ISRAEL REVELS IN FRESH SUPPORT FROM US-UK-AUSTRALIA TRIUMVIRATE
It’s springtime for Israel’s relations with the Anglosphere. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu loves to talk about burgeoning ties with the Arab world, but in the months and years ahead, a newly formed pro-Israel triumvirate of English-speaking countries looks set to form the backbone of international support for the Jewish state. The first and most important indication of this trend is, of course, the change in the White House. The Donald Trump administration has made plain its intention to shut out the public daylight that Barack Obama introduced between Washington and Jerusalem, vowing all but total support for Netanyahu’s policies. In addition, the United Kingdom has in recent weeks surprisingly and dramatically aligned itself with Jerusalem, defying European and even global consensus.
Completing the pro-Israel trio is Australia, which has long been exceptionally friendly toward Israel but recently reached new heights in opposing anti-Israel measures embraced by the rest of the world. Canada is a fourth English-speaking country that is staunchly pro-Israel, but as opposed to the US, the UK and Australia, it has remained silent on the dramatic diplomatic developments of recent weeks. The two odd countries out are Ireland and New Zealand, whose relations with Jerusalem remain tense. Only the Anglosphere unconditionally supports Israel. In the face of an ascending and ever-aggressive Shiite Iran and the threat of Sunni jihadist terrorism, many Arab governments have softened their sworn enmity toward the Jewish state.
But those ties, which focus mainly on security cooperation and the sharing of intelligence, will remain clandestine for the foreseeable future, since Arab leaders vow not to formalize their relations with Jerusalem in the absence of an Israeli-Palestinian peace deal. The possible relocation of the US Embassy to Jerusalem could further complicate the quasi-rapprochement between the Arab world and Israel. The European Union (EU) remains Israel’s largest trading partner, and there are some indications that 2017 will see an improvement in currently tense EU-Israel ties. But the union’s vehement objections to settlement expansion and Israeli demolition of EU-funded buildings in the West Bank, will dominate bilateral interactions and likely cast a shadow over any conceivable detente.
Even Germany, Israel’s closest ally on the continent, fully backed recent multilateral initiatives geared at reining in Israel’s settlement policies. By contrast, the world’s leading English-speaking nations are poised in 2017 to strengthen their already-strong alliances with Israel regardless of what happens in the West Bank.US President Trump campaigned on a radically pro-Israel platform, which includes not only recognizing Jerusalem as Israel’s capital and moving the embassy there. He also denounced the Iran nuclear deal and UN Security Resolution 2334, which the outgoing president, Barack Obama, allowed to pass last month. Additionally, he named several staunch supporters of Israel to top positions in his administration; some of them are firm advocates of the settlement enterprise.
“We cannot continue to let Israel be treated with such total disdain and disrespect. They used to have a great friend in the US,” Trump tweeted last month, “but not anymore. The beginning of the end was the horrible Iran deal, and now this UN! Stay strong Israel!” British Prime Minister Theresa May and Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull, too, have recently taken surprising, even unorthodox steps demonstrating support for Israel. The UK Foreign Office helped draft Resolution 2334, which condemned the settlement enterprise as illegal, and Britain voted in favour of it on December 23. However, there are indications that May was unaware of the specifics of the resolution, or of why Israel deemed it so unacceptable.
After US Secretary of State John Kerry gave a long speech on December 28, in which he justified the US abstention, again lambasted the settlements, and proposed parameters for a future Israeli-Palestinian peace deal, 10 Downing issued an exceedingly rare statement denouncing America’s outgoing top diplomat. “We do not believe that it is appropriate to attack the composition of the democratically elected government of an ally,” a spokesperson for May said. The settlements “are far from the only problem in this conflict. In particular, the people of Israel deserve to live free from the threat of terrorism, with which they have had to cope for too long.”
London’s defiance of the international community’s stance on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict continued, when it refused to sign the concluding joint declaration of a peace conference in Paris, which endorsed a two-state solution and called on both sides to relaunch negotiations. While the text was much softer than the Security Council resolution and affirmed positions the UK principally agrees with, the Foreign Office criticized the meeting for its inopportune timing ahead of a new US administration, and for the fact that neither Israelis nor Palestinians were present. Practically adopting an Israeli talking point, a spokesperson for the Foreign Office said that the Paris summit risked hardening Palestinian negotiating positions “at a time when we need to be encouraging the conditions for peace.”
Even senior observers of the UK-Israel relationship were caught by surprise. “I was gobsmacked,” Jonathan Hoffman, a former vice chair of Britain’s Zionist Federation, called it a “a watershed moment for UK-Israel relations and a huge change from anything I had seen before.” Upping the ante, Britain blocked France’s effort to have the Paris conference’s final communique adopted by the EU’s Foreign Affairs Council. The Palestinians reacted with dismay. “We were expecting the United Kingdom, in particular, to play an effective role in the international system that rejects the Israeli occupation and its settlement enterprise,” Palestine Liberation Organization Secretary-General Saeb Erekat said.
Last month, May called the Balfour Declaration, which declared London’s support for the creation of a Jewish homeland in Mandate Palestine, “one of the most important letters in history.” Many European officials and analyst interpret May’s unusual moves as having less to do with Israel and more with her effort to cosy up to Trump. “It’s madness. Just three weeks ago the Brits pushed for UN Security Council resolution 2334 which criticized the settlements and voted for it, and now they’re blocking resolutions on the matter at the Foreign Affairs Council,” a European diplomat said. “With all due respect to the British, you can’t run foreign policy according to someone’s tweets.”
Great Britain, having voted to leave the EU last year, is no longer afraid to defy European consensus on the Middle East. Indeed, its new policy in relation to the peace process can be seen as an effort to reassert itself as a sovereign nation pursuing an independent foreign policy. Australia has long been a friend of Israel. It first distinguished itself from the rest of the world in 2014, when Foreign Minister Julie Bishop refused to call Israeli settlements illegal. Last month, Canberra once again broke with international consensus by being the only country in the world, besides Israel, to denounce Security Council Resolution 2334. Bishop declared Australia would have likely opposed the text and Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull, who has Jewish ancestry, later attacked it as “one-sided” and “deeply unsettling.”
OUTRAGED HOUSE VOTES TO CONDEMN THE UNITED NATIONS
With the support of a large number of Democrats, House Republicans recently voted unanimously to rebuke the United Nations for passing a resolution that condemns Israel for its West Bank settlement construction. The final vote was 342-80, providing a stinging bipartisan slap in the face to former President Barack Obama and his foreign policy. It also signals what is sure to be a bitter U.S.-U.N. relationship throughout the new administration of President Donald Trump. Prior to the vote, Speaker of the House Paul Ryan (R-WI) took the extraordinary step of coming down to the well to speak about U.N. Security Council Resolution 2334, as well as the measure the House was about to vote upon. In that speech, he said:
“My colleagues, I’d like to read you a quote: “Peace is hard work. Peace will not come through statements and resolutions at the United Nations, if it were that easy, it would have been accomplished by now. Ultimately, it is the Israelis and the Palestinians who must live side by side.” That was President Obama in 2011, and he was right. I am still stunned by what happened last month. Our government, abandoned our ally Israel when she needed us the most. And do not be fooled. This U.N. Security Council resolution was not about settlements, and it certainly was not about peace. It was about one thing and one thing only: Israel’s right to exist as a Jewish democratic state. These types of one-sided efforts are designed to isolate and delegitimize Israel. They don’t advance peace. They make it more elusive.”
ISRAELS CUTS $6 MILLION TO UN IN RESPONSE TO SHAMEFUL RESOLUTION
Israel has announced that in an “act of protest,” it will suspend about $6 million in funding to the United Nations in protest of the recent U.N. Security Council vote that condemned Israeli settlements. The Israeli government explained that the decrease in the country’s $40 million in total funding for the U.N. symbolically represents a cut to the portion of the U.N. budget that is allocated to anti-Israel bodies, including The Committee on the Exercise of the Inalienable Rights of the Palestinian People; The Division for Palestinian Rights; The Work of the Special Committee to Investigate Israeli Practices; and the Special Information Program on the Question of Palestine of the U.N. Department of Public Information.
“It is unreasonable for Israel to fund bodies that operate against us at the U.N.,” Israeli Ambassador to the U.N. Danny Danon said in a statement. “We seek to stop the practice where the U.N. is used solely as a forum for unending attacks against Israel,” he said. Israel’s announcement came a day after the U.S. House of Representatives overwhelmingly passed a resolution condemning the Security Council’s anti-settlement vote. Some American lawmakers have also called for cuts in U.S. funding for the world body.