A diplomatic protest by European ambassadors against Israel's settlement expansion was perceived as an attack on the state itself by the Deputy Director-General of its Foreign Ministry, Aliza Bin Noun, in December, local media have reported.
According to Bin Noun, the complaints were uncalled for because Israel is "making gestures towards the Palestinian Authority." That's diplomat-speak for "the Israeli government is doing all it can to prevent Palestinians from the slightest chance of making a case for their political rights." Nevertheless, "If 16 representatives show up with complaints, it's like an attack," an unnamed Israeli diplomat told the Jerusalem Post.
"In parallel with the warming of relations, sometimes the Europeans present stances and claims in a way that is not acceptable to us, and it is the right thing to respond to them clearly and incisively, even if that response is unpleasant to European ears," added Israel's Foreign Ministry Spokesman Lior Haiat.
Israel escalates its response to criticism in parallel to how it escalates its colonial expansion on Palestinian territory. Of course, the slightest opposition to settlement expansion will not be welcome news to Israel, but the excessive hostility expressed against the European ambassadors is out of order, especially given that Europe has always prioritised its relations with Israel over its rhetorical support for Palestine. All that the European diplomats pointed out is that Israel's actions are violating international law, something which the entire world knows and is comfortable with, despite professed support for Palestinian rights.
To shout, "You are pissing me off" — as Bin Noun is reported to have told the Europeans who were sticking faithfully to the policy of criticising without seeking any accountability — is taking diplomatic disagreement to a melodramatic extreme. But then, Israel has always exaggerated its perception of purported threats, knowing full well that the biggest threat it faces is the one created when it was established through terrorism against the British Mandate authorities and the ethnic cleansing of the Palestinians, followed by the indoctrination of its colonial-settler population.
The European diplomatic protest would have been formidable if European politics was not pro-Israel. Settlement expansion, while detrimental to Palestinians, is also the favoured violation to criticise. International consensus over Israel's violation in this regard has unified criticism as much as international inaction has.
Last December, Israeli Defence Minister Benny Gantz expressed satisfaction that the US is no longer as vociferous in its criticism of settlement expansion, other than when the need arises to inject some degree of significance into the two-state compromise. This is no surprise, given that US President Joe Biden has decided to retain both stances: the two-state compromise and the concessions which the Trump administration bestowed upon Israel.
If there was a collective, unified effort to hold Israel accountable for its settlement expansion, which the International Criminal Court has declared to be a war crime, then the recent stance by European diplomats would have been worthwhile. However, the only effort that the international community has invested in is the protection of Israel's colonial project.
The trend of Israel's allies picking the most recent violation and speaking out while dissociating the illegal actions from Israel's ultimate objective is what the occupation state is used to and pretends to get defensive about. Ultimately, such displays of intimidation only reinforce the status quo decided by Israel; criticism without action makes for good theatrics that shift the focus away from the realities suffered by Palestinians as a result of colonial expansion.
The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Middle East Monitor.