Europe fired its first warning shot at the Netanyahu government on Monday. The reports of London and Paris' intention to recall their ambassadors from Tel Aviv were exaggerated, but not false. Various ideas came up during talks held in European capitals, including recalling the ambassadors.
These plans were shelved, Israeli diplomats say, but they were leaked to the press to make it clear to Israel that Europe is fed up with the diplomatic stalemate and the lack of action on the part of a government that is held captive by internal Israeli politics. But the move was mostly meant to clarify Europe's position regarding Israel's plan to continue building in the settlements and in the sensitive and problematic E-1 zone.
Europe's leaders do not believe Benjamin Netanyahu and Avigdor Lieberman. Four years of no progress or any real dialogue with the Palestinian Authority, along with repeated threats to topple Mahmoud Abbas' regime, have turned Europe against Netanyahu. Europe has grown tired of the Israeli-Palestinian issue and of Israel's repeated demands to block the Palestinians and support the fight against Hamas.
"We keep telling them 'no' and ask that they take our side, but at the same time we do not present any realistic plan," an Israeli diplomat said. "This is the reason they supported the Palestinians and why they are responding so harshly to the Israeli measures. There is nothing on the table besides steps that lead nowhere."
Summoning Israeli ambassadors to protest and reprimand is not something that is done routinely, but it is not uncommon. Israel's ambassadors have been summoned by their host governments before, and they will be summoned again in the future.
The difference lies in the message the European governments sent on Monday, in coordination with the US, which was meant to inform Netanyahu that they too know how to intervene in a country's internal elections. During such sensitive political times, turning Israel into a pariah state and isolating it diplomatically can affect the results of the upcoming Knesset elections – not to mention what might happen here if the trade and export agreements between Israel and Europe are hurt.
E-1 area near Jerusalem (Photo: AFP)
As opposed to the general atmosphere in Israel, the international community wants to put the Palestinian issue back on the agenda and make it a key issue in the elections. Netanyahu has no plan or strategy regarding this issue. Tzipi Livni, for example, does. The message to Israel is clear. Europe supported Israel during Operation Pillar of Defense, but settlement construction and the attempt to hurt Abbas constitute a "red line" as far as the international community is concerned. No one wants to hear Lieberman threatening Abbas three times a week or Israel's announcements on additional construction on Palestinian-owned land.
By announcing its plan to build thousands more housing units in the territories, Israel wanted to clarify to the Palestinians that it is also capable of taking unilateral steps that would make it more difficult to achieve peace and establish a Palestinian state. By obstructing the territorial contiguity in the E-1 area, Netanyahu is essentially telling those who are dreaming of a Palestinian state that they have no reason to get out of bed. There is nothing to talk about and no one to talk to.
Netanyahu is trying to instill in his voters from the Right the sense that Israel is under siege; that the whole world is against us. The Prime Minister's Office remained silent for hours while Europe criticized Israel's settlement construction plan, but when it finally responded, it said Israel would not succumb to international pressure and would stand by its decision to build more housing units beyond the Green Line. Elections are right around the corner, and the pressure is on.
These are days in which Netanyahu must prove that the merger with Yisrael Beiteinu was politically advantageous. He wants Knesset seats. Despite the emotional speeches, Likud has become a rightist party without Benny Begin. The fact that Dan Meridor and Michael Eitan failed to secure realistic spots on the party's list does not interest Netanyahu. He wants Naftali Bennett's right, not Dan Meridor's center. This is why he is indicating that the European threats do not deter him in the least.
In the meantime, it is the State of Israel that is suffering: On Monday Rahm Emanuel told us how Obama feels about the Israeli premier. Europe is sick and tired of his pointless tricks, and Israel is becoming more and more isolated.