Is Israel distancing itself from Western allies?

Is Israel distancing itself from Western allies?

The Swedish government’s decision to officially recognize the state of Palestine is indicative of growing international unrest towards Israel. Several Israeli government decision have alienated several of Israel’s allies and could jeopardize Israel’s relationship with the United States.

The decisions at the core of this isolationist turn are the product of a successful campaign by the Israeli right to push their agenda on Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s government. Many Israelis continue to believe that Jerusalem is the rightful capital of Israel and Netanyahu recently announced, to the dismay of the international community, construction of new settlements in East Jerusalem, an area Palestine wishes to have as its capital upon a peace accord.

Furthermore, some members of the Knesset (Israel’s legislature) are attempting to enact a law that would extend Israeli law to settlers in the disputed territories, which could be viewed as a step towards annexation of the territories. Perhaps Netanyahu’s largest capitulation is his proposal of a law that would deny and remove Israeli citizenship of any person calling for the destruction of Israel. This would serve as a direct affront to Israeli Arabs, many of whom are protesting the recent shooting of a youth in Kafr Kana.

These decisions, along with the recent move by Israel to restrict access to the al-Aqsa compound, the third holiest site in Islam, are causing a stir among Israel’s neighbours. The last closure to the site, which is under custodial control of Jordan who, along with Egypt, is one of two Arab countries currently at peace with Israel, occurred after the visit by Ariel Sharon in 2000 and helped spark the Second Intifada.

Some on the Israeli right are hoping to provoke renewed violence from the Palestinians with the latest closure as a pretext for further occupation. Both Jordan and Israel have expressed grave concerns over the closure and Jordan has threatened to terminate the peace agreement between the nations and removed its ambassador from Israel.

Although US Secretary of State John Kerry has cooled some of the tension between Israel and Jordan, there is concern in the Obama Administration as to whether Netanyahu is truly willing to work for peace.

Netanyahu’s critics have suggested that the Prime Minister is more concerned with retaining his own power as opposed to making decisions that could lead to a breakthrough in the peace negotiations that stalled earlier this year. With Netanyahu’s hold becoming more tenuous due to the recent violence and the lackluster economy, the Prime Minister called for a national unity government, albeit one without any of the Arab political parties.

Israel’s Western allies have been similarly startled by Israel’s moves. In fact, there is a growing belief in Washington that the United States will not choose to use its veto power in the Security Council when the Palestinians submit their resolution to the UN Security Council this month calling for an end date for Israeli occupation.

While this may be nothing more than an empty threat by a frustrated Obama administration, the fact that the administration is even considering this move is demonstrative of a growing separation between the allies. The potential change in policy is also reflective of a growing criticism of Israel by the American public, especially those under 30, in the wake of the recent conflict with Hamas in Gaza.

Other Western allies of Israel including Great Britain and Spain, whose parliaments have taken non-binding votes in favor of a Palestinian state, as well as Japan and Australia have all expressed concerns over the current state of affairs in Israel.

The European Union, always more sympathetic to the Palestinian cause than the United States, has come out strongly against the recent settlement activities in the West Bank. Much to the chagrin of Israel, the European Union Foreign Minister has said that any continued relations between the Union and Israel will be directly linked to the resumption of the stalled peace process.

Compounding Israel’s current image problems, a recent report by Amnesty International outlines a series of purported war crimes that Israel perpetrated during the most recent incursion into Gaza. Israel’s action displaced over 100,000 people, killed 2,157 and left more than 11,000 others injured. The report came at exactly the wrong time for Israel, who needs as much public support from the international community as possible.

Israel’s decisions and rise in tensions have affected the Israeli economy as well. Tourism, a major industry in Israel, has dropped due to the rise in violence in Jerusalem and the threat of a Third Intifada. For the first time in five years, the Israeli economy contracted in the previous quarter by about 0.5% with an expectation that the Israeli economy will grow by a sluggish 2.2% this year.

In an effort to jumpstart the economy and in wake of the icy relations with the West, Israel has pushed to improve trade relations with India. In fact, India is now the largest buyer of Israeli military equipment, while Israel is India’s largest customer after Russia. India is close to overtaking the United States as the largest source of Israeli exports outside of the European Union.

When the U.N. General Assembly overwhelmingly voted for the inclusion of Palestine as a non-member observer two years ago, Israel was not facing the same sort of pressure that they are currently under. That vote was only halted by the United States veto in the Security Council, a veto that the U.S. may not repeat in the next month. Israel is losing friends left and right because of these recent actions. If Israel proceeds down the path it is currently on, even the United States will not be willing to stand in the way.

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