For the past eight years, Israel's Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has been able to retain power with a shrinking and ever-more extremist coalition of settlers, religious parties and his own Likud by fending off critics. Hardline critics in his own fragile coalition have pressed for even more extreme territorial grabs in the West Bank and Jerusalem and have in some cases demanded mass expulsions of Palestinians from inside the Green Line. And Netanyahu has been able to explain to them that, while his heart is with them, he cannot go to such extremes because of pressure from the Obama Administration in Washington. Never mind that the Obama Administration never really put any serious pressure on Israel, and poured more money than any previous administration into Israeli security. Bibi cultivated his personal animus towards Obama and Obama's personal animus towards him into a balancing act that kept him in power, even as a growing number of Israelis, including within the powerful security establishment, became more and more disillusioned with him.
Well now, at least as of January 20, 2017, even that feeble excuse is gone. With the appointment of David Friedman as the new U.S. Ambassador to Israel, Netanyahu has an ally, not a critic, coming to town. Donald Trump has contributed to Israeli settlement schools through his charities, and he vows that he will actually implement what every Presidential candidate promises and then drops once in office: to move the U.S. embassy to Jerusalem.
This apparent "blessing" could come at a very high price for Netanyahu. No longer able to blame the United States for his "moderation" of his coalition radicals, Netanyahu now must defend his position upfront. And the Attorney General of Israel is expected to soon decide whether to follow National Police investigators recommendations and indict Netanyahu on corruption and graft charges. The last time he was ousted from power, it was on similar corruption charges.
With or without Netanyahu, Israeli is facing an existential decision: to accept a two-state solution and retain a Jewish majority state of Israel, or to go for annexation and repression of a growing Palestinian Arab majority (former President Jimmy Carter called it "apartheid"). Faced with the same dilemma, Netanyahu's rival Ariel Sharon had decided on the core tenet of Zionism: a Jewish majority. He unilaterally withdrew from the Gaza Strip, and even sent in Israeli Defense Force units to clear out the Gaza settlers who refused to accept relocation. In a speech in Washington a few years back, a retired IDF General told the audience that Israel has similar plans for removing West Bank settlers from areas to be turned over to the Palestinians. If Israel were to repeat the Sharon example and unilaterally pull out of significant portions of the West Bank--without negotiations or UN intervention--who would object?
The UN Security Council resolution passed this month should serve as a warning: it is becoming less and less feasible to maintain the status quo of creeping settlement expansion and territorial grabs for much longer. Netanyahu should not count on a President Donald Trump covering his back at the UN. It's just not on Trump's list of priorities. If he could throw Rudy Giuliani and Chris Christie under the bus, he could do the same with Bibi.