Israel risks sleepwalking into a crisis with its allies over relentless settlement-building in the occupied West Bank and East Jerusalem unless it realises that the international anger is genuine and adjusts its course.
The next few months may prove crucial if Israel is to avoid diplomatic disaster, with a new government forming around Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and U.S. President Barack Obama set to make his first official visit to the Holy Land in the spring.
Obama will not just be coming for a photo opportunity. He is expected to try to revive a push for peace in hopes of finding an Israeli coalition receptive to deepening Western concerns about the prospects of creating a viable Palestinian state.
“The two-state solution is not dead, but it is in mortal danger,” said Daniel Seidemann, an Israeli lawyer and an expert on settlement expansion.
“We are hanging onto it by our finger nails. This is the last opportunity to save it for the foreseeable future. The prospects are not great, but this is the last best hope.”
Should these hopes wither, Israel can expect repercussions.
These might range from tighter international regulations on the export of Israeli goods made in the occupied territories to tacit foreign backing for the Palestinians should they pursue Israel in the International Criminal Court over the settlements.
Obama himself, with no re-election to worry about, could review security and defence cooperation that Israeli officials say reached new heights during his first term, with annual U.S. military aid from Washington put at some $3 billion.
“Israel is walking blindly towards isolation and censure in the eyes of the world,” said one of the most senior Western envoys in Jerusalem, who declined to be named given the enormous sensitivities surrounding the issue.
“What I don’t understand is if Mr. Netanyahu doesn’t realise what is happening, or if he doesn’t give a damn.”