It doesn’t take a political genius to see how US Secretary of State John Kerry’s arrival in Amman Tuesday, July 16, for his sixth bid to bring Israelis and the Palestinians to the table, ties in with the new EU anti-Israel funding guidelines published on the same day. To avoid a head-on clash with Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu, the US president has loosed the Europeans in full cry against Jerusalem and its policies. European Union foreign affairs executive Catherine Ashton chairs the international negotiating forum with Iran. And so, the EU has given Tehran a broad wink that it is worth its while to come to a fresh round of nuclear diplomacy while Israel is kept on the run in the settlements-cum-borders dispute.
Israel is further weakened by its own internal political difficulties.
The third Netanyahu cabinet is painfully shorthanded of ministers for dealing with foreign diplomacy and national security affairs. In the absence of a foreign minister, shackled with a new cabinet which took office in February, and beset with a reshuffle of his close aides, the prime minister is obliged to carry himself most of the burden for key decisions on the essential business of state.
When he decides not to decide on any issue, that issue is shuffled into the pending tray to await his attention – and of late, this is happening too often.
Netanyahu is taxed currently with keeping tabs on the conflict close to Israel’s borders in Egyptian Sinai, the threatened spillover of the Syrian war – only part of which reaches the public – and the approach of a nuclear Iran, which he admits is dangerously close to consummation. Every few weeks, he is put on the spot for fast decisions by US Secretary of State Kerry’s peace drive.
It is no wonder that Netanyahu drops some of the balls he is juggling.
The last ball to slip out of his hands was the new European Commission’s new guideline for the alliance to distinguish between the state of Israel and territories outside the 1967 Green Line for the purpose of co-funding projects and grants.
This guideline is grounded in the EU’s fixed determination that East Jerusalem, Gaza, the West Bank and the Golan were illegally occupied by Israel after the 1967 Arab-Israel war. The “settlements” housing more than a half a million Jews are likewise deemed illegal. Therefore, from Jan. 1, 2014, any Israeli entity seeking European project funding or grants will be obliged to declare it has no connection, direct or indirect, with a “settlement.”
There is nothing new about this determination. The European Union has for years boycotted goods manufactured in settlements and demanded that Israel exporters label their products with the source of manufacture. Ever since 1967, the UK has withheld pensions and allowances from British expatriates living outside the Green Line until they relocate to addresses London deems kosher.
And that is only one of many examples.
However, the new guidelines have exacerbated the rift between Brussels and Jerusalem and signal a further deterioration. If in future every Israeli firm is required before every financial or business transaction with Europe to disassociate from EU-proscribed Jewish communities, then bilateral trade, whose volume has climbed to 40 billion euros, will gradually decline, with as much economic fallout for Europe as for Israel.
Israel’s prime minister responded fast and hard to the new EU guidelines with a bitter broadside for what he sees as outside interference in the definition of Israel’s borders, in a manner which compromises direct Israel negotiations with the Palestinians. Direct negotiations are the only way to define those borders, he stressed, and the EU measure had the effect of tilting them in the Palestinians’ favor.
Netanyahu was particularly incensed by the EU dropping its bombshell on the day John Kerry arrived in Amman to pick up his mission for reviving the peace track, which he interrupted empty-handed earlier this month.
Defense Minister Moshe Ya’alon greeted Kerry’s arrival by eulogizing his mission, accusing the Palestinians of burying it by sheer obstructionism. Ya’alon no doubt followed the line set by the prime minister.
Kerry spent five hours talking to Palestinian Authority chairman Mahmoud Abbas Tuesday night, in yet another effort to melt his insistence on Israel meeting his preconditions for a meeting.
By Wednesday morning, the US Secretary had not yet arranged to meet Israeli officials this time round.
Israeli policy-makers understand that Washington is dodging a showdown with Netanyahu by using the Europeans to clobber his policies at a moment of internal weakness in Jerusalem. Now they realize they must brace urgently for the next chapter in the Obama campaign: Ashton will build on the EU steps to get a fresh round of world power-Iranian nuclear negotiations underway by persuading Tehran that Brussels, with Washington’s backing, is in full flight of a diplomatic campaign for cutting Israel down to size.
By pulling the wires behind the European campaign, the Obama administration is after three goals:
1. Persuading Tehran to return to international diplomacy on its nuclear program by diminishing Israel’s leverage.
2. Confronting Israel with diplomatic isolation on an issue of prime importance to its security, i.e., the prospect of a nuclear-armed Iran, unless the Netanyahu government agrees to concessions to the Palestinians on final borders.
3. Warning Netanyahu that his failure to toe the Obama line on the Syrian conflict and the Egyptian army coup will cost Israel dear. Instead of lining up with what is seen in the region as an ineffectual Washington, Israel struck out on its own to play ball with regional forces on the move, the Arab rulers of the Gulf and the Egyptian army. The US president has used the European Union to make sure Jerusalem understands that he too will pursue his own game – and it will be at the expense of Israel’s interests.