Israel has barely put a foot right with the
international community since its attack on Gaza more than three years ago
provoked global revulsion.
The right-wing government of Benjamin Netanyahu has
serially defied and insulted foreign leaders, including US President Barack
Obama; given the settlers virtual free rein; blocked peace talks with the
Palestinians; intimidated and marginalised human rights groups, UN agencies and
even the Israeli courts; and fuelled a popular wave of Jewish ethnic and
religious chauvinism against the country's Palestinian minority, foreign
workers and asylum seekers.
No wonder, then, that in poll after poll Israel ranks
as one of the countries with the most negative influence on international
And yet, the lower Israel sinks in public estimation,
the more generous western leaders are in handing out aid and special favours to
their wayward ally. The past few days have been particularly shameless.
It was revealed last week that the European Union had
approved a massive upgrade in Israel's special trading status, strengthening
economic ties in dozens of different fields. The decision was a reversal of a
freeze imposed in the wake of the Gaza attack of winter 2008.
Amnesty International pointed out that the EU was
violating its own commitments in the European Neighbourhood Policy, which
requires that, as a preferred trading partner, Israel respect international human
rights, democratic values and its humanitarian obligations.
Equally troubling, the EU is apparently preparing to
upend what had looked like an emerging consensus in favor of banning
settlement products -- the only meaningful punishment the EU has threatened to
inflict on Israel.
With some irony, Europe's turnabout was revealed the
same day that Israel announced it was planning to destroy eight villages in the
West Bank, expelling their 1,500 Palestinian inhabitants, to make way for a
military firing zone. Four more villages are also under threat.
The villagers' expulsion was further confirmation that
Israel is conducting a "forced transfer" of Palestinians, as recent
EU reports have warned, from the nearly two-thirds of the West Bank under its
Europe's only real leverage over Israel is economic:
business between the two already accounts for about 60 per cent of Israeli
trade, worth nearly 30 billion euros. But rather than penalising Israel for
repeatedly stomping over the flimsiest prospects for a two-state solution, the
EU is handsomely rewarding it.
It is not alone. The United States is also showering
economic benefits and military goodies on Israel, in addition to the billions
of dollars in aid it hands over every year.
In the past few days alone, President Obama signed a
new law greatly expanding military cooperation with Israel and awarded $70
million -- on top of an existing $210 million donation -- for it to develop the
Iron Dome missile defence system; the Pentagon arm-twisted Lockheed Martin into
collaborating with Israeli firms in revamping the new F-35 fighter jet; and
Congress approved a four-year extension of US loan guarantees to make it
cheaper for Israel to borrow money on the international markets.
Meanwhile, Obama's rival for the presidency, Mitt
Romney, has criticized Obama for being too miserly towards Israel. As he stood
shoulder to shoulder with Netanyahu in Jerusalem on Sunday, Romney issued a
press release suggesting that his administration would spend even more US taxpayers'
dollars on Israel's missile defence system.
All this munificence is coming from the two dominant
parties to the Quartet -- the international group comprising the US, the EU, the
United Nations and Russia. The Quartet's role is to champion the very two-state
solution Israel is striving so strenuously to destroy.
In a further irony, the World Bank issued last week
its latest report on the state of the Palestinian economy, concluding that its
situation was so dire the Palestinian government-in-waiting, the Palestinian
Authority, could not be considered ready for independent statehood. The report
noted that the Palestinians were heavily reliant on foreign donors and that
local private businesses, agriculture and manufacturing were all in decline.
With feigned obtuseness, the World Bank recommended
that the PA increase exports to foreign markets, glossing over the biggest
impediment to such trade: the severe restrictions imposed by Israel on the
movement of people and goods into and out of Palestinian territory.
As the Quartet has grown ever more silent in the face
of Israeli transgressions, US politicians have stepped in with cynical
manoeuvres to shore up Israel's intransigence and destroy any hopes of a
Last week, for example, US lawmakers were reported to
have put their names to a congressional resolution recognizing the recent
report of Israel's controversial Levy Committee. The report concluded that
Israel was not occupying the West Bank and that consequently the settlements
there are legal.
The topsy-turvy character of international diplomacy
was acknowledged this month by a recently retired British ambassador to the
Middle East. Tom Philips, who served in Israel and Saudi Arabia, writes in the
latest edition of Prospect magazine that Europe and the US need to use
"big carrots and big sticks" if there is to be any hope of reviving
the peace process.
But Mr Philips believes the US is "genetically
indisposed" to forcing change on Israel. He proposes instead choking off
donor money to the PA so as "to put the full weight of the occupation on
Israel, a burden I do not think they would be able to endure".
In another of the rich ironies of the
Israeli-Palestinian conflict, it now seems even some diplomats are concluding
that the Palestinians will be best served by destroying the fledgling
government that was supposed to be the harbinger of their independence.
The real obstacles to peace -- Israel, its occupation
and western complicity -- might then be laid bare for all to see.
version of this article first appeared in The National (Abu Dhabi).