Is­rael rev­els in sup­port from U.S., U.K. and Aus­tralia

The Canadian Jewish News (Toronto) - - International - RAPHAEL AHREN JERUSALEM

It’s spring­time for Is­rael’s re­la­tions with the An­glo­sphere. Prime Min­is­ter Ben­jamin Ne­tanyahu loves to talk about bur­geon­ing ties with the Arab world, but in the months and years ahead, a newly formed pro-is­rael tri­umvi­rate of English-speak­ing coun­tries looks set to form the back­bone of international sup­port for the Jewish state.

The first and most im­por­tant in­di­ca­tion of this trend is, of course, the change in the White House. The new Don­ald Trump ad­min­is­tra­tion has made plain its in­ten­tion to shut out the pub­lic day­light that Barack Obama in­tro­duced be­tween Washington and Jerusalem, vow­ing all but to­tal sup­port for Ne­tanyahu’s poli­cies.

In ad­di­tion, the United King­dom has in re­cent weeks sur­pris­ingly and dra­mat­i­cally aligned it­self with Jerusalem, de­fy­ing Euro­pean and even global con­sen­sus.

Com­plet­ing the pro-is­rael trio is Aus­tralia, which has long been ex­cep­tion­ally friendly to­ward Is­rael but re­cently reached new heights in op­pos­ing anti-is­rael mea­sures em­braced by the rest of the world.

Canada is an­other English-speak­ing coun­try that is staunchly pro-is­rael, but un­like the U.S., the U.K. and Aus­tralia, has re­mained silent on the dra­matic diplo­matic de­vel­op­ments of re­cent weeks. The two odd coun­tries out are Ire­land and New Zealand, whose re­la­tions with Jerusalem re­main tense.

In the face of an as­cend­ing and ever-ag­gres­sive Shi­ite Iran and the threat of Sunni ji­hadist ter­ror­ism, many Arab gov­ern­ments have soft­ened their sworn en­mity to­ward the Jewish state. But those ties, which fo­cus mainly on se­cu­rity co-op­er­a­tion and the shar­ing of in­tel­li­gence, will re­main clan­des­tine for the fore­see­able fu­ture, since Arab lead­ers vow not to for­mal­ize their re­la­tions with Jerusalem in the ab­sence of an Is­raeli-pales­tinian peace deal.

The pos­si­ble re­lo­ca­tion of the U.S. Em­bassy to Jerusalem could fur­ther com­pli­cate the much-touted quasi-rap­proche­ment be­tween the Arab world and Is­rael.

The Euro­pean Union re­mains Is­rael’s largest trad­ing part­ner, and there are some in­di­ca­tions that 2017 will see an im­prove­ment in cur­rently tense Eu-is­rael ties. But the union’s po­si­tion on the peace process es­pe­cially its ve­he­ment ob­jec­tions to set­tle­ment ex­pan­sion and Is­raeli de­mo­li­tion of Eu-funded build­ings in the West Bank, will dom­i­nate bi­lat­eral in­ter­ac­tions and likely cast a shadow over any con­ceiv­able de­tente.

Even Ger­many, Is­rael’s clos­est ally in Europe, fully backed re­cent mul­ti­lat­eral ini­tia­tives geared at rein­ing in Is­rael’s set­tle­ment poli­cies.

By con­trast, the world’s lead­ing English-speak­ing na­tions are poised in 2017 to strengthen their al­ready-strong al­liances with Is­rael re­gard­less of what hap­pens in the West Bank.

Pres­i­dent Trump has cam­paigned on a rad­i­cally pro-is­rael plat­form, which in­cludes not only rec­og­niz­ing Jerusalem as Is­rael’s cap­i­tal and mov­ing the em­bassy there. He also de­nounced the Iran nu­clear deal and UN Se­cu­rity Res­o­lu­tion 2334 that Obama, al­lowed to pass last month. Ad­di­tion­ally, he ap­pointed sev­eral staunch sup­port­ers of Is­rael to top po­si­tions in his ad­min­is­tra­tion, some of whom are known ad­vo­cates of the set­tle­ment en­ter­prise.

Bri­tish Prime Min­is­ter Theresa May and Aus­tralian Prime Min­is­ter Mal­colm Turn­bull, too, have re­cently taken sur­pris­ing, even un­ortho­dox, steps demon­strat­ing sup­port for Is­rael.

The UK For­eign Of­fice helped draft Res­o­lu­tion 2334, which harshly con­demned the set­tle­ment en­ter­prise, and Bri­tain voted in favour of it on Dec. 23. How­ever, there are in­di­ca­tions that May was unaware of the res­o­lu­tion, or of why Is­rael deemed it so un­ac­cept­able.

Af­ter Obama’s sec­re­tary of state John Kerry gave a long speech on Dec. 28, in which he again lam­basted the set­tle­ments and pro­posed pa­ram­e­ters for a fu­ture Is­raeli-pales­tinian peace deal, 10 Down­ing is­sued an ex­ceed­ingly rare state­ment de­nounc­ing Amer­ica’s out­go­ing top diplo­mat.

“We do not be­lieve that it is ap­pro­pri­ate to at­tack the com­po­si­tion of the demo­crat­i­cally elected gov­ern­ment of an ally,” a spokesper­son for May said. The set­tle­ments “are far from the only prob­lem in this con­flict. In par­tic­u­lar, the peo­ple of Is­rael de­serve to live free from the threat of ter­ror­ism, with which they have had to cope for too long.”

Lon­don’s de­fi­ance of the international com­mu­nity’s stance on the Is­raeli-pales­tinian con­flict con­tin­ued Jan.8, when it re­fused to sign the joint dec­la­ra­tion of a peace con­fer­ence in Paris, which en­dorsed a two-state so­lu­tion and called on both sides to re­launch ne­go­ti­a­tions.

Prac­ti­cally adopt­ing an Is­raeli talk­ing point, a spokesper­son for the Bri­tish For­eign Of­fice said that the Paris sum­mit risked hard­en­ing Pales­tinian ne­go­ti­at­ing po­si­tions “at a time when we need to be en­cour­ag­ing the con­di­tions for peace.”

Even se­nior ob­servers of the U.k.-is­rael re­la­tion­ship were caught by sur­prise. “I was gob­s­macked,” Jonathan Hoff­man, a for­mer vice-chair of Bri­tain’s Zion­ist Fed­er­a­tion, told JTA. He called it a “water­shed mo­ment for U.k.-is­rael re­la­tions and a huge change from any­thing I had seen be­fore.”

The Pales­tini­ans re­acted with con­cern to Lon­don’s re­cent ac­tions. “We were ex­pect­ing the United King­dom, in par­tic­u­lar, to play an ef­fec­tive role in the international sys­tem that re­jects the Is­raeli oc­cu­pa­tion and its set­tle­ment en­ter­prise,” Pales­tine Lib­er­a­tion Or­ga­ni­za­tion (PLO) Sec­re­tary Gen­eral Saeb Erekat said.

Many Euro­pean of­fi­cials and an­a­lysts in­ter­pret May’s un­usual moves as hav­ing less to do with Is­rael and more with her ef­fort to cozy up to Trump.

“It’s mad­ness. Just three weeks ago the Brits pushed for UN Se­cu­rity Coun­cil Res­o­lu­tion 2334 which crit­i­cized the set­tle­ments and voted for it, and now they’re block­ing res­o­lu­tions on the mat­ter at the For­eign Af­fairs Coun­cil,” a Euro­pean diplo­mat told Ha’aretz. “With all due re­spect to the Bri­tish, you can’t run for­eign pol­icy ac­cord­ing to some­one’s tweets.”

Great Bri­tain, hav­ing voted to leave the EU last year, is no longer afraid to defy Euro­pean con­sen­sus on the Mid­dle East. In­deed, its new pol­icy vis-a-vis the peace process can be seen as an ef­fort to re­assert it­self as a sov­er­eign na­tion pur­su­ing an in­de­pen­dent for­eign pol­icy.

Aus­tralia has long been an un­con­di­tional friend of Is­rael. It first dis­tin­guished it­self from the rest of the world in early 2014, when For­eign Min­is­ter Julie Bishop in an in­ter­view with the Times of Is­rael re­fused to call Is­raeli set­tle­ments il­le­gal.

Last month, Can­berra once again broke with international con­sen­sus by be­ing the only coun­try in the world, be­sides Is­rael, to de­nounce Se­cu­rity Coun­cil Res­o­lu­tion 2334. Bishop de­clared Aus­tralia would have likely op­posed the text and Prime Min­is­ter Turn­bull – who has Jewish an­ces­try – later at­tacked it as “one-sided” and “deeply un­set­tling.”

It didn’t stop there. Like the U.K., Can­berra sent only a ju­nior del­e­ga­tion to the Paris peace con­fer­ence and ex­pressed con­cerns over the joint dec­la­ra­tion is­sued at the end of the event.

The stance prompted harsh crit­i­cism from the PLO.

Erekat, the PLO’S sec­re­tary-gen­eral, called on Aus­tralia to “cor­rect this mis­take” and to rec­og­nize the state of Pales­tine. “The real risks threat­en­ing peace lie in such po­si­tions that grant Is­rael im­punity and en­cour­age it to con­tinue with its il­le­gal set­tle­ment en­ter­prise on the land of Pales­tine,” he said.

Can­berra did not hes­i­tate to re­spond to Erekat’s crit­i­cism, stat­ing that “Aus­tralia’s long-stand­ing po­si­tion is that a Pales­tinian state can only be achieved through di­rect ne­go­ti­a­tions with Is­rael. Nei­ther Is­rael nor the Pales­tinian Author­ity was rep­re­sented at the Paris Con­fer­ence.”

Ne­tanyahu has good rea­sons to be elated about the prospects of work­ing to­gether with three im­por­tant An­glo-saxon lead­ers ready to go against the flow. De­spite the cur­rent cor­rup­tion probe against him, he is still plan­ning to be­come the first-ever sit­ting Is­raeli prime min­is­ter to go Down Un­der next month, to thank the coun­try for its un­wa­ver­ing sup­port.

He is also re­port­edly plan­ning a trip to Washington to meet with Trump in early Fe­bru­ary, and given May’s re­cent moves it will sur­prise no one if he were to make his way to Lon­don some time soon too.

Times of Is­rael Time­sofis­rael.com

KOBI GIDEON / GPO PHOTO

Is­raeli Prime Min­is­ter Ben­jamin Ne­tanyahu, right, meets with Aus­tralian Prime Min­is­ter Mal­colm Turn­bull in New York, on Sept. 2.

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