July 6, 2016
Diplomatic Ties Help Israel Defang International Criticism – Luke Baker (Reuters)
- Ahead of the release last week of a report on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict by the Quartet of Middle East mediators, the word from diplomats was that it would be hard-hitting, especially on Israel. Those concerns reached Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who flew to Moscow to see President Vladimir Putin, and met U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry and the EU’s foreign policy chief, Federica Mogherini, in Rome.
- In the end, after weeks of delay, the report was mild in the extreme. Israeli settlement-building was criticized but not called illegal. The prime focus was on Palestinian incitement. Palestinians were outraged.
- “There’s just no appetite to go toe-to-toe with Israel and deliver a really harsh indictment,” said one European ambassador. “No one sees the upside to it.” Many EU member states have good and growing relations with Israel. Like Turkey, which last week agreed to restore diplomatic ties with Israel after a six-year hiatus, they see a future of expanding business, trade and energy ties.
- Whereas a few years ago Israel mostly had to rely on Germany, Britain and the Czech Republic to defend its interests in the EU, now it can count Italy, Greece, Cyprus, Austria, Hungary and a handful of others among potential allies. At the same time, Netanyahu has bolstered relations with Russia, talks regularly about a “new horizon” with Egypt, Saudi Arabia and the Gulf, especially to confront Iran, and plays up Israel’s high-tech links to China, India and Africa, where Netanyahu is on a four-day visit.
- Late last year, looking for ways to apply pressure on Israel over settlements, officials in the U.S. State Department examined the possibility of suspending loan guarantees, a step last taken by the first Bush administration in the early 1990s. But because of low interest rates and Israel’s increased economic strength, the country wouldn’t have a problem raising funds cheaply on international markets.
- At the same time, the Palestinians have done little to win friends and influence opinion at a time of rising Islamist insurgency across much of the Middle East. As long as the Palestinians are divided between Abbas’ Fatah party in the West Bank and the Islamist Hamas which controls Gaza, talk of negotiating a two-state solution with Israel will remain remote at best.