Netanyahu's Diplomatic Meltdown on Palestinian Unity

PM Benjamin Netanyahu was caught off guard by the establishment of the Palestinian unity government, but it’s not too late for him to regain the initiative.

ברק רביד - צרובה
Barak Ravid
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Benjamin Netanyahu, a master of talking at length without saying a thing.
Credit: Olivier Fitoussi
ברק רביד - צרובה
Barak Ravid

The events surrounding Israel’s attempts to undermine the establishment of a Palestinian unity government can be summed up in two words — diplomatic meltdown. In the space of a few hours on Tuesday, the world’s powers, one after another, lined up and recognized the new Palestinian reality.

First was the United States. Then came the obvious suspects — the European Union’s High Representative for Foreign Affairs Catherine Ashton, the British and French foreign ministers and of course the UN secretary general. But they also included states Israel had wooed lovingly in the past few months.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman and Economy Minister Naftali Bennett told us with shining eyes that China and India aren’t interested at all in the Palestinians and only want Israeli high-tech. In a bid to endear itself to Russia’s President Vladamir Putin, Israel caved in on the issue of Russia's invasion of Ukraine.

That did not prevent the foreign ministries of Moscow, Beijing and New Delhi from issuing eager announcements in support of the new Palestinian government. The United States and European states at least added conditions to their support of the Palestinian unity government, like recognizing Israel. The Chinese, Russians and Indians didn’t show the slightest interest.

Netanyahu took the same line in the case of the Palestinian government as he did in his attempts to thwart the interim agreement between Iran and the world powers.

He rejected out and out any change in the status quo and launched a public offensive at anyone who thought otherwise, even if it was Israel’s biggest ally — the United States.

The establishment of the Palestinian unity government caught Netanyahu off guard, without a strategy or an alternative diplomatic plan. Once again, the world states were reminded that while Netanyahu excels at telling them what should not be done, he doesn't have a clue what should be done.

This policy turned out to be not only completely ineffective, but harmful to Israel’s status in the world. Israel’s government was exposed as one whose position isn’t taken into consideration by any state in the world. All that remains for Netanyahu to do is to publish sour denunciations and tweets.

It doesn’t have to be this way. Netanyahu should read the essay published two weeks ago by Brig.Gen. (res.) Udi Dekel and Lt. Col. (res.) Kobi Michael of the Institute for National Security Studies. They suggested a way Netanyahu could turn lemons into lemonade and see the Palestinian unity government’s formation not as a threat but as an opportunity.

They explained that instead of opposing the move, Netanyahu should use it to jump-start the peace process on a different track — setting up the Palestinian state’s institutions in Gaza first. Rehabilitating the Gaza Strip, returning control over the Gaza border crossings to the PA and dismantling the non-state military infrastructures there are some of the moves Dekel and Michael suggest advancing in the new reality.

It’s not too late. Netanyahu must take stock and ponder how he got to this point. Attempts to persuade himself that the whole world is against us and everyone is anti-Semitic may make him feel better, but won’t bring a solution.

The past few days’ events should be a warning siren for Netanyahu of the deep isolation Israel is deteriorating into. An Israeli peace initiative has never been more necessary.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu attends the weekly cabinet meeting at his office in Jerusalem April 27, 2014.Credit: Reuters

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