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Despite UN Humiliation, Israel Won’t Honor All Its Knee-jerk Reactions

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Netanyahu attends the weekly cabinet meeting at his Jerusalem office December 25, 2016.
Netanyahu attends the weekly cabinet meeting at his Jerusalem office December 25, 2016.Credit: Reuters

The blows keep coming in Israel’s punishment campaign after the UN Security Council resolution against the settlements. The prime minister has canceled a visit by his Ukrainian counterpart, has said he won’t show up at a meeting with his British counterpart, has recalled for consultations our ambassadors to defiant countries, and has forbidden his ministers to visit countries that didn’t do his bidding and vote for the resolution.

The defense minister has told the army to halt civilian contacts with the Palestinian Authority, while comparing the conference France intends to convene next month to the Dreyfus trial. (No doubt Holocaust references will surface later.)

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A new wind is blowing, coming from ministers, certain senior civil servants and right-wing tweeters. It expresses not only disappointment with the cruel world but a desire to teach it a painful lesson.

Even the technological and scientific aid that Israel bestows abroad is at risk. After the humiliation orchestrated by the U.S. president as a parting gift, official Israel is acting like it’s in shock. It’s the classic cutting off your nose to spite your face.

Israel’s response, extending as far as Security Council members Senegal and New Zealand (but not Egypt, our close neighbor that ended up supporting the resolution), seems like a set of furious knee-jerk reactions.

Defense Minister Avigdor Lieberman’s instruction to halt civilian contact hasn’t been fully enforced. It’s doubtful this was the real intention anyway. Lieberman is experienced enough to realize that the PA's dependency on Israel is reciprocal. Without regular coordination meetings, there would be problems on the ground that also affect the settlers’ daily lives.

Read more on the Security Council resolution:World begins to rescue Israel from itself / Analysis Obama, where have you been for 8 wasted years? / Analysis | Why the Palestinians are jubilant and Israel is spooked / Analysis | Security Council punch knocks Netanyahu down from hubris to humiliation / Analysis | What will the immediate ramifications of the UN resolution be?

Moreover, halting the civilian track could also affect the security coordination track, which is so critical for Israel. The PA played an important role (admitted belatedly) in stopping the wave of stabbings and car-rammings earlier this year. Security coordination is also a Palestinian interest, but it would be best not to risk the fragile ties with the PA by announcing a partial boycott that military people in the field wouldn’t know how to interpret.

Throughout the crises of Amona and the outpost legalization bill, Lieberman has been the cabinet’s beacon of pragmatism. Now, with the right’s ideological awakening after the UN resolution, he too is aligning with the most hawkish voices in the coalition.

The crisis in Israel’s relations with the United States was brought on by Netanyahu in recent years and by Obama through his decision to settle scores with Netanyahu on the eve of his departure.

But we can’t ignore the contribution by Education Minister Naftali Bennett. He was the one who constrained Netanyahu from the right in his campaign against the evacuation of Amona, while pushing Netanyahu into the legalization-bill adventure. Netanyahu cast his eyes on the hard-line right, fearful of losing its support to Bennett, while walking with open eyes toward a collision with Obama.

From the beginning of the year, Netanyahu has spoken of the danger that the United States might take anti-Israel steps in the international arena between Election Day and Inauguration Day. This was one of his key arguments in trying to convince Isaac Herzog’s Zionist Union to join the governing coalition last May, in talks that ended with the right-wing Yisrael Beiteinu joining. Ever since, Netanyahu has been pushed into an almost inevitable clash with the outgoing administration.

We shouldn’t be confused by the harsh declarations in recent days by Netanyahu and his ministers. Anyone closely watching the prime minister’s public appearances can easily notice his unusual nervousness. The pressure at the prime minister’s residence, which is usually accompanied by a buzz around expected corruption investigations, seemed very intense. With Ehud Barak adding his frequent under-the-belt gibes, and even the mouthpiece newspaper Israel Hayom showing incipient signs of independence, this hasn’t been one of Netanyahu’s better weeks.

Conventional wisdom in Jerusalem has it that on January 20, Donald Trump will arrive as the great redeemer saving us from all these woes. But the Security Council vote, even if not translated right away into practical steps, and even if the global agenda contains much more urgent tasks, reflects a change in the international community’s attitude to Israel.

Most analysts in Washington suggest that Obama sought to take revenge on Netanyahu for personal reasons, along with his disappointment that the prime minister was unwilling to advance diplomacy with the Palestinians. Trump is infinitely more sensitive about his honor than Obama. One can only guess what he’d do if he suspected, for example, that Netanyahu was talking with Congress behind his back.

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