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After UN Vote, Why Did Netanyahu Take His Anger Out on Senegal?

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Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu at an event in Israel's north, December 27, 2016.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu at an event in Israel's north, December 27, 2016.Credit: Gil Eliahu

Senegal is not alone: Nothing has changed in its position. The only change is the American abstention from exercising the veto.

For many decades Israel has been like someone facing a mirror in a dark room with a pustular scab on its cheek, well aware of its existence but not obliged to contend with its aesthetic ramifications. For decades Israel has known that the world does not accept its settlement polices on the West Bank, but has taken diplomatic shelter under American vetoes. And then, in an instant, on a pre-Hanukkah Friday, the light turned on and Israel had to look at itself in the mirror. Israel’s puzzlement at the timing of the UN Security Council’s dealing with the settlements, of all things, while genocide is taking place in Syria and Europe is contending with Islamic terror, with the international community exhibiting total incompetence in dealing with a host of crises around the world, is justified. What is not justified is Israel’s hasty, if not hysterical, reaction to the resolution.

For years Israel has maintained relations with many countries which have made it unequivocally clear that they oppose the settlement enterprise. Leading them is the U.S., followed by all European states and most of the rest of the world. Among these are some Muslim countries, including some Arab ones, which, despite their opposition to Israel’s policies and their being subjected to pressure and threats, continue to maintain regular and even close diplomatic relations with this country.

Senegal is one of these Muslim countries. Even if the Palestinian issue is not at the top of Senegal’s priorities, the West African country has for years headed the Palestine Committee at the UN, making a point of expressing a polite yet clear position supporting a resolution of the conflict, while opposing both terror and the settlements. This is a legitimate and consistent position which Senegal shares with most countries around the world and even, God help us, with a not insignificant portion of Israel’s citizens.

While Senegal does not have an embassy in Israel, it is pleased with Israel’s presence in Dakar, its capital. Recently there was even a warming in the two countries’ relations following a successful meeting between Senegal’s President Macky Sall and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu at the UN General Assembly, the appointment of a non-resident Senegalese ambassador to Israel, and a planned historic visit to Israel by Senegal’s foreign minister.

All these were frozen instantaneously on Friday night by Israel.

Ever since relations between the two nations were renewed in 1993, Senegal has been skillfully maneuvering between its wish to maintain warm relations with Israel and pressures applied from within and, mainly, from abroad, by parties wishing to see a cooling of these contacts. For those parties, these are days of celebration. What the Senegalese government refused to do, Israel has done itself, in an injudicious, petulant decision.

Nothing has changed in Senegal’s position. The only thing that changed this time was the U.S. abstention from exercising the veto, which came because of Israel’s relations with the U.S. and the Obama administration. So what exactly is Israel’s grievance with Senegal? What justified the “return of the ambassador for consultations” and the freezing of relations with a friendly Muslim country? What purpose does this move serve? Is it possible that the Netanyahu government is again using foreign policy for internal political purposes?

For 50 years Israel has been trying without success to convince the world of the justice of its settlement endeavor. To this end the best orators were recruited, carrying in their kit the finest legal, historical, geopolitical and security arguments they could muster. Recently, in a tactic employed by Israel’s UN ambassador Danny Danon and Deputy Foreign Minister Tzipi Hotovely, the Bible has been used as well, citing the words of God.

Over the same period we have managed to convince the world, almost effortlessly, that we are leaders in agriculture, defense and other areas. But in the area where Israel has been investing its greatest diplomatic efforts, the world has not been convinced of the justice of our ways. Just before the new American administration returns to shield Israel under the warm umbrella of its familiar veto, we should remember that Senegal is not alone. Along with it stand most countries in the world, including some of Israel’s best friends.

The writer was Israel’s ambassador to Senegal between 2004 and 2006.

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