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The real reason behind Israel's fear and loathing at UN settlement vote

No measure has so exposed the commitment of the Sisi regime to serving Israeli interests as the affair of the Security Council resolution

The UN Security Council resolution denouncing Israeli settlements in the occupied Palestinian territories was a last-minute one.

The council voted on it during the final hours of 23 December, the last day of serious work at the UN prior to the end-of-year holidays. It was also the last day of serious work for Barack Obama's administration before Donald Trump takes over the White House on 20 January.

The resolution, therefore, seemed as if it was Obama's last message to Benjamin Netanyahu’s government - the same government which has resisted every Washington attempt, however small, towards achieving a solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and has never hesitated to manipulate America's partisan politics against the US president, such as when Netanyahu, invited by Republicans, gave his speech against the Iran nuclear deal before Congress in March 2015.

The Obama administration opted, at the last minute in both Washington and the UN, to deal a slap to the Israeli prime minister, which he deserved

Meanwhile, the Obama administration offered Israel an unprecedented $38bn military aid deal and, for almost an entire year, obstructed the draft resolution that denounced Israeli settlements.

The purpose in both cases was probably to retain American Jewish support for the Democrat presidential candidate Hilary Clinton. But when Clinton lost the election in November, the Obama administration opted to deal a last-minute slap to the Israeli prime minister, which he deserved.

This is a general overview of what happened, yet there is also the wider and more important back story to the resolution that is no less significant.

Egypt's role in the affair

Egypt, which represents the Arab bloc at the Security Council, was supposed to be the country tabling the draft resolution. However, the day before the vote, the Egyptian delegation confirmed that it had received orders from President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi to withdraw the draft resolution.

It is not uncommon for heads of state to intervene like this in important diplomatic measures, though usually such interventions are not discussed in public or publicised. Clearly, the Egyptian move was intended to be an explicit exception.

As a matter of fact, the Egyptian delegation at the UN undertook to play a double game right from the start. On the one hand, the delegation submitted the draft resolution to appease the Arab bloc whose support has enabled Egypt to have a seat at the council in the first place.  

On the other hand, the delegation was also confident that the US would block the resolution under its right to veto as a permanent member of the council.

As the time of voting approached, however, the Egyptians discovered that the US, diverging from its usual diplomatic routine, would not veto the resolution and this is why Sisi to ordered his UN representatives to withdraw their draft resolution.

READ: Winners and losers from that UN settlement vote

After the resolution was adopted, the Egyptian envoy at the council made a pathetic attempt to justify his country’s stance and actions. But those who follow the UN could easily see that the main motive behind Egypt's move was protecting Israeli interests, rather than defending Palestinian rights.

There has, of course, been growing evidence since the summer of 2013 of a close alliance between the Sisi administration and Netanyahu’s government.

The main motive behind the Egyptian stance was protecting Israeli interests, rather than defending Palestinian rights

The tough siege measures undertaken by Sisi's regime against inhabitants of the Gaza Strip, as well as those against Egyptian citizens who live in areas bordering the strip - including the bulldosing of their towns and villages - were intended to protect Israel's security. 

Never before has an Egyptian regime conceded sovereignty over the skies of its country like the Sisi regime did when it opened Egyptian airspace in the Sinai to the Israeli air force last year.

Yet no measure has so exposed the profound commitment of the Sisi regime to serving Israeli interests as the affair of the UN Security Council’s draft resolution to denounce Jewish settlements.

Here lies the paradox of the role played by Arab regimes in the long-lasting dispute over Palestine. Since the eruption of the conflict nearly 100 years ago, the Palestinians have needed Arab support as a result of the enormous imbalance of power against them.

READ: How Israeli settlements won their best ever deal from Netanyahu

Arab states became directly involved in the conflict after the creation of the state of Israel and also as a result of the Zionist project's expansionist nature. Yet without sufficient legitimacy in their own countries, these regimes have played only a limited role in supporting Palestinians which has diminished over time alongside their legitimacy.  

Eventually, this legitimacy deficit drove some of the Arab states - such as Egypt and Jordan - to forge alliances with Israel in the hope of gaining its support and backing within the international arena.

This is what lies behind the close relationship between the Sisi regime and the Netanyahu government: Sisi realises the brittleness of the administration he presides over and the feebleness of the legitimacy he relies on.

Consequently, he is inclined to forge an alliance with Netanyahu and openly defend Israeli interests as a means of appealing for Israeli support and protection in London, Paris and Washington.

Fear and loathing in Israel

The Israeli reaction is no less important. The UN resolution generated an atmosphere of rage, fear and disappointment in Israel, despite the ability of successive governments, over seven decades, to obstruct UN resolutions and render them void of any significance.

The Israelis poured their anger all over the Obama administration, which had permitted the passing of the resolution and, according to Israeli officials, encouraged it. "The Obama administration not only failed to protect Israel against this gang-up at the UN," Netanyahu said, "it colluded with it behind the scenes."

Construction underway in Neve Ativ, an illegal settlement near the Syrian border (MEE)
The Netanyahu administration even characterised its decision as an act of treason. Yet the rage could not conceal a sense of horror, as expressed in the statements by Israeli officials, writers, commentators and public figures: the leading nuclear state in the Middle East, which has never at any other time in its history enjoyed such a climate of security, was transformed by a single UN resolution into a quasi-besieged state that feels as if the roof of the world is about to fall on its head.

The rage could not conceal a sense of horror, as expressed in the statements by Israeli officials, writers, commentators and public figures

The project of establishing a Jewish national home in Palestine was born out of the strategic requirements of the British Empire in the Middle East. While the Jews of the Western world viewed the Zionist movement as an extremist organisation of Eastern European emigrants active on the fringes of stable Jewish communities, Britain was seeking a solution to the predicament of reconciling its interests in the Orient with its commitments toward its allies in France and Russia.

The British Empire old guard picked up the marginal Zionist idea and turned it into a national home for the Jews in Palestine. They wanted this Jewish home to be linked to Britain so as to provide a means of serving London's strategic interests at the expense of its allies and competitors alike.

Such an organic relationship between the state of Israel and Western imperialism was not confined to the moment when the Zionist project was born, but continued throughout the years of its crystallisation as it stood on its feet, expanded and turned into a fortified citadel on the eastern coast of the Mediterranean.

READ: Israeli settlements and Palestinians: Even the 'moderates' want segregation

Britain endeavoured throughout the years that separated the two world wars to secure Jewish emigration to Palestine: it did not determine the end of the British Mandate over Palestine until it became certain about the ability of the Jewish Yeshiva to establish its state and safeguard its existence.

During subsequent decades, first France, then the US, played vital roles in guaranteeing the military supremacy of Israel, bolstering its economic capabilities and shielding it from international law.

This is what makes Western frowning in the face of Israel an extremely serious affair from the point of view of most Israelis, triggering a sense of horror, an impression of being under siege and a feeling of having been let down.

Without an organic relationship with a Western power, and without the cover and protection that these states provide, even possessing nuclear weapons fails to provide a feeling of security and reassurance.

Basheer Nafi is a senior research fellow at the Al Jazeera Centre for Studies.

The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Middle East Eye.

Photo: Houses in settlement of Ofra in Israeli in November 2016 (AFP)

This article is available in French on Middle East Eye French edition.

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