Twelve hours and an ocean separated two important speeches this week. On Monday, U.S. National Security Advisor John Bolton addressed the Federalist Society in Washington. The next day, European Union foreign-policy chief Federica Mogherini spoke before the E.U. Parliament in Strasbourg, France.
Bolton made an unprecedented attack on the International Criminal Court in The Hague, saying, “the United States will use any means necessary to protect our citizens and those of our allies from unjust prosecution by this illegitimate court.”
“If the court comes after us, Israel or other U.S. allies, we will not sit quietly,” Bolton said, adding that ICC judges and prosecutors could face personal sanctions from the U.S., including being banned from entering the U.S. and/or prosecution in the U.S. justice system.
Little was said about Bolton’s speech in Israel but the appreciation for it was as great as the silence about it. The ICC is a major concern for the country’s leaders. The threat of Israelis being tried in The Hague hangs like a sword over their heads. Israel Defense Forces’ soldiers and commanders could be tried for actions taken as part of their military service, and any approval of construction plans in Greater Jerusalem or on the Golan Heights or in Samaria, could be defined by the ICC as a war crime. This is the widely held position in the ICC, which is exactly where law and politics meet.
Over the years, Israel has taken steps to prevent ICC intervention, but as with any other legal measure, it is hard to know whether they were sufficient. Therefore, we need another level of defense, which Bolton and U.S. President Donald Trump have just supplied. The defense tactics of one small Middle Eastern country bear no similarity to explicit threats from the only superpower in the world. Because the ICC, like all international law, includes both law and politics, there is no doubt that the American threats are having an effect. For years, the ICC has been trying to increase its international legitimacy. Western Europe and Japan are behind it, but the United States is not a member, and plenty of other countries criticize its approach and policies.
The ICC might have responded to Bolton’s speech by saying declaring it would continue to work undeterred, but even in The Hague they know that while if you spit in America’s face, it gets wet, but if America spits back, you’ll drown.
Less than a day after Bolton spoke, Mogherini stood up before the EU Parliament. She also discussed justice, the law, and Israel, but took a slightly different line, saying: “The Israeli High Court last week rejected the petitions by the residents of the Palestinian village of Khan al-Ahmar. … [The demolition] would be contrary to Israel’s obligations under international humanitarian law [AK: a misleading statement, the High Court of Justice spent a decade reviewing the petitions and is obligated to international law]. … The demolition of Khan al-Ahmar, together with plans for further settlement expansions in the same area, would also severely threaten the viability of the two-state solution [AK: untrue].”
Mogherini added that the evacuation and demolition of Khan al-Ahmar would have “grave humanitarian consequences.”
Mogherini and Bolton are an ocean apart, and not only in the geographical sense. A thousand years would be insufficient for the continent in whose name Mogherini speaks to pay its historic debt to the Jewish people. And still, the E.U. foreign-policy chief stands at the head of the anti-Israel front, mixing up politics with law and justice in accordance with traditional European hypocrisy. On the one hand, she allows illegal African migrants to drown at sea or be slaughtered by Libyan militias. On the other, she preaches morality to Israel. And only to Israel.
The Europeans, who owe us so much, bandy around some very lofty talk, but as usual are fanning the fires of hatred. The United States, which doesn’t owe us a thing, is supplying us a shield the likes of which we have never enjoyed in the name of justice and freedom. That’s the unbridgeable gap between Europe and the United States.
Under Trump, America and Europe are growing farther apart, and not only when it comes to Israel. In any case, we can predict who will win. America doesn’t need Europe. Europe, on the other hand, really does need the U.S. Sooner or later, the old country will call in the new one, as it did twice last century. We can only hope it won’t be because of World War III.
Mogherini’s hostile speech did, however, contain one accurate sentence. “The two-state solution is today under serious threat—more than ever before.” Indeed, the U.S. announcement that it was closing the PLO mission in Washington is a death blow to the Palestinian movement.
To understand how serious a move it was, we need to go back in history. From its founding in 1964 until now, the Palestine Liberation Organization (under Yasser Arafat and now Mahmoud Abbas) has sought international support. The hypocritical Europeans aligned themselves with it in the 1970s in what later turned out to be “protection” for the PLO not carrying out terrorist attacks on the continent. The United States was the only country who refused at the time to give legitimacy to the biggest killer of Jews since the Holocaust. As a nation of values, it saw terrorism as unacceptable and refused any ties with the PLO. Aside from one small “information office” in New York and, of course, intelligence ties, the American response to the organization was boycott.
The tough U.S. stance was effective and was one of the factors in Arafat declaring at the end of 1988 that he was turning away from terrorism and would recognize Israel. Then-President Ronald Reagan, who was at the end of his second term, fell into the trap.
“The initiation of a dialogue between the United States and PLO representatives is an important step in the peace process. … The United States’ special commitment to Israel’s security and well-being remains unshakable. Indeed, a major reason for our entry into this dialogue is to help Israel achieve the recognition and security it deserves,” Reagan declared on Dec. 14, 1988. The rest of that dialogue never happened, but the U.S. recognition of the PLO was already a fait accompli. Five years later, when the late Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin signed the Oslo Accords, the Clinton administration upgraded the PLO office to the status of an official delegation. In 2010, former President Barack Obama boosted it a step higher on the diplomatic ladder.
With a tailwind of support from Obama and the Europeans crossing their fingers, the Palestinians persuaded the entire world to turn around them. They were surrounded by economic aid and moral, political, and media support from every direction. This development hit two peaks: one when the U.N. General Assembly recognized Palestine as a non-member state in 2012, and the other when the U.N. Security Council passed Resolution 2334, which condemned Israeli settlements as illegal and deemed the Western Wall “occupied territory,” to massive applause. This was the core of the Obama legacy, which tried to taint Israel and set parameters for any future peace deal.
Then Trump arrived. By the end of 2017, the president and then-Secretary of State Rex Tillerson were already threatening not to extend the PLO’s mandated presence in Washington. They did so partly because of the Palestinian boycott of the administration, but also because the PLO had violated an American law that explicitly forbids the PA to appeal to international entities such as the ICC. But the Palestinians failed to heed the warnings and didn’t realize that Trump meant what he said.
Now Bolton has appeared and finished the job. By closing the PLO mission, Trump, Bolton and all the rest of the president’s men have rolled the Palestinian issue 30 years back in time to where it stood in the 1980s. Things the Palestinians and the world as a whole took for granted—like a future Palestinian state or a demi-embassy on American soil—slipped from their grasp. Trump dropped them to the bottom of the barrel and has called the legitimacy of what has become known as the “Palestinian struggle” into question.
In all this, Israel is like a small child surrounded by toys he never thought he’d actually get. The U.S. recognition of Jerusalem last December and the relocation of the U.S. embassy to the capital this year, as well as the U.S. cuts to funding for the U.N. Relief and Works Agency, cuts to money that goes to pay Palestinian terrorists, and a total hands-off policy when it comes to criticizing Israel—not to mention shutting down the PLO mission and threatening the ICC—are just a partial list. And Trump hasn’t even been in office for two years.
But a lot of the recent American steps went over Israel’s head, without it knowing about them or even despite some mild objections by its diplomatic officials. At the end of the day, the Trump administration is grinding all the paradigms of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict into dust. This daring approach leaves those who until recently were considered local experts on the conflict and peace process speechless.
It’s not only the people in the peace industry who are left embarrassed in the face of the lavish gifts from Uncle Sam. The Israeli Right, including those factions represented in the cabinet, doesn’t really know what to do with all this abundance. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who is justifiably proud of withstanding the Obama currents, is finding it hard to ride the Trump wave.
Instead of walking around grinning, the government should lay a list of historic and irreversible steps in front of Trump that would anchor our vital interests in Judea and Samaria. The first should be to link Jerusalem and Ma’aleh Adumim. Netanyahu, as well as his predecessors, recognized how crucial it is for Israel to build in E1 as a way of keeping a permanent hold on Jerusalem. Thus far, the government hasn’t presented the Trump administration with any plan of that kind, U.S. Ambassador David Friedman told Israel Hayom recently in an exclusive interview.
And it’s not only Jerusalem. The first Netanyahu government decided in 1988 to define the areas of Judea and Samaria that were of strategic importance to Israel. Now it’s time to lay them before the Americans. And we should also kill the idea of a Palestinian state. Trump declared when he first took office that he didn’t care if a peace deal entailed two states or one.
Because Trump’s “deal of the century” for peace between Israel and the Palestinians isn’t moving forward, and now that it’s been made clear that the president isn’t afraid to put the Palestinians in their place, it’s time for Israel to drop the two-state idea. Ever since Trump took office, Netanyahu has refrained from a clear statement on the issue, or from asking Trump to make a binding statement. But who knows when this opportunity will present itself again?
Trump has at least two years left in the White House. His successor could be as hostile to Israel as Trump is supportive. So Netanyahu needs to take advantage of the remaining time to diplomatically fortify Israel so that whoever comes after Trump won’t be able to harm us. But for that to happen, we cannot remain passive spectators. This time, Netanyahu must be proactive.