Should We Still Even Be Talking To Netanyahu?
After forming a governing coalition with right-wing extremists, will Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu face a chill in relations with the West? The reshuffled geopolitical cards offer a fair share of paradoxes.
PARIS — No one has yet dared to call for a boycott of Benjamin Netanyahu, who arrived in Paris for talks Thursday with French President Emmanuel Macron. And yet ... the political leaders with whom he's built his ruling coalition in Israel make Europe's far right look like centrists.
In Israel, it's an unsettling question. The government is seeking to defuse the risk of diplomatic isolation resulting from the Jewish state's extreme rightward turn. The first weeks of the new government have been like a storm warning for the region — both because of the outbreak of violence which killed dozens of Israelis and Palestinians in January, but also threats to Israeli democracy itself.
In a sign of the changing times, the Arab countries in the Gulf that have recently normalized ties with Israel after decades of conflict are turning a blind eye to the Palestinian question. Their security ties with Israel are more important.
Mahamat Déby, the president of Chad, a predominantly Muslim country in central Africa, visited Jerusalem this week and announced the opening of a Chadian embassy in Israel.
Contrast that with Netanyahu's meeting earlier in the week with U.S. Secretary of State Anthony Blinken, who called for calm after the recent violence. Blinken represents a Democratic administration, and the Israeli prime minister has never hidden his hostility to this party, especially under Barack Obama.
Facing the press with Netanyahu at his side, Blinken made a thinly veiled warning against democratic regression in Israel, and condemned the development of new settlements in the West Bank. And to drive the point home, he spent a long time with representatives of civil society organizations whom Netanyahu considers "enemies."
The Ukraine comparison
Can such a threat influence Israeli policy? It seems unlikely, because Netanyahu and his coalition have committed themselves to a path that could change the nature of the Jewish state. They will not allow themselves to be dissuaded by outsiders, even by Washington.
Can Israel's Western allies talk about international law in Ukraine and ignore it in Palestine?
It is even clearer with European governments — if they dare to voice criticism of Israeli policies. Especially since Netanyahu has an important card up his sleeve with Iran, as evidenced by the Israeli drone strike on an arms factory last weekend. The current impasse with Iran reinforces the position of Netanyahu, who has always been hostile to any accommodation with Tehran.
The possible fissure in the tough posture of the Israeli leader is the possibility of an explosive reaction among Palestinians — forgotten by all — and the risk that total hopelessness leads to violence.
Can Israel's Western allies talk about international law in Ukraine and ignore it in Palestine? This brings us to the question of the very nature of relations with Israel: can we even still talk to Netanyahu if he and his coalition are there to bury the very possibility of peace?