Netanyahu’s diplomatic warfare with the Palestinians: 12 highs and lows
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Netanyahu’s diplomatic warfare with the Palestinians: 12 highs and lows

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 Former prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu oversaw some of the most virulent instances of diplomatic warfare against Israel since the “Zionism equals racism” battle at the United Nations in the last century.

The Israeli-Palestinian and the larger Israeli-Arab conflict have long fueled attempts to turn the Jewish state into a pariah nation.

The stakes were raised, however, because of the 2012 vote in the UN General Assembly that upgraded the status of the Palestinians to that of a non-member state. The Palestinian Authority’s newfound status as a de facto UN state gave it a more expansive toolbox by which to pursue Israel and force it to execute a civilian and military withdrawal to the pre-1967 lines.

At issue, however, was not just Israel’s hold on the West Bank, east Jerusalem and the Golan Heights. The initiatives also took aim at Israel’s Jewish identity, Jewish ties to its holy sites, and its right to self-defense.

Netanyahu offset some of that impact by linking some of the attacks with antisemitism and anti-Israel bias. He was more effective than past premiers in enlisting American support and in securing a circle of European, African and Asian allies. Issues of Palestinian incitement and support for terror also gained prominence during his tenure.

Here is a list of 12 victories and losses during his 12-year prime ministerial reign that began in March 2009 and ended this week.

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1) ICC opens war crimes probe against Israel

Israelis were not in danger of war crimes suits at the ICC when Netanyahu entered office.

The accession of the PA to the Rome Statute in 2015 changed that, and allowed the PA to request a war crimes probe into Israeli actions in the West Bank, Gaza and east Jerusalem.

The ICC ruled this year that it had jurisdiction to hear war crimes cases connected with that territory, and has opened a probe. While it is examining the possibility of war crimes cases against Israelis and Palestinians, it is presumed that the focus will be on potential Israeli war crimes.

Should the ICC conclude that a probe could be conducted, then individual Israelis, most likely its leaders, could find themselves facing war crimes charges.

2) UNHRC creates permanent probe against Israel

The UNHRC during Netanyahu’s tenure launched at least six fact-finding missions against Israel in an attempt to prove it had committed and continued to commit war crimes and serious human rights violations.

The most infamous was the initial probe headed by and named for South African jurist Richard Goldstone.

The Goldstone mission and two others explored potential Israeli war crimes during the three Gaza wars. One of the fact-finding missions probed alleged human rights abuses connected to West Bank settlements. The mission on the Hamas-led March of Return led to the creation of a database of IDF soldiers who potentially executed war crimes against the Palestinian participants.

This year the UNHRC created a permanent probe into potential Israeli human rights abuses, both within sovereign Israel and in the West Bank and Gaza, starting from April 13, 2021. Israel is the only country under permanent investigation for war crimes.

Separately it published a blacklist of companies doing business with Israeli entities located over the pre-1967 lines. It’s the only country against whom such a blacklist has been published.

In 2018 it also began issuing an annual call for an arms embargo against Israel.

3) UNESCO registers Tomb of the Patriarchs to Palestine

UNESCO became the first UN body to recognize Palestine as a state, in 2011. PA membership at UNESCO allowed the registration of three sites onto its World Heritage List: the Church of the Nativity, the Battir terraces and the Tomb of the Patriarchs. The registration focused primarily on the period when the Tomb was under Mamluk control in 1250 and through the Ottoman Empire period, rather than on the ancient and Biblical periods when it was in Jewish hands.

Israel withdrew from UNESCO in 2018 to protest its anti-Israel bias, after halting its annual payments to the organization in 2011 and losing its voting rights two years later.

4) EU product labeling

The European Union published guidelines in 2015 on how to place consumer labels on products from east Jerusalem, the West Bank and Gaza, to clarify that they were not produced in Israel.

The guidelines were voluntary. Four years later, however, the EU Court of Justice ruled that all Israeli products produced over the pre-1967 lines must be marked with such consumer labels.

5)UN launches apartheid investigation

The UN Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination this year ceded to a request by the Palestinian Authority to investigate whether Israel had committed acts of apartheid. It would mark the first such UN investigation into such a charge based on the definition set out in the Rome Statute.


1) Abraham Accords put a damper on BDS

The Abraham Accords, which normalized ties between Israel and four Arab countries, took some of the wind out of the sails of the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement. The willingness of Arab countries to do business with Israel made it more difficult for BDS to argue that other countries should boycott it.

2) ICC Mavi Marmara war crimes probe nixed

The International Criminal Court chief prosecutor rejected a request to probe Israel for war crimes relating to the IDF raid in 2010 against the Gaza-bound flotilla ship Mavi Marmara. The IDF forcibly boarded the ship as it attempted to break Israel’s maritime blockade of Gaza. During the raid, 10 Turkish activists aboard the ship were killed.

3) Only one UNSC anti-Israel resolution passed

The UN Security Council condemned Israel only once during Netanyahu’s tenure, which is a record in the institution’s treatment of Israel. It was the direct result of Netanyahu’s ability to secure opposition to such resolutions from former US presidents Barack Obama and Donald Trump. The only exception was in 2016, in the final weeks of the Obama administration, when the UNSC approved Resolution 2334 that condemned Israeli settlement activity and rejected Israeli sovereignty over any part of east Jerusalem, including the Western Wall.

4) Partial victory on the Jerusalem resolutions

The PA pushed for the UN to ignore Jewish ties to the Temple Mount by referencing that site and the Western Wall solely by their Muslim names of Al-Haram Al-Sharif and the Buraq Plaza. With the support of Arab states, it began to insert Muslim-only references in resolutions on Jerusalem passed by the UNESCO Executive Board at each of its bi-annual meetings. Those texts also disavowed Jewish sovereignty over Jerusalem.

The Jerusalem resolutions were neutralized at UNESCO through a compromise in which the controversial elements of the text were placed in an annex. The PA has been more successful with a similar drive at the General Assembly, where it has an automatic majority of support.

5) Agenda Item 7 boycott

Netanyahu made no headway in swaying the UN Human Rights Council to rescind its mandate that the 47-member body discusses alleged Israeli human rights abuses against the Palestinians at every one of its sessions under Agenda Item 7.

But it successfully swayed European countries that the existence of such a mandate against only one country was an example of anti-Israel bias. As a result, most of the European countries boycott Agenda Item 7 sessions, which take place three times a year.

6) Spotlight on Pay-for-Slay

Netanyahu made significant inroads in persuading European and Western countries, particularly the United States, to take the Palestinian Authority to task for providing monthly stipends to Palestinian terrorists and their relatives. Israel has dubbed the practice “pay-for-slay.”

The US took a strong stand on the issue, with Congress passing the Taylor Force Act that prohibits direct economic assistance to the PA until it halts the payments.

7) Condemnation of UNRWA incitement

Netanyahu also succeeded in generating awareness of UNRWA’s failure to ensure that its textbooks did not include inciting material against Jews and Israel.

The Biden administration has promised to link future funding to UNRWA to its adherence to a zero-tolerance policy for material that promotes hate and antisemitism against Jews and Israel.

The EU Parliament this year also condemned any use by UNRWA of such material.

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