel, suggested commentator Sima Kadmon, needs its own F W De Klerk, the last president of the white minority government in South Africa with whom Mandela negotiated the end of apartheid. “If only we had a leader like him who can spot and understand reality and be prepared to make the change,” lamented Kadmon.