Monday, December 3, 2012

Israel Blind To Its Own Isolation

I wrote less than two weeks ago that Israel was in an accelerating decline as a result of changed geopolitical realities in the Middle East, most recently and acutely the Arab Spring. That Arab Spring is now in the throes of a 2.0 reawakening and reconstitution of last year's settlements, as events in Egypt in the last two weeks have made clear, not to mention the momentum of Syrian rebels, rioting in Tunisia and renwed protests in Kuwait, Jordan, Bahrain, etc.

But like a Saudi Emir who can't see the protests outside his window past his line of servants, the Israeli regime appears to have no idea that they are more isolated than ever. Or, perhaps they do, but are unable to change their modus operandi because it is hard-baked into how the state operates, ie. by terror, humiliation and intimidation.

In any case, there's no doubt the world is a changed place when the UK and France call in Israel's ambassador to condemn plans to build 3,000 illegal settler homes as revenge for Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas seeking recognition at the UN. And the UK's mooting of the possibility that it will withdraw its own ambassador from Israel - a major diplomatic slap in the face - is a stunning development. You have to know that America's given its approval for this strong response - the UK is, after all, the tail that the American dog wags.

This is not really the result of Israel engaging in illegal or inhumane practices. Israel has been building settlements in the West Bank since it seized control of it, and Gaza, during the 1967 war. This is not a new event. What has changed isn't Israel, it's everything else.

The US and Europe all fear that Israel's uncontrollable brutality is inflaming the region, making it more unstable and more anti-American/anti-European. They are deepening the radicalization. Where once Israel's policy of armed fury towards all comers was useful to keep in line weak and despotic Arab regimes, it is now a hindrance. At a time when Mohammad Morsi, president of Egypt, is facing a revolt for being too much like Mubarak, despised in part for his refusal to confront Israel, Israel's actions could undermine Morsi's credibility further. Or it could force him to hit back at Israel to bolster his domestic position, putting the Camp David Treaty with Israel, which underpins American hegemony, at risk.

Israel really is shooting itself in the foot here. But it's not clear that they have any option. Already almost totally isolated - as the lopsided vote at the UN in support of granting statehood status to Palestine demonstrated - what is Israel to do? If it doesn't respond, coming after its perceived defeat in Gaza, it looks weak - which endangers its role as the American gendarme. And worse, it would look like it accepts the world's verdict that Palestine is a state, which would mean real negotiations towards a viable two-state solution. This it has never and will never accept. Israel has always played the long game, meaning it creates "facts on the ground" over time by stalling on negotiations as it pushes forward on settlement construction and economic strangling of the Palestinians. The end goal was always to gain control of all of Biblical Israel, in part because it provided a strong ideological underpinning justifying the right of European Jews to steal the land of the indigenous population, ie. Palestinians. But also because of the valuable natural resources - in particular water - that exists in the West Bank.

If the rest of the Middle East continues on its journey towards a deepening of democracy, Israel's bullyboy routine will put it increasingly in conflict with the policy of the Americans - and will stand out as anachronistic to the rest of the region. How this will play out in the end is unclear but if Israel closes off definitively the possibility of a two-state solution and the Americans place some distance between themselves (and their barrels of money) and Israel, they could be faced with their own Arab Spring - meaning a civil rights movement of Palestinians and Israeli-Arabs demanding full civil rights and equality.

France and Britain summon Israeli ambassadors - Middle East - Al Jazeera English:

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