The appointment by Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu of one of his most hawkish and outspoken rivals as Israel's new ambassador to the United Nations has prompted widespread consternation.
As one Israeli analyst noted last week, Danny Danon's appointment amounts to a "cruel joke" on the international community. The new envoy "lacks even the slightest level of finesse and subtlety required of a senior diplomat."
Last year Netanyahu sacked Danon as deputy defence minister, describing him as too "irresponsible" even by the standards of Israel's usually anarchic politics. Danon had denounced the prime minister for "leftist feebleness" in his handling of Israel's attack on Gaza last summer.
Danon is a UN official's worst nightmare. He is a vocal opponent of a two-state solution and has repeatedly called for the annexation of the West Bank.
Back in 2011, days before the UN General Assembly was due to vote on Palestinian statehood, Danon dismissed the forum as irrelevant: "Even if there will be a vote [in favor], it will be a Facebook state."
On the face of it, Netanyahu's timing could not be worse. Danon is to represent Israel as the Palestinians are expected to step up efforts at the UN to entrench recognition of their statehood. He will also be a leading spokesman as Israel tries to fend off war crimes investigations at the International Criminal Court in the Hague.
The generally accepted explanation is that Netanyahu's move is driven by domestic, not diplomatic, calculations. Danon is the Israeli right's poster boy, one who makes the prime minister look too cautious and conciliatory.
The two faced off for the Likud party leadership last November. Danon lost but Netanyahu doubtless fears, as his party and the Israeli public shift ever rightwards, that his rival's time is coming.
The posting removes Danon as head of the Likud's powerful central committee, dispatches him to a distant land, and should provide him with opportunities aplenty to self-harm.
But that is not the whole story. Danon's appointment reveals something more significant about Israel's deteriorating relations even with its international supporters.
It is hard nowadays to recall that Israel once took the UN very seriously indeed. It had to.
In the decade following 1948, Abba Eban, the country's foremost diplomat, sought to carve out international recognition and respectability for Israel at the UN.
Eban often used deceit and misdirection -- he is reported to have avowed that "diplomats go abroad to lie for their country." But he never forgot the importance of creating a façade of moral justification for Israel's actions, even as it launched wars of aggression in 1956 at Suez and again against Egypt in 1967.
Reality caught up with Israel when the UN adopted a resolution in 1975 equating Israel's official ideology, Zionism, with racism. The resolution was only revoked 16 years later, after the Soviet Union collapsed and the United States emerged as the world's sole superpower.
Washington arm-twisted the General Assembly with promises that Israel would engage in a peace process with the Palestinians, culminating a short time later in the Oslo Accords.
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