Israel revels in support from U.S., U.K. and Australia
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
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, right, meets with Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull in New York, on Sept. 2.