International isolation worries Israel



Michael Friedson

Published — Sunday 16 December 2012

Last update 16 December 2012 11:01 am

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Israel is no stranger to international condemnation. But the present mood of the country is more anxious than usual; that a national anxiety exists today that is nearly unprecedented and that at its core lies a growing debate over whether a creeping isolationism between the Jewish state and its traditional allies is more palpable and precarious than the nation’s leaders care to let on.
In recent days, Israelis have been reading and viewing acerbic remarks aimed at the Jewish state by Western leaders seen as friends and even supporters. While some will quickly discount the issue, documenting their opinions with references to the public relations disasters surrounding the Gaza Flotilla in May 2010; or Operation Cast Lead, the December 2008 military invasion of the Gaza Strip and the Goldstone Report coming out of it; those de rigueur shots at Israeli policy lacked the nuance and innuendo now being heard following the Netanyahu government’s announcement that the planning of 3,000 additional housing units to be located on land Israel acquired in the 1967 War — land that the Palestinians claim for a future state — has been green-lighted. For the first time — or at least the first time with a sense of plausibility — suggestions that sanctions might be forthcoming are coming from allies and pundits are nearly uniform in warning that European leaders, in particular, have “had enough” with the annoyances they’re used to seeing from Israeli leaders is causing concern on the streets of Jerusalem and Tel Aviv.
During the past year when the most frequently discussed Middle East-related issue was whether Israel would launch a unilateral strike at Iranian nuclear installations, the expression “existential threat” took its place atop the regional lexicon. To Israelis, though, a second “existential threat” was playing out: Safe-guarding the sanctity of the US-Israel relationship amid constant suggestions that some form of tit-for-tat warfare between the two nations’ leaders was brewing. Now, while speculation over what the second Obama term will mean for a Netanyahu-led government in Jerusalem remains a favorite game for political junkies, the Palestinian UN gambit that has again cast Israel in the villainous light — a source of confusion for Israelis — and has trigger concern in no small part because of the reactions of individual leaders.
Following the flotilla and Gaza invasion, references to sanctions came from the Arab sector, not Western capitals. This time around, many Israelis are unnerved that Britain and France were the sources of such suggestions; and are unsettled to see unmasked anger in the words of German Chancellor Angela Merkel, perhaps the European head-of-state most respected by Israelis.
“The announcement (about Israeli housing starts) coming right after the decision by the United Nations (to bestow non-member status on the Palestinian Authority) exacerbated things because it was seen as an act of defiance and irked (Israel’s) friends,” Yossi Mekelberg, Associate Fellow at the UK’s Chatham House and Project Director of International Relations for Regent’s College, told The Media Line. Referring to action by many European governments following the announcement, he said that, “Calling in ambassadors is a sign of annoyance. The question is whether it will be followed by a change in policy toward Israel.” Mekelberg opined that such a policy shift is less likely in Washington than in European capitals. He also cautions to look to the second Obama term-in-office when, “President Obama might not veto resolutions specifically about settlements.”
Mekelberg concludes that Israel is right to worry about the possibly-changing relationships. “The level of annoyance is even higher than what is expressed in public, and because the Europeans are Israel’s major political, military and economic allies, I think the Israelis should be worried.”
The street corner debates will no doubt become more focused along the lines of party politics between now and Jan. 22, the date on which Israelis will elect a new government. But at the same time, citizens will be looking for telltale signs of international relationships eroding and isolation growing.

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