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Israel's new Asian allies

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Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu sits in front of a picture of Theodor Herzl, the founder of modern Zionism.
(Image by Ronen Zvulun / EPA)
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It was another difficult week for Israel.

In Britain, 700 artists, including many household names, pledged a cultural boycott of Israel, and a leader of the Board of Deputies, the representative body of UK Jews, quit, saying he could no longer abide by its ban on criticizing Israel.

Across the Atlantic, the student body of one of the most prestigious US universities, Stanford, voted to withdraw investments from companies implicated in Israel's occupation, giving a significant boost to the growing international boycott (BDS) movement.

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Meanwhile, a CNN poll found that two-thirds of Americans, and three-quarters of those under 50, believed the US foreign policy should be neutral between Israel and Palestine.

This drip-drip of bad news, as American and European popular opinion shifts against Israel, is gradually changing the west's political culture and forcing Israel to rethink its historic alliances.

The deterioration in relations between Israel and the White House is now impossible to dismiss, as Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu and President Barack Obama lock horns, this time over negotiations with Iran.

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The US was reported last week to be refusing to share with Israel sensitive information on the talks, fearful it will be misused. A senior Israeli official described it as like being evicted from the "deluxe guest suite" in Washington. "Astonishing doesn't begin to describe it," he said.

The fall-out is spreading to the US Congress, where for the first time Israel is becoming a partisan issue. A growing number of Democrats have declared they will boycott Netanyahu's address to the Congress next month, when he is expected to try to undermine the Iran talks.

Things are more precarious still in Europe. Several leading parliaments have called on their governments to recognize Palestinian statehood, and France rocked Israel by backing just such a resolution recently in the UN Security Council.

Europe has also begun punishing Israel for its intransigence towards the Palestinians. It is labeling settlement products and is expected to start demanding compensation for its projects in the occupied territories the Israeli army destroys.

This month, 63 members of the European Parliament went further, urging the European Union to suspend its "association agreement," which allows Israel unrestricted trade and access to special funding.

None of this has gone unnoticed in Israel. A classified report by the foreign ministry leaked last month paints a dark future. It concludes that western support for the Palestinians will increase, the threat of European sanctions will grow, and the US might even refuse to "protect Israel with its veto" at the UN.

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Israel is particularly concerned about the economic impact, given that Europe is its largest trading partner. Serious sanctions could ravage the economy.

One might assume that, faced with these drastic calculations, Israel would reconsider its obstructive approach to peace negotiations and Palestinian statehood. Not a bit of it.

Netanyahu's officials blame the crisis with Washington on Obama, implying that they will wait out his presidency for better times to return.

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Jonathan Cook is a writer and journalist based in Nazareth, Israel. He is the 2011 winner of the Martha Gellhorn Special Prize for Journalism. His latest books are "Israel and the Clash of Civilisations: Iraq, Iran and the Plan to Remake the Middle East" (Pluto Press) and "Disappearing Palestine: (more...)
 

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