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Netanyahu seeks to rally Israelis around him in anti-Obama assault

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and US President Barack Obama [file photo]
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and US President Barack Obama [file photo]

Benjamin Netanyahu has been unrelenting in his criticism of the Obama administration over what he condemned as its “shameful” decision not to veto a UN Security Council resolution calling for a halt to Israeli settlement-building.

But with the clock ticking down on Barack Obama’s presidency, a possibly more amenable Republican Donald Trump due to succeed him on Jan. 20 and a $38 billion US military aid package to Israel a done deal, it’s all a calculated risk for the four-term, right-wing Israeli prime minister.

Netanyahu, after what critics are calling a stinging defeat on the international stage, is already manoeuvring to mine deep-seated feelings among many Israelis that their country and its policies towards the Palestinians are overly criticised in a world where deadlier conflicts rage.

He has tried to rally Israelis around him by portraying the anti-settlement resolution as a challenge to Israel’s claimed sovereignty over all of Jerusalem. That was hammered home with an unscheduled Hanukkah holiday visit to the Western Wall, one of Judaism’s holiest sites, which is located in Jerusalem’s Old City in the eastern sector captured along with the West Bank in a 1967 war.

Read: Netanyahu fears more international measures as he accuses world of ‘spitting at us’

That all of Jerusalem is their country’s capital is a consensus view among Israelis, including those who otherwise have doubts about the wisdom of Netanyahu’s support for settlements on the West Bank. Palestinians claim eastern Jerusalem as their capital, and Washington has in the past accepted an international view that the city’s status must be determined at future peace talks. Trump has promised to reverse decades of US policy by moving the US embassy to Jerusalem from Tel Aviv.

“I did not plan to be here this evening but in light of the UN resolution I thought that there was no better place to light the second Hanukkah candle than the Western Wall,” Netanyahu said during the event.

I ask those same countries that wish us a Happy Hanukkah how they could vote for a UN resolution which says that this place, in which we are now celebrating Hanukkah, is occupied territory?

Some 570,000 Israelis live in the West Bank and east Jerusalem, which Palestinians want as part of a future state. Disputing this, Israel cites biblical, historical and political links to the West Bank and Jerusalem, as well as security concerns.

On Friday, the UN Security Council adopted a resolution demanding Israel to halt settlement building and expansion in the Palestinian territories. The resolution, which was co-sponsored by Malaysia, New Zealand, Senegal and Venezuela, was passed by a 14-0 vote after the United States abstained.

Speaking on MSNBC on Monday, Israel’s ambassador to Washington, Ron Dermer, accused the Obama administration of orchestrating Friday’s UN vote behind the scenes, despite US denials.

The diplomatic drama unfolded over the Christmas holiday, with twists and turns unusual even for the serpentine path followed by Netanyahu’s relationship with a Democratic president who opposes settlement building. A US official said key to Washington’s decision was concern that Israel would continue to accelerate settlement construction in occupied territory and put a two-state solution of the conflict with the Palestinians at risk.

As a response to the resolution, Israel and it’s Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has pledged to conduct ‘revenge demolitions‘ of Palestinian homes; approved building some 5,600 housing units in East Jerusalem for illegal settlements;  cut funding to five UN institutions worth $7.8 million; threatened to directly target UNRWA with Trump’s help; and recalled it’s ambassadors from Senegal and New Zealand.

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