America’s war on the world continues: After threatening to cut funds from the United Nations if the organization promotes the Palestinian delegation’s status, the State Department decided to freeze its support for the Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization of the United Nation (UNESCO) because the latter defied Washington’s order and accepted Palestine as a member state.
Israel has added a threat of its own – to completely withdraw from UNESCO. In recent years Israel took pride in the fact that UNESCO recognized World Heritage Sites within its borders – Tel Aviv’s white city being one of the latest additions – so such a move, if it happens, would be the equivalent of boycotting oneself and is likely to hurt Israel more than any other country. The Tel Aviv Municipality would have to change its website, for starters.
Later came another Israeli response – the decision to construct 2,000 housing units in settlements and East Jerusalem. Strangely enough, I remember Prime Minister Netanyahu declaring that settlement construction is not aimed against the Palestinians and doesn’t hurt the peace process; now Netanyahu presents it as retaliation to a Palestinian unilateral move. So which Netanyahu should we believe? The one saying that the settlements aren’t a problem or the one using them as a punishment?
Neither, is the correct answer. Netanyahu’s policies in the West Bank have nothing to do with UN diplomacy. He is building settlements simply because he believes Israel should control this territory forever. Under real pressure (which is not the case now), Netanyahu might concede some areas to limited Palestinian control – his version of the two-state solution, which has nothing to do with “states” or “solutions” – but not much more. The prime minister has said so many times, and he is backing his words with actions.
It seems that everyone is playing internal politics: Netanyahu, whose right-wing position sits well with an Israeli constituency who is indifferent to the occupation and feels that the status quo serves it well; Palestinian President Abbas, who is enjoying a boost in his popularity after standing up to Israel and to the United States, and the American administration, which simply decided that it doesn’t have the political capital to spend on getting concessions out of an Israeli government with such strong ties in Washington, so best to simply forget about the whole thing and limit its Middle East policy to damage control. Withdrawing from international bodies and threatening to hold funds from the Palestinian Authority are likely to further weaken the United States’ position, something more and more people now view as an unavoidable process on the road to ending the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
As for Israel, one thing should be clear: The internal conversation regarding the Palestinian issue will not result in a new policy and not in a new government, even if elections are held next year. Actually, Netanyahu is getting stronger, not so much because of a rise in his own popularity, but due to the collapse of Kadima, the main opposition party. Perhaps for the first time in thirty years, there is no major political force in Israel that seriously pushes for the end of the occupation. Not one party and probably not one Knesset member who wakes up in the morning and asks him or herself what would he do today to get there. There used to be such people in the political system – Beilin or Peres, with all their faults, come to mind – but there is absolutely no one now. Everyone swears by the two-state solution, but nobody would spend political capital on it.
By shielding Israel even from the mild diplomatic pressure the Palestinians are able to promote, Washington is making sure that these local trends continue.