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UN vote exposes the true face of Israel's settlement policy

Whatever the passage of a UN resolution criticizing the settlements may bring, the fallout has already made one thing clear: the Israeli government subscribes to a de facto ‘Greater Israel’ policy.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in a helicopter as he tours the separation fence near the Palestinian town of Tarqumiyah, West Bank, July 20, 2016. (Marc Israel Sellem/Pool)

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in a helicopter as he tours the separation fence near the Palestinian town of Tarqumiyah, West Bank, July 20, 2016. (Marc Israel Sellem/Pool)

In the summer of 1967, before anyone was aware of just how durable Israel’s occupation of Palestinian and Syrian territory would prove, a movement emerged calling for the newly conquered land to become part of “Greater Israel.” Formed primarily of Labor Zionists, the movement counted such luminaries as SY Agnon and Nathan Alterman among its ranks. It failed to make a dent at the 1969 Knesset elections, however, and was later absorbed into what would become the Likud.

Fast forward 50 years, via short-lived peace attempts and an ill-devised set of accords whose greatest accomplishment was to entrench the occupation, and with Likud in power for the better part of the past decade, it is clear that the embers of a Greater Israel campaign have evolved into de facto policy. The UN Security Council’s passage of Resolution 2334, which condemns the settlements and calls for an immediate halt to their expansion, is merely the latest — and possibly most reverberant — incident to unmask the fiction of Israel’s commitment to a viable two-state solution.

Attempts by the Israeli government and press to characterize the resolution as anti-Israel send a singular, clear message: the West Bank and its Jewish settlements are as much a part of Israel as Tel Aviv, Eilat and Haifa. That this is a fairly mainstream view within the governing coalition has been abundantly obvious within Israel for some time now, as it has been to clear-eyed observers abroad, and certainly to Palestinians.

But for foreign governments whose Middle East policy still hinges on the idea that wringing land concessions out of Israel is simply a matter of time, the Netanyahu government’s reaction to the UN vote emphasizes the futility of that path. Israeli diplomats’ and politicians’ half-hearted peddling of their commitment to a two-state solution has never rung so hollow.

The UN Security Council votes to pass Resolution 2334, condemning Israeli settlements, 14-0, December 23, 2016. (Loey Felipe/UN Photo)

The UN Security Council votes to pass Resolution 2334, condemning Israeli settlements, 14-0, December 23, 2016. (Loey Felipe/UN Photo)

The hysteria seen in Israel’s response to Resolution 2334 — even before it passed — does more than just put on full display Jerusalem’s antipathy to the very idea of conceding territory (and if you need further proof, see Amona). It reveals, once again, the levels of defamation and distortion to which Israeli politicians will descend when trying to torpedo any discussion that a) acknowledges the occupation for what it is, and b) asserts that it must end without Israel annexing the West Bank.

To compare support for the resolution to supporting “planes hitting buildings and trucks killing people in Berlin,” as Education Minister Naftali Bennett did, is slanderous on two fronts: it equates support for Palestinian rights with the impulse to commit mass murder, and it also conflates Palestinian nationalism with radical Islamism — the majority of whose victims, lest we forget, are Muslims. It’s the latest evolution in a hasbara formulation that struck oil in 2014, when Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu artlessly and yet somewhat effectively portrayed Hamas and the Islamic State as two variations on a common theme.

To call the Security Council resolution anti-Semitic, as Kulanu MK and former Israeli ambassador to the U.S. Michael Oren did, not only misuses the label at a time when the resurgence of genuine anti-Semitism is a real and present threat to American Jews. It also sets up the obscene implication that military occupation and flouting of international law are somehow Jewish traits, no matter what Oren’s original argument was. Israeli Ambassador to the UN Danny Danon fared little better when he announced that building Jewish settlements in occupied East Jerusalem was no different from building in Paris, London or D.C. 

As for Netanyahu, he has responded in the only way he knows how: threats, baseless accusations, self-isolation and petulance, as seen in his Christmas Day summons to the ambassadors of countries that supported the resolution. His fury at U.S. President Barack Obama for his so-called “betrayal” — which comes three months after the U.S. approved a $38 billion military aid package to Israel, its biggest ever — is the indignation of a man who is used to manipulating diplomatic channels, and on this occasion failed. It was the same following the Iran deal.

Netanyahu’s primary mission will now be to create a big enough distraction at home to ensure that talk of his failure in the international arena is short-lived. He is an expert at pushing negative stories about himself out of the headlines, and there’s no reason to assume this time round will be any different; indeed, the mudslinging that commenced straight after the resolution’s passage is primarily Netanyahu’s attempt to convince his electorate that he was stitched up by malign, conspiring forces, and that he now has to defend Israel against the world’s treachery. What he’s also inadvertently revealed, however, is that his sole policy regarding the West Bank is a drift towards a de facto Greater Israel, buffeted along by the more radical elements in his government.

As my colleague Mike Schaeffer Omer-Man wrote immediately following the vote, there’s no knowing exactly what this resolution will bring or how it can be enforced. It’s also unclear whether or to what extent the incoming Trump administration will maintain the U.S.’s longstanding opposition to Israel’s settlement building. But at the very least, the lead-up to and fall-out from the UN vote has again revealed the daylight between Israel’s rhetoric and its actual intentions regarding the occupied territories. The real question is whether the international community will now formally acknowledge that dissonance or continue to put the words they want to hear in Israel’s mouth.

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    1. Jaap Hamburger

      Excellent analysis mrs. Roth, of the baseless furor that has taken possession of Israels leadership. Thanks!

      Reply to Comment
    2. Bruce Gould

      There’s the true face of Israel’s settlement POLICY, and there’s the related topic of the true face of Israeli settlements – even if you think Israel needs the West Bank for military purposes that doesn’t explain the constant human rights violations – if you’ve ever talked to an honest Israeli soldier you know what I mean. Lest we forget that topic, here’s an account of the situation from an honest Jew: http://mondoweiss.net/2016/12/solution-fairer-synagogue/

      “The West Bank is an “ugly thing.” The rule of law is skewed against Palestinians. The rate of convictions for Palestinians accused in military courts is 99.7 percent. The opposite is the case for Israelis accused of crimes against Palestinians.The Israeli national police who investigate those cases are “terrible.”

      The Israel national police that operate out of the West Bank are– terrible. I’m sorry to say, but they’re not very good at their job. In between 2013 and 2014, there were 150 complaints filed by Palestinians against Israelis for attacking their cars, or setting fires to their fields, or doing any number of antagonistic acts. Two of those 150 between those two years resulted in any kind of indictment. They’ve also been caught a number of times ruining investigations by having shoddy police work.”

      Reply to Comment
      • Eliza

        Bruce: The Israeli occupation is belligerent. I have always thought that Israelis tolerated the mistreatment the IDF/Border Police routinely mete out to Palestinians because the move towards ‘Greater Israel’ requires the transfer of at least some, if not most Palestinians from the West Bank. Make their life miserable enough and they will want to leave – or so the theory goes.

        The other reason is that occupying another people is not easy on the soul. The path of least resistance is to grow to hate and view with contempt those who you are called upon to oppress.

        Reply to Comment
    3. Abdul

      “and with Likud in power for the better part of the past decade”

      Why did a significant number of Israeli voters vote for Likud over the last decade? Anyone interested in answering this question?

      Reply to Comment
      • Itshak Gordin Halevy

        Because Likud is the best to protect our historic, national and religious heritage

        Reply to Comment
      • i_like_ike52

        Actually, the Likud has been in power for the better part of the last four decades. This is because their policies are in line with the views of the majority of the population. With the demise of the Labor Party’s socialist ideology in the period since the first fell from power in 1977, the party has searched for a substitute. In the 1990’s, they tried “the New Middle East” and the so-called “peace process” but since that has fallen apart, they have been drifting. They also have a very poor leadership nucleus. Their leader, Herzog, is not viewed as legitimate Prime Minister material by most people.

        Reply to Comment
    4. Average American

      Of course Israel wants Greater Israel! That’s the foundation of the country, that’s the purpose of the country, established in its formation and just as true today. Has no one been paying attention? Israel is founded by Zionism, and Zionism says they are going to establish a Jewish Living Space covering most of the Middle East. Not try to, going to. Practically a declaration of war. The neighbors understand that. Look no further than Begin’s Irgun posters, the map, the rifle, the slogan “only thus”. Nothing has changed. We have blinders on. Israel is a rogue state. It is destabilizing the region, it is territorially aggressive, it doesn’t follow laws, has infiltrated our government, is building up its military, and is so jaunty with its nuclear weapons that it is willing to land one on Iran’s desert, and presumably on anyone else too, as a smug demonstration.

      Reply to Comment
      • Lewis from Afula

        Average American is projecting again. Just because the United States was based on greedily seizing Native American lands, expanding to cover the width of the entire continent, he assumes that Israel is doing the same too. The huge geographic disparities between the Land of Israel (the size of New Jersey) and the entire USA are minimized in his rabidly confused mind.

        Reply to Comment
        • Carmen

          Excuses, excuses. “The huge geographic disparities between the Land of Israel (the size of New Jersey) and the entire USA are minimized in his rabidly confused mind”. In this case Lewis, size doesn’t matter.

          Reply to Comment
    5. alang

      I would be interested in knowing Israeli public opinion about these events. I’m sure government decisions aren’t supported by everyone.

      Reply to Comment