A very nervous Israel...
It's no wonder why many Israelis are in despair...
Meeting a friend in a coffee shop in an old West Jerusalem neighbourhood, I asked him what he wanted most in life. One of the giants of Israel’s intellectual life, my friend is deeply committed to Israel’s existence as a Jewish state. With what was surely some exaggeration, but also obvious pain, he answered: “I want my children to emigrate.” Just then his daughter stopped by, greeting her father with a warm hello before hurrying off. He shrugged. “She doesn’t want to go. What can I do?”
My friend’s despair is shared by an increasing number of Israelis. They watch as Iran, whose leaders have said Israel must be eliminated, rushes to develop nuclear weapons. They feel themselves increasingly abandoned, most frighteningly by the US, whose president, Barack Obama, has “reached out” to the Muslim world but has not similarly convinced Jews that he appreciates, and is genuinely sympathetic to, Israel’s existential plight. In his White House meeting with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu this week, Mr Obama tried to address this perception. But for many in Israel, his words lacked substance and were inspired by domestic political needs, not an emotional conversion. The president needs to do more. For until Israelis feel sufficiently secure to take what they see as massive risks for peace, progress will be impossible.
Some of the anxiety is long-standing, notably concerns that the Palestinians will never accept the existence of Israel. Israelis have grown used to being attacked in media controlled by the Palestinian Authority in the West Bank, media that glorify suicide bombers and deny the Holocaust. Israelis know that Palestinian students study textbooks in which Israel does not exist. Meanwhile, Gaza is led by Hamas, which officially declares it will fight until Israel is gone.
Such worries matter because more Israelis today believe the Palestinians will keep demanding concessions until there is no Israel. The 1993 Oslo peace accords failed when Yasser Arafat rejected concessions under which nearly all of the West Bank and Gaza would have become a Palestinian state. Arafat’s successor, Mahmoud Abbas, refused concessions that were even more generous. The insistence that descendants of the refugees from 1948 must have a right to “return” is also seen by most Israelis as a strategy aimed at ending the Jewish state.
The war against Israel is waged increasingly on the battlefield of public relations. Hamas and Hizbollah fire rockets from schools and hospitals, hoping that Israel will be excoriated for harming civilians when it responds, no matter how hard it tries not to. Their international allies launch flotillas to break the Gaza blockade – a blockade set up to stop Hamas from getting military supplies – and man them with militants ready for a fight and televised “martyrdom”.
The result is a feeling that those seeking to delegitimise and isolate Israel are winning. Living in the only democracy in the Middle East, Israelis do not understand why they are attacked for erecting checkpoints to deter suicide bombers, while human rights violations are glossed over in Saudi Arabia, Syria and elsewhere. It does not help that permanent United Nations bodies have been established to advocate on behalf of Palestinians.
Such fears have been inflamed by Israeli concerns that some members of the Obama administration seem to believe, falsely, that support for Israel is causing America’s problems in the Middle East. Few Israelis doubt that, if undeterred, Iran will have nuclear weapons within a couple of years. They worry that, in the end, America may allow this to happen.