Understanding contemporary Mid-East politics

October 23, 2020 by Ron Weiser
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Direct Etihad passenger flights to Israel; the formation of Kosher Arabia which will apparently make it easier to get kosher food in Abu Dhabi and Dubai than in Sydney or Melbourne; a public sukkah in front of the world-famous Burj Khalifa Tower; and normalisation with Sudan around the corner.

Dr Ron Weiser Photo: David Sokol

Long time Palestinian leader and repeated denouncer of Israel Saeb Erekat, being treated for Covid 19 and on a ventilator in an Israeli hospital; financial aid from Arab countries to the Palestinian Authority dropping by 85% compared to 2019 and foreign aid year to date by almost 50%.

In Israel Prime Minister Netanyahu is polling poorly over internal issues. Amongst his strongest critics and most strident detractors are the Haredi leadership, previously his most rock-solid allies; and Naphtali Bennett who is polling at record all-time highs on the basis of his effective attacks on Netanyahu’s mishandling of Covid.

To add to this picture, throw in the de facto settlement freeze that Netanyahu has overseen since February, being now broken by supposed ‘leftie’, Defence Minister Benny Gantz who last week convened the relevant committee to advance plans to build 2,166 settlement homes in Judea Samaria/West Bank, the first new construction approved beyond the Green Line in eight months.

Had someone been stranded on a deserted island for a couple of months and just reemerged – what would they think?

Regarding the “peace process”, Prime Minister Netanyahu has shown that the road to peace with Arab countries does not necessarily have to go through the Palestinians.

Just how different everything looks currently, is well demonstrated by ex-British PM Tony Blair, longtime Middle East negotiator and erstwhile prime supporter of the conventional thinking that has existed since 1967 right up until August of this year, who now said at the Jerusalem Post conference:

“The foundation of the approach in the region, that Israelis and Palestinians negotiate peace and then the rest of the region joins, is the diametric opposite of what should happen. Actually, what you need to do is create peace between Israel and the Arab nations and include the Palestinian issue in that peace.

All over the Arab world, there is a struggle around two basic ideas. First, there is a group of leaders who want to modernize their societies and their economies, and they want to distinguish between Islam and Islamism. Second, they want… economies that are open… so if their people work hard, they can do well and raise their families in security and prosperity. 

This is a shared interest between Israel and the predominately Muslim Arab nations around how the Middle East will develop… That’s the thing that’s mostly exciting and why there’s peace between the UAE and Israel.

The threats to this vision are the Islamic Republic of Iran and its Shia extremist proxies, as well as other jihadist and extremist groups like the Muslim Brotherhood.”

 So how does all of that alter the conversation about Israel and the Palestinians?

And the sorts of changes we should be making to how we teach and approach the Palestinian issue in our schools?

Well, quite markedly.

Or at least it should.

One can trace the origins of the current Israeli mindset back to Camp David in 2000. Arafat rejected the Camp David proposal, did not come back with a counteroffer and began the very bloody 2nd Intifada.

That effectively was the beginning of the end for those Israelis who thought, or were hopeful, that an end to the conflict with the Palestinians was something that could be negotiated simply by give and take over land.

The conceptual change that occurred in most Israeli minds was the realisation that whilst Israel was basing its understandings of the solution to the conflict on what to do about the results of the 1967 6 Day War, the Palestinian mindset was on 1948. The “sin” of the re-establishment of the State of Israel and their unwillingness to accept a Jewish State of any size.

If the Palestinians were not willing to agree to a state on virtually all of Judea Samaria/West Bank with a shared vision in Jerusalem, then other than Israel’s disappearance, she had nothing left to offer.

Since then, the vast majority of Israelis have been about how to ensure the security of the State of Israel and their daily lives.

It has been less about ideology and more about practicality.

The same two words continually dominate Israeli thinking.

‘Security’ – which aims for Israel to be big enough to defend herself and at the same time worried about how to ensure any future Palestinian entity would be a part of the end of conflict, rather than just a staging point for more rockets and border violations and an enemy state.

And ‘demography’ – which works in the opposite direction land wise, with Israel wanting to be smaller, divesting herself of densely populated Palestinian areas and retaining her Jewish majority.

As Micha Goodman described it so well – this is Catch 67.

Today’s reality requires us to teach and discuss the conflict differently.

One of President Trump’s major successes has been to change the conversation when it comes to the Middle East.

The problem is that large parts of the Jewish world are not willing to do so, even when Arab countries and indeed world powers have lost patience with the Palestinians.

Whilst significant segments of American Jewry continue to place the blame on Israel for the lack of progress, they find themselves out of touch with the Israeli reality.

(Just as when it comes to the different streams of Judaism, where Israelis do not appreciate the full panorama of Jewish life in the Diaspora.)

It is this dissonance that finds President Trump very popular in Israel and quite the opposite amongst Jews in America.

Yes, Trump is a complex and hard to like figure. Notwithstanding his positions on anything else, when it comes to Israel and the Palestinians, he gets it.

Israel has always been about some form of a Two-State Solution.

It does not matter whether Israel’s Prime Minister is Netanyahu or not.

Whoever follows him will be seeking the same things. If it will be Bennett, although arguably more to the right, he too wants separation, just not via the modality of a potentially hostile Palestinian State.

Whether Netanyahu, Bennett, Gantz or someone else, the vast bulk of the settlements, if not all of them, will neither be dismantled nor evacuated under any Prime Minister – there is virtually a wall to wall Israeli consensus on that.

This is another major point not appreciated by many in the Diaspora.

The next Prime Minister will be coming from the consensus and not from Meretz which is a tiny outlier party on these issues.

And that’s yet another reality many Diaspora Jews fail to comprehend.

Understanding why this is so, or rather failing to, is at the core of Israel Diaspora discord when it occurs.

Palestinian rejectionism has fatigued everyone to the extent that increasingly more Arab countries are not prepared to wait for the sea change required in the Palestinian leadership’s thinking.

Israel understands that the Palestinians are not going anywhere and the Palestinians need to understand that Israel is likewise not going anywhere.

Israelis still want separation – but with security.

Israeli feelings of insecurity are the direct result of Palestinian behaviour, Palestinian education and Palestinian refusal to accept Israel as the Jewish State.

Of course, Arab countries would like to see a resolution for the Palestinians but are now increasingly putting their own interests first and have internalised the root cause of the impasse.

It’s time we Jews did as well.

And it’s beyond time to see this reflected in what we teach and how we present the situation.

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