Cracks are appearing in the diplomatic wall that has long protected Israel from international censure. Prime Minister Benyamin Netanyahu was given a reality check this week when he met German Chancellor, Angela Merkel, in Berlin. Her message was plain and simple; choose between isolation as an apartheid outcast, or acceptance in accord with democratic principles.
Throughout the six decades of its existence Israel has thrived on the illusions of victimhood and democracy. Its attack on the Gaza Strip and ensuing debacle in the UN has disproved both. Each time Israel embarks on a military campaign it reinforces its image as a serial aggressor; and likewise, every time it builds a settlement in the occupied territories it confirms its colonialist mindset. Neither aggression nor colonialism is an accepted norm of conduct in the 21st century.
European outrage at Israel’s announcement to build an additional 3,000 illegal settlement housing units was therefore understandable and long overdue. Although EU states would probably have preferred to voice their frustration behind closed doors, as has become customary, they chose on this occasion to make public their dismay. Thus, when an arch-apologist like Germany publicises its disgust Tel Aviv should realise that the tide is beginning to turn.
The dilemma facing Israel today is that it has become an albatross of an ally to both the US and Europe. They can now hardly conceal their embarrassment and shame at what has been brought upon them by Israel’s criminal conduct.
At best, the summoning of Israeli ambassadors this week by key European allies such as Britain and France may appear symbolic. Yet their move can set the stage for less powerful states to adopt an even more robust stance. Without a change of conduct, Tel Aviv’s relations with Europe are unlikely to improve.
With no sense of contrition Israeli officials have, quite cynically, attempted to shift the blame; claiming that the Obama administration had instigated the Europeans to denounce their settlement policies. They even threatened to resume the destruction of Palestinian homes in east Jerusalem, freeze the transfer of funds to the Palestinian Authority and end all cooperation with the international community in this respect.
Meanwhile, in Washington, Netanyahu’s actions have been regarded as a personal attack on President Obama.
Behind the scenes, the whispers claim that Israel’s incumbent government is acting like a mafia syndicate and not a responsible member of the UN. But in the same way that they punished the Palestinians in Gaza for electing Hamas six years ago, Israelis may soon have to confront similar diplomatic sanctions as were imposed on apartheid South Africa, especially if they re-elect Netanyahu and Lieberman. The days of hand-wringing and private recriminations are over. Netanyahu seems oblivious to the fact that the UN vote was not just a vote for the Palestinians – which it undoubtedly was but was also a vote against the illegal settlements.
By breaking ranks and supporting the Palestinian bid, in spite of enormous US pressure, Europe is sending a message that the time is fast approaching when the EU will be forced to protect its international standing by rejecting Israeli blackmail. There is talk of downgrading diplomatic representation, bilateral trade and scientific cooperation with Israel.
Already, Britain’s Foreign Secretary, William Hague, has warned Netanyahu that the Europeans will take serious measures sooner or later. In a fiercely competitive global environment and burdened by the crisis in the Eurozone it is no wonder that patience is running thin. Europeans will not be taken for granted by an ungrateful and arrogant ally.
Is America leading from behind on this matter? It is not inconceivable. It is said that Washington led from behind to bring down Muammar Gaddafi, the former Libyan dictator. If it turns out that the Europeans were really acting at the behest and with the approval of the Americans this could well be the tipping point, not with Israel as a state per se, but as one that has consciously chosen the path of apartheid rule and humanitarian crime. Israeli officials seem to be convinced that this is orchestrated from Washington. That in itself speaks volumes.
As for the Palestinians, they have no illusions; the worst is yet to come. The announcement of new housing units in Jerusalem is clearly a statement of intent. With reports of VIP passes being withdrawn from Palestinian Authority officials the process of gradual escalation has in fact already begun. According to the Israeli mindset Palestinians must be “punished” for taking their case to the UN.
Despite the bravado of their politicians, the Israeli public is mortified at the prospect of international sanctions and isolation. By outlawing domestic support for the boycott and sanctions campaign the Netanyahu government hopes to reduce any chance of collaboration with the outside world. This apparently has been too little too late. Europe is simply sick and tired of aggression and has no desire for an apartheid state at its southern back door.