Israel's leaders competed with each other Thursday over who will utter the most disparaging remark about the Palestinian move in the United Nations. Never have so many press releases been issued over an event that they themselves characterized as meaningless.
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Deputy Foreign Minister Danny Ayalon outdid his peers. “This day is the day of the historic rout of the Palestinians,” Ayalon declared in tones reminiscent of Iraq's propaganda minister’s boasting victory over the Americans as tanks poured through the streets of Bagdad.
Thursday’s UN vote was the international community’s warning light to Israel, as much as a show of support for the Palestinians. Germany, France, Britain, Italy and other friendly countries delivered messages to Israel with their votes – their patience with the occupation of the West Bank has worn off, they have had enough of settlement construction and there’s no faith in Israeli declarations of hands outstretched in peace and a desire to advance toward a Palestinian state.
Israel’s collapse in the UN and humiliating diplomatic rout is the result of a consistent policy led by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. It began with his refusal to accept the two-state solution. His speech at Bar-Ilan University, to which he was dragged by American pressure, may have voiced his readiness for the establishment of a Palestinian state, but was never brought to the government for approval.
From then on Netanyahu ran away from any diplomatic initiative presented to him, refused to seriously debate the core issues of a permanent settlement, wasted time by raising excuses and preconditions, and avoided presenting the Palestinians and Western friends with an Israeli peace plan. Without a political initiative, Netanyahu was dragged - and with him the whole country - to the UN General Assembly vote like a sack through a market.
Netanyahu, who boasted of his achievements such as conscripting the world against the Iranian nuclear program and U.S. support for the operation in Gaza, failed to convince the Palestinians and international community that he is serious about the peace process. Most Western leaders do not believe him and blame him for the diplomatic deadlock.
Netanyahu’s claims the Palestinian victory in the UN is a symbolic event that will change nothing on the ground convince no one except for the writers at the Israeli daily newspaper Israel Hayom (owned by Sheldon Adelson, Netanyahu's staunch supporter). Anyone with eyes in his head can see the diplomatic failure from afar. Having sowed wind during the past four years, on Thursday he reaped a storm.
But Netanyahu’s diplomatic failure, as with all failures, will remain an orphan. The prime minister will not take responsibility, and neither will his foreign minister, Avigdor Lieberman, whose incitement campaign against Abbas only pushed more and more countries to support the Palestinian move in the UN.
Lieberman, who presents his travel schedule and meetings as evidence that Israel is not isolated, has revealed that Israel’s standing in the world is not based on the number of frequent flyer points he has amassed.
The Netanyahu government has acted like a frog in a pot on a stove. For four years the water was warm and comfortable. But in a moment – Thursday at the UN General Assembly – the water boiled. By then it was already too late. Sadly, the next government will probably be even more extreme right-wing and cannot be expected to change direction.