Europe’s reaction to Netanyahu’s decision to build in area E-1 has been swift, but ended up being lighter than originally expected. France and Britain considered recalling their ambassadors from Israel, but haven’t done so at this point. Israel’s ambassadors in Europe were summoned by various governments to hear that Europe is no longer willing to put up with Israel's expansion of the occupation – and there were rumors that European governments would consider rescinding trade agreements with Israel.
Bibi will hear hard words from Angela Merkel on Wednesday, but in the end he’ll be happy to point out that it wasn’t that bad. European ambassadors haven't been recalled yet, and the EU can only rescind trade agreements by unanimous vote – and the Czech Republic will, for the time being, prevent any punitive measures against Israel.
Ergo, Bibi will argue, he’s shown, once again, what a master he is at eating his cake by extending the occupation, and having it too by retaining the West’s support.
He’ll say that things are under control, that he is successfully continuing the policies of the last four years. Netanyahu thinks he has manipulated the world into dropping the Palestinian issue by turning Iran into the number one problem the international community has to deal with. And, he will conclude, the West will always stand behind Israel, because it is the Free World’s outpost in the Middle East.
Netanyahu is certainly right on one account: Israel is located in one of the world’s more volatile corners. Nobody can predict the results of the Arab world’s upheavals, and Israel’s survival will indeed depend on the support and loyalty of the Free World. But he is completely wrong in believing that his double-crossing Israel’s allies for years will leave the alliance with the Free World intact in the long run.
Anger in Britain, France, Germany and Spain, all formerly staunch allies of Israel, is now palpable. They see Netanyahu’s commitment to building in area E-1 as proof that he is actively trying to destroy the two-state solution to which he is officially committed.
Netanyahu’s lectures to the world about how Israel is the Middle East’s only democracy are far less effective than he thinks. Israel’s friends in the Free World have come to the conclusion that Netanyahu is unreliable, and that he cannot be believed or trusted. They think that he has been trying to lull the world with the speech he gave at Bar Ilan University in 2009 endorsing the two-state solution, while continuing Israel’s colonization of the West Bank.
Netanyahu keeps behaving in a way that profoundly contradicts the values of the club of the Free World, of which he wants to be a valued member: His disregard for international law and individual human rights of Palestinians simply doesn’t square with the standards of the Free World.
In the long run, the price of double-crossing Israel’s allies is bound to be very high indeed. Public opinion in Europe is turning ever more strongly against Israel, and Netanyahu doesn’t see that the moment will come when European governments will align policy with their electorates’ views.
Moreover, Netanyahu’s general worldview is incredibly shortsighted. Long-term alliances can be based either on common interest or true friendship, and commonality of values. He doesn’t see that in the long run the Free World, including the U.S. and Europe will have few common interests with Israel. They are not interested in deepening the conflict with the Islamic world, and their support of Israel is exacting an increasing price: the Arab world sees the West as being unfair because it supports an Israel that behaves like a colonial power.
This leaves friendship and closeness based on common values. Netanyahu’s lectures to the world about Israel’s democracy are contradicted by settlement expansion and the erosion of the two-state solution, and by the illiberal laws that Netanyahu’s allies promote.
I keep speaking to many genuine friends of Israel who feel that the country is changing beyond recognition. In the 1960s and 1970s Israel was, for many of them, a heroic attempt to create a model of social justice. They simply don’t understand where this country has disappeared.
These friends of Israel now begin to feel that Netanyahu’s commitment and that of his allies to the Free World’s core values is iffy, to say the least. His actions show that behind the polished facade, Netanyahu’s polished English only provides a cosmetic cover-up of him as a believer in brute force.
Netanyahu’s behavior is about to erode many genuine friendships. His belief that you can lie to all of your friends most of the time and retain their friendship is completely unrealistic. Once the Free World will no longer accept Israel as a genuine member, we will have to pay a price much higher than the summoning of ambassadors. Netanyahu still doesn’t see that he is leading Israel into an abyss.