‘Madness’: Netanyahu’s handling of US relations under scrutiny after UN vote | Benjamin Netanyahu

The Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s handling of relations with the Biden administration, which led the US on Monday to decline to veto a ceasefire resolution at the UN security council, has been greeted by sharp criticism by Israeli commentators.

After the US veto, prominent columnists across the Israeli media condemned Netanyahu’s growing friction with the US president, Joe Biden.

While Netanyahu, who has faced plummeting public approval ratings since Hamas’s surprise 7 October attack on southern Israel, has long been a target for a large section of Israel’s commentariat, the tone in some quarters following the rare US abstention in the security council bordered on derision and contempt.

Driving the sentiment is the vivid awareness within Israeli society of the huge importance of the US-Israeli relationship in terms of financial aid, arms sales and Washington’s diplomatic support, including its frequently used veto on Israel’s behalf on the security council.

Washington’s decision not to use its veto came after a weekend in which US officials say they spoke non-stop to Israeli counterparts warning them in advance, suggesting that Netanyahu’s decision to cancel a visit by a US delegation in the aftermath of the vote was more calculated theatre than the result of surprise.

In the Hebrew-language newspaper Ma’ariv, Ben Caspit described the approach of the Israeli prime minister as “delusional”, “madness” and “terrifying”, adding: “This man is putting us all at risk: our future, our children’s future, the strategic alliance that is the keystone of Israeli national security.”

Equally damning was the lead editorial in the left-leaning Israeli newspaper Haaretz, which described Netanyahu as “Israel’s agent of destruction” who “has become a burden for Israel”.

“He is exposing it to strategic risks that could exact a very heavy price. For the sake of his own political survival, he is wilfully harming Israel’s citizens. He must resign and give Israel a chance to rescue itself from the damage he has caused.”

The centre-right Yedioth Ahronoth was no less scathing, featuring a cartoon of a diminutive Netanyahu arm wrestling a much larger Biden, in which Netanyahu’s fist barely encircles Biden’s finger.

In the same paper, the columnist Nahum Barnea painted an imagined scene where US officials were seen laughing at Netanyahu’s cancellation of a delegation to Washington in protest.

“Netanyahu,” he continued, “has been dealing with America the way a spoiled teenager deals with his parents: with perpetual rebellion, perpetual insults and perpetual scandals.”

Outside the media, the renewed calls for Netanyahu to resign were echoed by others including Gershon Baskin, who was involved in the negotiations to secure the release of the kidnapped Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit over a decade ago.

“Netanyahu is off the rails,” wrote Baskin on X. “He is an existential danger to Israel. He must be gone from our lives.”

Many of those criticising Netanyahu offer the same trenchant analysis. Faced with dismal poll numbers, widespread unpopularity following 7 October – the security failings of which are blamed on him – and a political crisis over ultra orthodox conscription, they suggest that Netanyahu’s has sought to pick a fight with Biden to appear “strong”.

The growing criticism of Netanyahu’s calculations come amid warnings that unanimous passage of the UN security council ceasefire resolution, with the US abstention, presages stronger moves against Israel amid growing calls for further sanctions and restrictions on arms transfers.

While UN resolutions are in theory binding on member states, the reality is that the passage of the resolution is likely to be more important in reinforcing moves beyond the security council.

As the former US ambassador to Israel Daniel Kurtzer explained on Monday, the Biden administration “is weighing whether Israel is in compliance with National Security Memorandum-20 which … requires recipients of US arms to provide assurances that US arms will be used in accordance with international law and that they will not impede or restrict the delivery of US humanitarian assistance”.

The resolution may also weigh indirectly on legal cases before international bodies, including the international court of justice and international criminal court, as well as on deliberations by individual countries and bodies like the EU over potential punitive action.

Attempting to explain the thinking behind the US abstention on Monday, Frank Lowenstein, a former state department official who helped lead Israeli-Palestinian negotiations in 2014, told the Washington Post he believed three major factors drove the move.

They include deep disagreements between Washington and Israel over a large-scale invasion of Rafah, the catastrophic humanitarian situation in Gaza, and Israel’s announcements of new settlements while the secretary of state, Antony Blinken, was visiting the country on Friday.

“Biden did everything he could for months to avoid a big public fight. It reflects a very serious shift in the White House’s position towards how to manage the Israelis throughout the rest of this war. The Israelis are either going to pay attention now or we’re likely going to continue down this path.”

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