Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is often accused of diplomatic incompetence. And if you think the goal of diplomacy is to be loved, it’s hard to dispute this: Netanyahu is loathed by leaders worldwide.
But if you think the goal of diplomacy is to get other countries to adopt your country’s positions, then Netanyahu has had some surprising successes recently.
In July, France became the first European country to publicly adopt a position every Israeli government has deemed essential for Israeli-Palestinian peace, but which Europe consistently refused to endorse: that any agreement must result in “two nation-states,” including “the nation-state of Israel for the Jewish people.”
And last week, one of the most pro-Palestinian countries in Europe not only followed suit, but broke new ground. Addressing the UN General Assembly on Saturday, Spanish Foreign Minister Trinidad Jimenez first declared Spain’s “commitment” to Israel as “a homeland of the Jewish people” – a position Madrid opposed as recently as July. Then she added something that, again, all Israeli governments have deemed essential for peace, but Europe has never been willing to state openly: Any solution to the Palestinian refugee problem must “be just and agreed,” while also “allowing the preservation of Israel’s current character.” In other words, the Palestinian goal of relocating the refugees to Israel is out.
It’s hard to overstate the significance of this shift. For years, the EU has demanded a host of specific Israeli concessions on final-status issues (borders, Jerusalem, etc.) while adamantly refusing to demand any Palestinian concessions. Hence, every statement it issued reiterated a formula carefully crafted to avoid offending Palestinian sensibilities. It called for two states, Israel and Palestine, with no elaboration on the nature of the former, thus leaving open the possibility of an “Israel” transformed into a binational or Palestinian-majority state by an influx of millions of refugee descendants, as Palestinians want. And it urged “an agreed, just, fair and realistic solution” to the refugee issue, without specifying that the Palestinians’ preferred solution of resettling them all in Israel doesn’t qualify.
This enabled Palestinians to continue fantasizing that the world would keep demanding ever more concessions from Israel without ever demanding anything of them. After all, the West is more supportive of Israel than the rest of the world, so what Europe won’t demand, non-Western countries certainly won’t. Moreover, Europe is the Palestinian Authority’s main financial backer, which gives its positions special importance.
But now that one of Europe’s most pro-Palestinian countries has broken ranks, other EU states could well follow suit. That in turn could change the dynamics of the international Quartet, where the EU has traditionally sided with Russia and the UN against the U.S.
It’s no accident this U-turn happened under the “intransigent” Netanyahu rather than his more conciliatory predecessors: His “intransigence” is precisely what convinced France and Spain that progress will require accommodating Israel’s demands as well, and not only those of the Palestinians. The upshot is that two key European states have now adopted a vital Israeli position.
Not bad for an incompetent diplomat.