Tuesday, June 21, 2016

Don't rest on your laurels - Zalman Shoval

by Zalman Shoval

--conditions have now ripened for pragmatic rapprochement between Israel and Sunni Arab states.

While the selection of Israel to head the United Nations' legal committee, backed by the Western European and Others Group (one of five unofficial regional groups in the United Nations that act as voting blocs and negotiation forums), has largely symbolic and procedural significance, chairing a permanent U.N. committee signifies yet another milestone in Israel's expanding foreign relations. 

Local and international media tend to focus on Israel's growing isolation, economic and cultural boycotts and so on. Indeed, these phenomena do exist, but in reality, the economic and practical harm caused by initiatives like the boycott, divestment and sanctions movement, for example, is marginal at best. 

However, as we all know, good news doesn't sell newspapers and frankly, most of the Israeli media will not go out of its way to highlight the positive impact of government decisions or the government's foreign affairs victories. Israeli news commentators tend to devalue these types of positive developments. For instance, back when Yisrael Beytenu Chairman Avigdor Lieberman was foreign minister, the media dismissed his official visit to Africa, without giving any thought to the fact that at some point in the future, a seemingly minor African country that happens to be a member of the U.N. Security Council could tip the scales against a dangerous anti-Israel resolution (as indeed happened). 

Among this government's notable achievements is the imminent resolution of the conflict with Turkey. This resolution is a good example of Israel's ability to harness global conditions that aren't directly connected to us -- in this case Turkey's growing international isolation both in the East and the West -- to serve our interests.

In the international arena, nothing happens in a vacuum. Hence, in light of the Iran nuclear agreement and the general chaos in the Middle East, conditions have now ripened for pragmatic rapprochement between Israel and Sunni Arab states. 

Nevertheless, along with the good, comes the bad, and the most prominent example is Israel's deteriorating relationship with Europe on most issues concerning the Palestinians, from boycotting Israeli settlement products to the adoption of the French peace initiative. 

Meanwhile, one important achievement for the government of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is the burgeoning relationship with Russia. Here, too, national interests play a key role on both sides, and here, too, Israel was wise enough to harness geopolitical conditions both in its immediate vicinity and on the international plane. This relationship must be closely cultivated and nurtured. 

But naturally, Israel and Russia do not see eye to eye on all issues, underscoring even more the fact that there is no substitute for Israel's relationship with America in almost every relevant aspect -- strategically, diplomatically and economically. 

Israel-U.S. relations have seen their share of ups and downs in recent years, mainly due to disagreement on the Iranian nuclear issue, but in no small part because of U.S. President Barack Obama's views on America's role in the Middle East. 

The latest debate surrounding the new defense aid deal represents both the positive aspects of U.S.-Israel relations -- the U.S.'s unwavering, years-long commitment to Israel's defense -- and the negative aspects -- the administration's reluctant attitude toward the Israeli government's positions and political assessments.

Indeed, in recent years, the Israeli government has made considerable strides in the foreign affairs department, but nevertheless, there are challenges ahead that must not be overlooked, both regarding the differences with Europe, and, perhaps more importantly, maintaining the essential ties with the U.S., for better or for worse, on the Palestinian issue.

Zalman Shoval

Source: http://www.israelhayom.com/site/newsletter_opinion.php?id=16457

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