5 Israeli Politicians Trying to Score Points off UNSC Anti-Settlement Resolution
Israel is in an uproar over last week’s United Nations Security Council resolution against Israeli settlements, which the United States greenlighted by withholding its veto. But as Israeli politicians from the hard right to center-left condemn the resolution, some are finding a silver lining: scoring political points with the voting public.
Here are the five Israeli politicians who are jockeying to benefit from the resolution and how:
1) Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s reaction to the resolution has been harsh, calculated and focused in large part on U.S. President Barack Obama, whom he held personally responsible for the resolution’s passage. He compared Obama to former President Jimmy Carter, “a president who was hostile to Israel” and said he was looking forward to Donald Trump’s presidency as a “new era.” He also claimed that Washington worked with the Palestinians to draft the resolution, a charge that U.S. officials denied even as a document surfaced in Egyptian media that seemed to confirm the Israeli version of events.
These statements reflect Netanyahu’s personal animus toward Obama, but are also meant to curry favor with his base. Honing in on Obama is a foolproof method for Netanyahu to gain points with right-wing voters, who generally despise the American president.
“When you attack Obama you get electoral achievements, you see it in the polls,” said Tal Shalev, a political correspondent at Israel’s Walla news.
In addition to his anti-Obama rhetoric, Netanyahu has taken concrete steps to punish those who promoted the resolution. He recalled Israel’s ambassadors to Senegal and New Zealand, two of four co-sponsors of the resolution, summoned the ambassadors of the nations that voted in favor for a dressing-down on Christmas Day, and later sought “clarification” from U.S. Ambassador Dan Shapiro.
Those measures, too, are supposed to send a strong message to his base to show “we are angry and we are doing something about it.” said Shalev.
It’s worth noting that the prime minister hasn’t leapt to announce settlement construction in the wake of the UNSC resolution. In fact, Netanyahu just delayed the permit process for several hundred East Jerusalem units. Netanyahu is well aware that a new settlement announcement could “spark more anger” in the international community, said Shalev. He’d rather wait until Trump is sworn in as President on January 20th, when Netanyahu believes, perhaps overconfidently, that the U.S. will let the Israelis do whatever they want in the West Bank.
2) Education Minister Naftali Bennett
Education Minister Naftali Bennett has been in lockstep with Netanyahu, his sometimes rival, since the two worked out a plan to peacefully relocate settlers from the Amona outpost, which was built illegally on private Palestinian land. Bennett has largely followed Netanyahu’s lead by not aggressively pushing for more settlements in response to the anti-settlement resolution, agreeing instead to hold off until Trump’s inauguration.
“At this time, the right political calculation for them is that they should provide a unified front,” said Shmuel Rosner, a senior fellow at the Jewish People Policy Institute.
Nevertheless, Bennett couldn’t miss an opportunity to promote his plan to officially extend Israeli rule to part of the West Bank by annexing certain areas, a proposal popular among his settler base. Speaking at the Western Wall after the resolution passed, he said: “It’s time to decide between two alternatives: surrendering our land, or sovereignty. We’ve tried surrendering our land, it didn’t work; it is time for sovereignty.”
3) Opposition leader Isaac Herzog
Zionist Union chair Isaac Herzog has also come out strongly against the resolution. But instead of blaming Obama for it, he is blaming Netanyahu. He called on the prime minister to resign, signaling to Israeli voters that he’s the superior alternative.
“Netanyahu has lost control. The man who a month ago told us the world was worshipping us, declared war this evening against the world, the United States and Europe, and is trying to calm us with lies,” Herzog said in a statement.
In the days since the vote, Herzog and Tzipi Livni, the former Foreign Minister and Zionist Union lawmaker, have launched a campaign blaming Netanyahu for Israel’s global isolation.
4) Yesh Atid Party Chairman Yair Lapid
Yair Lapid, the chairman of the centrist Yesh Atid party, which is part of the opposition, also sees opportunity in the anti-settlement resolution to advance himself as a candidate for prime minister. Yesh Atid has had a strong showing in Israeli polls in recent months, making Lapid a more serious competitor than Herzog for Netanyahu’s job.
Still, Lapid hasn’t blamed only Netanyahu for the resolution. Other than calling on Netanyahu to appear before the Foreign Affairs Committee to explain what happened, Lapid has gone easy on Netanyahu. Part of Lapid’s calculation, said Shalev, is that he doesn’t want to appear so anti-Netanyahu as to be associated with the left, which would hurt his polling.
Instead, Lapid went after lawmakers from left-wing parties like Meretz, who approved of the resolution. “I strongly condemn the way in which some in the Left have celebrated the fact that Israel was dealt this blow. Patriots do not behave this way,” Lapid said. “Still, this doesn’t take away from the fact that this is a very serious thing — we learned that no country in the world agrees with the government.”
5) Former Prime Minister Ehud Barak
Former Prime Minister Ehud Barak, who once helmed the center-left Labor party, also weighed in to condemn the resolution. Like Herzog, he blamed Netanyahu, and politics again could be at play. Many have speculated that Barak wants to replace Netanyahu, a claim he has denied.
“I recommend not dismissing this resolution,” Barak said. “This is a humiliating blow to Israel and a major failure by Netanyahu.”
Netanyahu was quick to respond, tweeting that Barak “would be wise to remember he was the most failed prime minister in Israel’s history, whose short term in office included an intifada that claimed the lives of over 1,000 people.”
Contact Naomi Zeveloff at firstname.lastname@example.org