Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu needn’t take heed of the “friendly advice” British Prime Minister Boris Johnson proffered on Wednesday. As UAE Ambassador to the U.S. Yousef Al Otaiba did earlier this month, Johnson published an article in Yediot Ahronot threatening Israel with various disasters if Netanyahu implements his plan to apply Israeli sovereignty in areas of Judea and Samaria in conformance with President Donald Trump’s peace plan.
Johnson’s “friendly” threats should surprise no one. Since 2017, when he began serving as Britain’s foreign minister under then-Prime Minister Theresa May, Johnson, demonstrated amply that he is no great friend of Israel, or of anyone else.
After leading the fight for Brexit as Mayor of London, as foreign minister Johnson was quick to align all of Britain’s foreign policies with the European Union, as if he were its most obedient member. He did so not only at Israel’s expense, but at the expense of Anglo-American ties.
When the Trump administration withdrew the United States from the United Nations Human Rights Council due to the council’s structural anti-Semitism and anti-Americanism, not only did Johnson not follow suit, he sped off to Geneva, appeared before the UNHRC and pledged Britain’s undying allegiance to the body.
When the Trump administration abandoned the nuclear deal with Iran, which enriched the terrorist regime, enabling it to expand its terrorist campaigns on multiple fronts and gave Tehran an open road to a nuclear arsenal within a decade, Johnson didn’t merely oppose the move. He worked with his French and German counterparts to develop a financial exchange to bypass U.S. economic sanctions on Iran.
Now, as prime minister, aside from paying lip service to the Trump administration’s efforts to extend the U.N. embargo against Iran which is set to expire in October, Johnson is doing nothing.
As to Israel specifically, Johnson’s tenure as foreign minister was an unremitting disappointment.
In March 2017 Johnson paid an official visit to Israel. Before meeting with Netanyahu, Johnson went on a very public tour in Judea with the heads of Peace Now. British taxpayers are some of the largest funders of the radical Israeli NGO that has long acted on behalf of foreign governments interested in subverting the property rights of Israeli Jews in Judea and Samaria.
When Johnson was asked whether he intended to meet with the leaders of the Council of Israeli communities in Judea and Samaria to hear the other side of the story, he scoffed.
Parroting the anti-Semitic lingo of the well-groomed anti-Israel mob, Johnson insisted—as a friend—that Israel has two choices: It can fork over all of Judea and Samaria and eastern, southern and northern Jerusalem to the PLO (otherwise known as “the two-state solution”), or it can become an apartheid state.
The disparity between Johnson’s iconoclastic, flamboyant rhetoric and his rush to conform with the anti-American, anti-Israel, post-nationalist foreign policy establishment shows that Johnson can talk the talk of leadership, but cannot walk the walk. He will not be remembered as a leader of historic dimensions. He will be remembered as a blowhard.
Matching rhetoric with action
This brings us to Johnson’s disappointed partners—President Trump on the one hand and Netanyahu on the other. Like Johnson, their futures in office and their legacies will be determined by what they do, not by what they say.
To a large degree, until the sudden appearance of COVID-19 and the riots across America, Trump’s presidency was a textbook case of talking the talk and walking the walk. Trump does not inspire the hatred of well-heeled establishment types just because of his flamboyant style. They hate him because he has matched his rhetoric with action.
In the Middle East, Trump said Barack Obama had betrayed Israel and the United States’ Sunni Arab partners to cozy up to Iran. Trump promised to restore those alliances. And he did.
Trump promised to abandon Obama’s nuclear deal with Iran. And he did. He said he would develop and implement a sanctions policy to bring Iran to its knees. And he did.
Now, with the U.N. arms embargo about to expire, and Iran at the edge of nuclear breakout, that policy faces a make or break moment. With the Europeans unwilling to act to prolong the arms embargo, Trump has only one option: restore all U.N. sanctions on Iran, including the arms embargo, by invoking the snap-back clause of Security Council Resolution 2231.
UNSCR 2231, which anchored the nuclear deal, stipulates that if Iran is in breach of the deal, a member of the Security Council can trigger a restoration of its sanctions against Iran for its illicit nuclear activities which were suspended as part of the deal’s implementation. Iran is now openly enriching and stockpiling uranium in quantities well beyond what is permitted under the deal, to the point where according to the IAEA, Iran is on the verge of nuclear breakout capacity.
Ignoring the text of the resolution, the European Union, Russia and others are falsely arguing that when the United States walked away from the nuclear deal, it ceased to be authorized to trigger the snap-back clause. Asserting the United States’ legal right to trigger the sanctions will require an ugly fight. But right now, that is the only way to achieve the aim Trump has declared—preventing Iran from becoming a nuclear power and a regional hegemon.
If he has this fight, he will win it and secure his achievements. If he walks away from this fight, his entire Iran policy will fail and Iran will race to the nuclear finish line.
This brings us to Israel itself. Trump promised to move the U.S. Embassy to Jerusalem. And he did. He said he would reject the failed peace paradigm of his predecessors and replace it with a vision based on reality. And he did.
A make or break moment
Now that plan and Trump’s Middle East legacy face a make or break moment.
Trump recognized that all the peace plans offered up by his predecessors failed because they were based on the anti-Israel falsehood that the cause of the enduring Palestinian conflict with Israel was Israel’s size. Trump recognized that the real problem isn’t how large Israel is but the Palestinians’ historic rejection of Israel’s right to exist at any size and their determination to annihilate Israel—large or small.
To start negotiations, the Palestinians must take concrete steps to show they are changing. For instance, they need to stop paying salaries to terrorists who have killed Israelis.
As to Israel itself, whereas his predecessors’ plans reject Israel’s legal rights to sovereignty in Judea and Samaria, Trump accepts this legal reality. He also recognizes that Israel has critical national and strategic interests tied up with the areas. To secure those rights and interests, Trump said in January that he will recognize Israeli sovereignty over some of the areas—specifically the Israeli communities in Judea and Samaria and the Jordan Valley as soon as Israel applies those rights.
Now it appears the weight of the foreign policy establishment is taking a toll on Trump and he is losing his nerve. For weeks, reports have flowed that Trump has soured on his own plan. He doesn’t know if he wants to back Israeli sovereignty as he pledged to do at the White House in January. Maybe at the end of the day, Israel’s rights are subject to an E.U. veto if not a Palestinian one.
If these reports are correct, Trump’s weakness won’t win him supporters. It will empower his opponents, who will erase all of the things he has done and return U.S. Middle East policy to the anti-Israel fantasy track it has operated on since 1993.
What goes for Trump goes for Netanyahu 10 times over. What Netanyahu does over the next few weeks will determine if he goes down in history as one of the greatest Jewish leaders of all time, or is remembered as a disappointment of Sabbatean proportions.
Since he was first elected prime minister in 1996, Netanyahu has faced two main challenges: Preventing Iran from acquiring nuclear weapons, and securing Israel’s rights and interests in Judea and Samaria in the face of Palestinian rejectionism and terrorism and in the midst of phony peace process supported by the foreign policy establishment, the Israeli left, and the international left.
Netanyahu’s moment of truth
After 24 years, both of these issues have reached a moment of truth.
Setting aside the issue of the mysterious explosions in areas in and around Iran’s nuclear installations, Netanyahu’s primary task diplomatically is to clear a path for Trump to enact the snap-back sanctions just as he cleared the path for Trump to exit the nuclear deal in 2018.
As for the Palestinians, in 1996, Netanyahu was elected prime minister because he was the leader of the opposition to the phony Oslo peace process with the PLO. As Netanyahu and his supporters warned, the Oslo process was a strategic mistake. In due course, it failed and it caused Israel unspeakable damage. More than 1,500 Israelis were killed because of the terrorist whirlwind Oslo reaped and Israel’s international standing dropped to new lows.
Despite Oslo’s total failure, throughout his years in power, until the Trump presidency Netanyahu lacked the strategic opportunity to replace it with a different vision for Judea and Samaria and Israel’s relations with the Palestinians.
Netanyahu’s sovereignty plan is that vision.
The Oslo process is predicated on a denial of Israel’s rights in Judea and Samaria. While it pays lip service to Israel’s security needs, in practice it undermines them.
Netanyahu’s sovereignty plan is predicated on Israel asserting and the United States recognizing Israel’s rights to Judea and Samaria on the one hand, and Israel securing in perpetuity its vital security interests. Here too, in the face of Trump’s hesitation and his coalition partners’ efforts to subvert him, Netanyahu is wavering. He missed the July 1 target date he had declared for implementing his plan. Now there is talk of him putting it off until some later date, which, of course, will never arrive.
If Netanyahu stays the course and implements his plan now, he will secure his political power now. More importantly, he will be remembered in the annals of Jewish history as a leader of historic proportions. If Netanyahu wavers, if he fails to carry through on his plan, he will lose his political position and be remembered as an Israeli version of Boris Johnson—nothing more than a smooth-talking charlatan.