Gilbert N. Kahn is a professor of Political Science at Kean University.
When Menachem Begin was Prime Minister he frequently infuriated many Israelis on the left and even in the center, because he repeatedly invoked the memory of the Holocaust and/or Jewish history to justify political actions which were at least questionable. Begin was a survivor and an escapee from the Shoah. As such he represented someone who had been directly or indirectly passed through the fire. You might disagree with his political decisions, but somehow you understood the source of his rationale. He would not, nor could not, contemplate that any political decision be made which directly or indirectly, explicitly or implicitly verbally or physically attacked Israel without responding. Never Again coursed through his veins. It is only in that context that one can try to explain Bibi’s decisions to expand settlements and to withhold tax revenues from the Palestinian Authority in the wake of the U.N. vote last Thursday; but Netanyahu is now Begin presuming to wear his political mantle, without the history to go with it.
Only days after creating a brand new relationship with Obama; after his successful execution of the recent Gaza War and extricating Israel from the confrontation with Hamas; Bibi turned around and felt compelled to make a demonstrative hardline Beginesque move. There is no other way to explain the decision to expand Israeli settlements; not only in Jerusalem and the West Bank in general, but specifically on the one specific piece of Palestinian territory, E1, which still provided the Palestinians with the hope for geographic contiguity as well as direct access to Jerusalem. The only alternative explanation would be a cynically political one which was totally avoidable—at least at this time.
This is not to take issue with the fact that Israel was indeed virtually friendless at the U.N. last week –a nation that stands alone; nevertheless, there remains good will toward Israel especially among the nine nations that supported Israel and the 41 states that felt compelled to abstain in the U.N. vote. The issue is one of priorities and whether efforts at a peaceful solution indeed undermine Israel’s safety and security.
With respect to this point, it seems fairly clear that any and all initiatives which could be mounted to move to a peaceful, two-state solution do not, in the current environment, endanger Israel’s safety and security. Israel cedes nothing to use any and all lines of communication with the Palestinians. It would seem that there is no down side here
If they are rebuffed again and if they call the Palestinians bluff, all the options they currently have available remain; including settlement construction, etc. Alternatively, if they do not make the attempt to move toward a negotiating mode, then a one-state option will become more and more likely from both perspectives, leaving Israel probably even more isolated.
If Bibi had strictly political priorities driving this move, with the elections less than two months away, then taking his personal rage against the Palestinians’ unnecessary U.N. maneuver to justify renewed settlement construction demonstrates a less than mature approach again to someone who had only just been seen to have learned how govern on the grand stage. As clever and as effective as he might have been in the Gaza confrontation, he reverted to a form which once again will set him and the Israeli Government back dramatically with their few friends in the world, including the U.S.