Schism opens in Israel
by John Wight
Wed 14th Sep 2011
The forced expulsion of the Israel’s ambassador to Egypt and his staff by the Egyptian people, coming on the back of the expulsion of Israel’s ambassador to Turkey by the Turkish government, marks a steep change in Israel’s ability to continue its policy under the Netanyahu government of intransigence and refusal to negotiate a fair settlement with the Palestinians and the Obama administration in good faith.
For more than six decades, since its creation, Israel has existed in near splendid isolation in a neighbourhood of Arab and Muslim states that resent what they view as the distorting impact the Jewish state has had on the region’s social, economic and geopolitical landscape.
The continued suffering of the Palestinians - who’ve seen their land expropriated, their right to self determination denied, and who’ve existed under a state of military occupation in the West Bank and blockade in Gaza, both of which are in violation of international law - has been a festering sore throughout the Arab world.
Regardless, when the region was comprised of Arab dictatorships dependent on largesse from the West, Israel could rest easy knowing that when push came to shove its continued hard line towards the Palestinians and refusal to countenance anything which even smacked of compromise would not be met with serious opposition within a region hopelessly divided and ruled by corrupt regimes more concerned with maintaining good relations with the West than seeking justice for 5m of their fellow Arabs in Palestine and millions more refugees.
But this state of affairs is rapidly disintegrating in the wake of an Arab Spring that has swept through the region, ripping up regime after regime as the Arab masses awaken and enter the stage of history in their own right after decades spent politically infantilised.
Turkey, under the leadership of Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan, is now leading calls for Arab unity even though Turkey itself is not an Arab country. But Erdogan’s stance is not based on ethnicity but political reality.
Formerly a close ally of Israel in the region, the deaths of nine Turkish humanitarian volunteers trying to ferry aid to Gaza on a Turkish vessel that was in international waters during an Israeli military assault, with the Israeli government refusing to issue an official apology to Ankara for the operation, has left the Turkish government in no doubt of Israel’s status as a rogue state.
Erodgan’s recent speech in Cairo to the Arab League revealed why his growing stature on the international stage and throughout the Arab world in particular is well deserved. On Arab unity, the Turkish PM called for the Arab countries and Turkey to close their ranks so tightly that “even daylight shall not pass between us.”
On the recent United Nations flotilla report, which mitigated Israel’s use of violence against the aid flotilla and justified its six year long blockade of Gaza, Erdogan said:
"This report will not be in force for us. The slave of Israeli arguments, this report is non-existent for us. I declare that no ruling considering the Gaza blockade legitimate has any validity for us.
"If those, the UN in particular, continue turning a blind eye to Israel’s unilateral spoiled child attitude, they will also be an accomplice to its crime.
"It is only when Israel becomes a state respecting human rights that relations with it will be normalized.
"We do not recognize the embargo imposed on Gaza. Initiatives will be launched to spur the UN General Assembly into action. The initiative to safeguard rights will be supported by us. Just like individuals, states too should pay the price of the crime they commit for a just order. As Turkey, we will do whatever is necessary for actions against our country and international law to not go unresponded."
"Israel will break away from solitude only when it acts as a reasonable, responsible, serious and normal state.
"We must work hand in hand with our Palestinian brothers. The Palestinian cause is the cause of human dignity. It's time to raise the Palestinian flag at the UN. Let's raise the Palestinian flag and let that flag be the symbol of peace and justice in the Middle East."
With its secular and democratic constitution, moderate Islamic government, strong military and growing economy, Turkey has emerged as a model for Arab states to emulate, using its leverage to assert an independent path for the region economically, militarily and politically after decades of being in thrall to western interests.
Egypt is currently another source of anguish to the Israelis, a consequence of the present and continuing uncertainty that exists in the country in the wake of a revolution which succeeded in toppling a corrupt dictatorship that Israel could do business with. Indeed, under Mubarak, Israel enjoyed the closest to normal relations with an Arab and Muslim country it has ever had. In matters of trade, foreign policy and most important of all as far as the Israelis are concerned, security, Egypt along with Jordan had constituted a lone star in a sky of darkest night when it came to relations with its Arab neighbours.
But with the recent killing of five Egyptian policemen by the Israelis resulting in the previously mentioned forced expulsion of the Israeli ambassador and his staff by the Egyptian people, Egypt’s interim military government has come under pressure from below to change tack and be far more robust when it comes to Israel.
When it comes to Israel's deepening isolation, the Netanyahu government must be held responsible. Having successfully faced down the Obama administration over the issue of settlements, Israel under Netanyahu has underestimated completely the significance of the Arab Spring and Turkey’s emergence as a major power in the region.
Another key actor currently bringing pressure to bear on Netanyahu’s right-wing administration is the Israeli people themselves.
Previously, the ability to propagate fear over threats to Israel’s security had been the lynchpin uniting the country regardless of differences when it came to any other issue. But this is ability to unite the country on the basis of fear appears to be reaching the end of its rope. For in unprecedented numbers throughout the country, tens of thousands of people have taken to the streets demanding economic reform in the wake of crippling inequality and the squeeze being felt as a result of the global recession. It has succeeded in exposing Netanyahu as a committed neoliberal with no answer to the country’s economic crisis other than austerity for the majority and tax cuts for the few.
It is a movement which up until now had restricted its demands to economic and social reforms, with differences over the Palestinian question parked in the interests of unity and cohesion. But interestingly, with the latest upsurge in violence around Gaza, resulting in a crisis in Israeli-Egyptian and Turkish relations, increasing numbers of protesters in Israel have added peace to their list of demands.
Never in the history of the Jewish state has such a schism opened up between the government and the Israeli people. Fear, for so long a straitjacket holding back Israeli society, may at last be giving way to awareness and the understanding that only when Palestinian children are safe will Israeli children be safe.