By Paul Goodman
Follow Paul on Twitter
As ever in these affairs, there is more to William Hague's summoning of Israel's Ambassador over the Netanyahu Government's settlement building decision and withholding of Palestine Authority tax revenue than meets the eye. There is also more to the decisions of Israel's Government than might meet the eye.
The Foreign Secretary was sympathetic to Israel during its recent hostilities with Hamas. Britain also abstained in the UN General Assembly vote to recognise Palestine as a non-member state. The Government regards the West Bank as illegally occupied territory, and will take the chance to remind Israel critics that it sometimes joins them.
Mr Netanyahu and his Cabinet will have wanted to send a message to the world after the overwhelming UN vote for recognition, since it takes the view that the Palestinian decision to apply for membership was a provocation. But it will neither want to collapse the P.A nor alienate other countries completely: Israel's Prime Minister will also be guarding his right flank.
I'm grateful to the Conservative Middle East's Council's daily list of must-read articles for one which puts these recent events in perspective. Alan Dershowitz is one of Israel's leading supporters in the United States. Peter Beinart is one of its best-known critics – the author of "The Failure of the American Jewish Establishment" and "The Crisis of Zionism.
They have joined together to write a piece for the Daily Beast which, to summarise a complex piece in less than a sentence, argues that time for a two-state solution is running out. Israel should stop all settlement building activity now. And the P.A should agree to talk to Israel without further delay. They write:
"Accepting this structure would be difficult for both leaders. With an
empowered Hamas calling Abbas Israel’s poodle (and America’s, too), it
would be hard for him to concede that Israel can expand settlements
in—and ultimately annex—any part of the West Bank before a deal on
Palestinian statehood has been inked. For his part, Netanyahu would have
to confront the powerful pro-settlement forces that last week led his
government to retaliate against the Palestinian U.N. bid by announcing
the likely building of 3,000 more housing units in East Jerusalem and
the West Bank. He might also have to confront his own foreign minister
and sometime rival, Avigdor Lieberman, who has called for toppling
Since the authors recognise that their plan is unlikely to happen (to put it mildly) it seems churlish to point it out all over again. And the proposed Palestinian state would of course not include Gaza. But the implausability of either Netanyahu or Abbas – let alone both – now acting in this way is a reminder of how fast the Middle East is changing.
A two state solution has been the default assumption of western governments for most of my adult life. If it gradually slides into irrelevance, what settlement will replace it? Demographic predictions are a dangerous business but, as I found out recently when visiting the region, the trends aren't good for Zionism.