Media Mention of Hussein Ibish in Xinhua - March 2, 2011 - 1:00am

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Monday told a member of his Likud party that Israel cannot ignore world pressure over its construction of settlements in the West Bank. Netanyahu said his government is trying to maintain the current pace of building, but Israel now faces a new international reality.

The comments were made one week after the United States used its veto in the UN Security Council to block a resolution condemning Israeli settlements in the West Bank, while the 14 other members of the council voted in favor.

Netanyahu also said the U.S. veto took great effort to achieve. "We could ignore it all and say no problem, but as the prime minister responsible for this state, I have the ultimate responsibility," he said.

On Monday, Israeli police evicted settlers from an outpost built without government permission on privately-owned Palestinian land. Such evacuations are not uncommon, but during the event on Monday security forces used a significant amount of forces and crowd control measures, leading observers to believe that Israel will now crack down hard on illegal outposts.

However, local analysts believe the event is not a sign that Netanyahu is changing his government's policy, but has more to do with pleasing the United States after the veto at the UN.

Gideon Doron, from the department of political science at Tel Aviv University, told Xinhua that Netanyahu has not changed his mind and the settler evacuation should be seen as paying back a debt to the United States for the UN Security Council veto.

"It's a tradeoff. The Americans came forward to use the veto, and in return Israel has to repay for it," Doron said.

U.S. officials reportedly tried in vain to convince the Palestinians to retract the resolution in the month leading up to the vote. One of the main problems for the United States to use its veto was that much of the language in the resolution is the same wording used by Washington itself about settlements, which it describes as an obstacle to peace.

"It's not a change of policy. It's within the context of the government's policy and the general pressure that Israel is taking from the U.S. and Europe," Doron said, "Israel can't go against the U.S. as it's Israel's main strategic ally."

"This is an ongoing bargaining situation in international affairs. It means that Israel is now more dependent on the situation of the pro-active U.S. President Barack Obama," he said.


What we are seeing now is Netanyahu adapting to current circumstances rather than a change of heart, said David Nachmias, a lecturer at the Inter-Disciplinary Center in Herzliya.

"I don't think it's a change of policy. Netanyahu is simply reacting to events," Nachmias said.

Asked whether one might expect to hear similar statements in the future by Netanyahu as the United States asks for more in exchange for its veto, Nachmias said, "everyone is focused on what 's happening in Libya and Egypt. No one is really paying attention to Israel."

We will have to wait and see until things cool down in the region before knowing what will happen, he added.

Meanwhile, Palestinian analyst Hani Masri said Israel is facing growing international pressure and isolation over its continued settlement expansion. But he also doubted that Netanyahu's remarks could be seen as a signal for change of direction.

"It's only a statement, nothing more," Masri said.

Masri said the Jewish state is becoming more isolated in the international community, citing the vote in the UN Security Council as one example. In addition, there are a growing number of countries that have issued promises of recognizing an independent Palestinian state in 2012 regardless of the state of peace process.

"Israel is in a bad position but not in a dangerous situation," Masri said, "But if the situation continues, it could reach a turning point."


Hussein Ibish, a senior fellow at the American Task Force on Palestine, a Washington-based Palestinian advocacy group, said Netanyahu's remarks reflect his reaction to a combination of changes underway in the Arab world and the existing tensions with the United States over settlement activity.

"The U.S. veto of the UN Security Council resolution on settlements apparently hinged on the word 'illegal,' which the U.S. was not prepared to endorse," Ibish said.

According to Ibish, the Obama administration prefers the term " illegitimate", rather than "illegal". For their own diplomatic and, perhaps even more importantly, domestic political considerations, the Palestinians would not relent and replace the term "illegal" with "illegitimate".

However, the American position does strongly suggest that whatever settlement building Israel engages in, it does not help redefine its borders with the Palestinian state that U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton has called "inevitable," Ibish said.

"In other words, Israel can build, but it cannot have any confidence in retaining everything that it has built," he said.

According to Ibish, the United States and the international community have a consensus against further settlement expansion in spite of the veto. There is an expectation that the most Israel can expect out of a successful negotiation is a land swap, exchanging about three percent of the occupied territories for sparsely populated land in Israel that will be transferred to a Palestinian state.

Ibish also believes that Israel has to be very concerned about the strategic implications of the wave of change sweeping the Arab world, foremost with the fall of former Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak, who was seen as a long-time Israeli ally and a strong partner against both the Hamas and Iran.

"Between significant American pressure on the illegitimacy of settlement activity, the UN veto notwithstanding, and the seismic changes in the Arab world with their unpredictable outcomes," Ibish said, "even Netanyahu must be reassessing the situation and confronting the fact that peace with the Palestinians is a strategic imperative."


American Task Force on Palestine - 1634 Eye St. NW, Suite 725, Washington DC 20006 - Telephone: 202-262-0017