Analysis |

Will Netanyahu Own Up to the UN Defeat? No Way, but He'll Make Senegal Pay

For a handful of settler votes in the next election, Netanyahu risked his country's interests and made it even more dependent on Trump. But don't expect any soul-searching anytime soon.

Yossi Verter
Yossi Verter
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Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu addressing a Hanukkah ceremony, December 25, 2016.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu addressing a Hanukkah ceremony, December 25, 2016.Credit: Ofer Vaknin
Yossi Verter
Yossi Verter

No contrition should have been expected from Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, or self-criticism or second thoughts, despite the blow to Israel at the United Nations. He’s as pure as the driven snow, an innocent victim of a “shameful grab” by the Obama administration in its waning days. After all, the bill he’s pushing to expropriate private land and legalize unauthorized outposts has nothing to do with the situation.

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Oh yeah, and remember his reckless and defiant stance toward U.S. President Barack Obama when he plotted his U.S. Congress speech with the Republicans in an attempt to thwart the Iran deal? That didn’t deteriorate the relationship at all.

So yes, the message he has been sending to the world in recent weeks in bending the law to benefit the 40 families of lawbreakers in Amona has nothing to do with the UN debacle Friday night.

In Netanyahu’s speech Saturday night during a Hanukkah candle-lighting ceremony with wounded Israeli soldiers, he praised previous U.S. presidents, from Ronald Reagan onward. Those guys always defended Israel in the hostile Security Council. They didn’t receive from Israel’s prime ministers the insults, defamation and endless interference in U.S. politics that Obama received over eight years from Netanyahu and his ambassador, Ron Dermer.

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

Yes, Obama committed a hit and run against Netanyahu and his government. And in three weeks the sun will shine and Obama will be a private citizen, while Israel is left with the vote’s economic, legal and strategic implications.

One may be furious at Obama, bad-mouth and insult him, as right-wing politicians did Saturday night. But they can’t take away from him the very generous aid (as Netanyahu himself has said) Obama has given Israel. There’s also the enormous airplane deal and huge upgrade in intelligence and other special security assistance over the eight years. And Israel didn’t get this from those presidents Netanyahu remembers so fondly.

One might wonder how things would have looked if Amona had already been evacuated, without all the tricks we’ve seen recently. The message in the outpost’s evacuation might have made Obama think twice about the move in the Security Council.

We can’t know, of course, but it’s possible that all the postponements and tricks that Netanyahu had a hand in, on top of moving ahead with his expropriation bill, were an own goal, as they say in soccer. Here too we haven’t heard, nor will we hear, acceptance of any responsibility by the prime minister.

But Senegal? It will get what’s coming to it. So will the five organizations from which Israel will pull its funding, “and we haven’t said the last word,” Netanyahu threatened as he stood in front of the menorah.

He was smart enough not to promise a settlement wave, as people in Likud and Habayit Hayehudi demanded. He’ll probably ask to keep things stable until the new U.S. administration comes in and he meets with President Donald Trump. He’ll learn what’s in the new leader’s frenetic mind.

Defense Minister Avigdor Lieberman has said many times in recent weeks that the bill to legalize the outposts is “insane” and it might push Obama over the edge.

Netanyahu obviously agrees with him, but his competition with Education Minister Naftali Bennett and other voices on the right has rattled his conscience and sent him over the rails. For a handful of settler votes in the next election, Netanyahu was willing to risk his country’s interests.

The defeat on Friday, on Netanyahu’s watch, only makes Israel and its prime minister more dependent on the new U.S. administration. Netanyahu’s first meeting with Trump, expected in February, will be vital. The two leaders will have to decide the rules of the game on a number of subjects: Iran, Syria, the settlements and construction in the West Bank and Jerusalem.

Israel’s political world is also waiting for that meeting, and for a reset of relations with the White House. Until then, everything will be the way it was. One thing is clear. As long as Netanyahu is in power, Obama will probably not accept his invitation to play golf near Netanyahu’s home in Caesarea.

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