The Obama administration’s decision to abstain, when the U.N. Security Council passed Resolution 2334, denouncing Israel’s settlements, left me perplexed.
For many years it has been my conviction that Israel shouldn’t be settling in all of the West Bank. While this area, which we call Judea and Samaria, is the cradle of the Jewish people, where our prophets lived and where they gave humanity their precious teachings, there are millions of Palestinians living there now, and we shouldn’t be ruling them.
The solution is to reluctantly divide the land between the Jordan River and the Mediterranean Sea between Israeli and Palestinians. As Secretary of State John Kerry said in his speech last month: “The two-state solution is the only way to achieve a just and lasting peace between Israelis and Palestinians. It is the only way to ensure Israel’s future as a Jewish and democratic state.”
It seemed that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, in his speech in 2009 at Bar-Ilan University, accepted that principle.
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Except that in reality, his government was doing the opposite: Pushed by its hardliners from the right, settlements continued, making the two-state solution less and less viable.
To Netanyahu’s credit, he has kept calling upon Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas to come to the negotiations table without preconditions. The latter repeatedly refused, preferring to fight Israel in international arenas.
Nevertheless, Israel shouldn’t have become hostage to this Palestinian rejectionism, which might eventually lead to a one bi-national state, where Israel either loses its Jewish identity or its democracy.
Israel should have declared that the big settlement blocks close to the pre-1967 line will remain forever part of Israel, stop building in the other, remote settlements and wait for a credible Palestinian partner to show up, to negotiate a fair deal which will include land-swaps and settling of the refugees and the Jerusalem issues.
Instead, the Israeli government initiated a “regulation law,” which was actually a way to legalize grabbing private Palestinian land to build more settlements. This, as I predicted last month, was crossing of a red line and, indeed, Kerry mentioned it as one of the reasons for the U.S. abstention at the Security Council.
The American abstention was a friendly reminder to Israelis to come to their senses and to wake up to the fact that the whole world disagrees with the Israeli settlements policy.
Why, then, has the abstention left me with mixed feelings?
My old friend Andre Keren, professor at Hebrew University of Jerusalem, helped me understand. “These kinds of anti-Israeli resolutions unite all Israelis, including those on the left and center, who oppose the settlements,” he said. “These Israelis are disappointed by Obama’s missing the opportunity to link the resolution to a demand of the Palestinians to recognize the Jewish state of Israel.
In the meantime, Netanyahu was quick to declare that, “Israel looks forward to working with President-elect Donald Trump and with all our friends in Congress, Republicans and Democrats alike, to negate the harmful effects of this absurd resolution.”
Trump didn’t waste time and responded. Unlike Kerry’s one-hour speech, Trump answered, as usual, with a couple of tweets: “We cannot continue to let Israel be treated with such total disdain and disrespect… They used to have a great friend in the U.S., but … not anymore. The beginning of the end was the horrible Iran deal, and now this (U.N.)! Stay strong Israel, January 20th is fast approaching!”
In Netanyahu’s office, they are indeed counting the days and the hours to Jan. 20. But will President Trump really give a green light to the current Israeli settlement policy?
During his campaign, he told the New York Times that, “I would love to be the one who made peace with Israel and the Palestinians…”
How could he possibly accomplish something that scores of presidents, secretaries of State and special envoys failed to deliver? Or was he just bragging?
Not if you take seriously what he wrote in “The Art of the Deal” 30 years ago: “You can’t con people, at least not for long. You can create excitement, you can do wonderful promotion and get all kinds of press, and you can throw in a little hyperbole. But if you don’t deliver the goods, people will eventually catch on.”
Delivering the goods, in Trump’s world, means making a deal. And quoting him again, “Deals work best when each side gets something it wants from the other.”
I’m not sure that this is what Netanyahu is hoping for, but it might be that Trump, breaking away from the traditional American policy in the Middle East, will be the one to broker a decent, albeit painful deal between Israelis and Palestinians.