Analysis |

UN Censure of Israel Sparks Palestinian Hope, but Rude Awakening May Reignite Violence

The passage from hope to disappointment has served as the basis for a violent Palestinian outbreak on the ground in the past.

Amos Harel
Amos Harel
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A Palestinian man dressed up as Santa Claus argues with an Israeli border guard during a demonstration next to a section of Israel's separation wall in the biblical town of Bethlehem, in the occupied West Bank, on December 23, 2016.
A Palestinian man dressed up as Santa Claus argues with an Israeli border guard during a demonstration next to a section of Israel's separation wall in the biblical town of Bethlehem.Credit: MUSA AL SHAER/AFP
Amos Harel
Amos Harel

The United Nations Security Council resolution that was passed on Friday has more of a symbolic meaning for now than it has practical applications. But even symbolic importance should not be ignored. The resolution reflects the wall-to-wall opposition of the international community to the settlements, while sketching out the lines demarcating the world's positions on Israel.

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The refusal of the United States, for the first time under the Obama administration, to cast a veto on a Security Council resolution attacking Israel, expresses the outgoing president’s true attitude to the settlements (which was not backed up by more significant steps during his eight years in office). Obama’s America, the same as for the rest of the world powers – including the new-found friend of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, Russia – along with representatives of all the other continents, have no shred of sympathy or understanding for the settlement enterprise, which creates irreversible facts on the ground.

A minority opinion belongs to U.S. president-elect Donald Trump, who opposed the move, and to a certain extent Egypt too, which under the combined pressure of Trump and apparently Netanyahu, reversed itself on its submission of the original resolution on Thursday.

Read more on the Security Council resolution: It's the settlements, stupid: UN failure is entirely Netanyahu's / 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

Israel needs to stop selling itself illusions about its international standing, even during periods in which Netanyahu is received with appreciation on his visits to Africa or the former Soviet nations in Asia. The speed at which the Egyptian proposal was replaced by one of four other countries testifies to that, also revealing the serious failure of the analytical ability of Netanyahu and his staff.

Obama’s revenge, in instructing his ambassador to the UN Samantha Power to abstain in the vote, was served cold. The relationship between Netanyahu and Obama, his crude intervention on behalf of the Republicans in the 2012 elections, his insistence on speaking before the Congress again the nuclear agreement with Iran in March 2015, the refusal to discuss the generous compensation the Americans offered in return for the Iran deal in the negotiations over the U.S. military aid agreement already at the end of 2015 – now received an unpleasant answer, a direct continuation of the administration’s decision of last September to make do with military aid of only $3.8 billion a year (instead of $4.5 billion during the negotiations) over the coming decade. The account was open and everything was written down, including the efforts of Netanyahu and Education Minister Naftali Bennett to solve their specific political distress over the evacuation of Amona through the quick coup of the law legalizing construction in the settlements, which the outgoing U.S. administration viewed as a violation of international law.

As a response to the December surprise, which in fact was predicted by many, Netanyahu and his close circle will step up their rhetoric against Obama. The right will advance “proper Zionistic moves” on the ground in response to demonstrate the connection between Israel and East Jerusalem and the West Bank. The common viewpoint in Jerusalem states that in any case Trump’s entrance into the White House, in less than four weeks, will put an end to the tension between the two countries.

Yet Trump, even if he surrounds himself with even more Jewish advisers and representatives whose views are to the right of Netanyahu on the political spectrum, could well discover that they are counting on a broken reed. Some signs showing this can be seen in the crude, varied and sometimes contradictory positions that the president-elect has tweeted on recent nights; from the bargaining with the American defense industry over the cost of new fighter planes; through the flattery of Russian President Vladimir Putin; and to the threat – of which it is not at all clear if it has been completely thought through – of restarting the nuclear arms race.

American foreign policy is being run simultaneously in a great number of dimensions. Trump, who is coming to the presidency lacking any practical foreign policy experience, will be required to make decisions on a long list of burning issues in different areas. His new friend Putin did not hesitate to abandon him over the weekend, when the settlements are on the agenda and not the events occurring in Syria (Israel has avoided condemning the massacre in Aleppo out of a fear of complications with Moscow). It seems Trump has much greater sentiments toward Israel and Netanyahu, but will he hesitate to place the blame on them in the case that matters in the Middle East become entangled once again, and he suffers criticism for his policies?

The street is waking up

The leadership of the Palestinian Authority received a rare moment of satisfaction this weekend because of the results of the Security Council vote. Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas seemingly proved the correctness of his decision to step up the fight against Israel in the institutions of the international community. But Abbas still hopes to translate this achievement into practical results, such as advancing a move against the settlements in the International Criminal Court in the Hague. And in between, Trump lies waiting for him.

The Palestinians may yet discover the gap between declarations in principle in the United Nations and its institutions and practical actions on the ground. At least during the first months of his term in office, it will be possible to evaluate where Trump stands with a new ultra-hawkish ambassador in Tel Aviv and a promise that sounds rather serious to move his country’s embassy to Jerusalem.

The passage from hope to disappointment has served as the basis for a violent Palestinian outbreak on the ground, when the Second Intifada occurred two months after the collapse of the talks at Camp David in 2000. The wave of terrorist stabbing and hit and run attacks that began in October 2015 received momentum from the disappointed speech by Abbas, in which he granted a sort of divorce to the peace process.

The events of the past few weeks in the West Bank are not encouraging. Last week, three shooting incidents occurred there, in which an Israeli soldier and a civilian were wounded. On Friday evening, a resident of the town of Efrat in Gush Etzion in the West Bank was stabbed and lightly injured in his home.

But the most worrying development concerns Hamas. The Shin Bet security service announced it has exposed a large Hamas network in Nablus that had prepared explosive devices and had already recruited four suicide bombers for a wave of terrorist attacks in Jerusalem and Haifa. Most of the groups the Shin Bet has thwarted in recent years were arrested at a very preliminary stage. It does not take a great effort to imagine what would have happened to the relations between Israel and the Palestinians if – God forbid – the plans of the network from Nablus had succeeded.

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