US must break the status quo with Israel

President Obama has a chance to change the way America engages with the Palestinians

Has Mr Netanyahu finally overplayed his hand with the President Obama? Pablo Martines Monsivais / AP
Powered by automated translation

By now, Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu has exhausted himself walking back pre-election comments concerning Palestinian statehood. Appearing on a variety of US media outlets, Mr Netanyahu said that he is, ­despite the explicit claim to the contrary, in favour of a two-state solution for the conflict. His post-election behaviour, however, points to more of the same, as opposed to a real peace push.

As The National reported yesterday, Israel has agreed to release millions of dollars in tax revenue collected on behalf of the Palestinian Authority and withheld as punishment for the PA’s attempt to gain membership to the International Criminal Court. The release of the tax revenue is a familiar trick. After the 2013 elections, Mr Netanyahu similarly released millions in withheld tax revenue, which at that time was held as punishment for the Palestinians’ United Nations statehood bid. Releasing the revenue is painted as a good will gesture, but in fact it only serves Israel’s long-term interests in the West Bank.

Mr Netanyahu and his political advisers want to ensure that the Palestinian Authority remains in power, albeit in a malleable capacity. Hours before leaving office on Friday, Israel’s Central Command chief Nitzan Alon signed an order applying Israeli penal code to all residents of the West Bank. This order, which is mostly declarative, is further confirmation of the slow Israeli annexation of the West Bank. Regardless of what Mr Netanyahu is selling to the American media – it should be noted that Mr Netanyahu has yet to reach out to the European media, perhaps in an admission that Israel has lost Europe on this issue – he is continuing the status quo of Israeli occupation.

But that status quo might be in question as the United States has finally shown willingness to demand concrete action and not hollow rhetoric. The path will be treacherous – there are already attempts to paint President Barack Obama’s reaction to the Israeli election in personal terms – but years of Israeli intransigence with the US have created a willingness for American pressure to be exercised over Israel. America’s unhealthy relationship with Israel must begin to transform for any lasting peace agreement to take root. After all, when it comes to Israel, actions always speak louder than words.