Israel’s diplomatic & internal political challenges – Opinion piece: Nov. 2021

As we close out 2021 there are two key areas that continue to be at the centre of Israel’s diplomatic and internal political challenges, as well as a third emerging issue of quite a different colour.

1 – Iran

There is no doubt that the vast majority of security and political leaders in Israel believe that the 2015 JCPOA {Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action} deal brokered by the Obama administration was a poor deal.

Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action - Wikipedia
credit: Wikipedia

The question though, which has persisted until today, is whether a better deal, if even actually achievable, would be enforceable, or just a waste of time and energy? Secondly, whether this potential deal, which is only theoretical at present, is preferable to no deal at all?

The challenge for Israel is how to progress the various possibilities with the current Biden administration and the European Union.

And how much stomach Biden et al may or may not have, for hard options.

Dialogue between Israel and the US remains at a high and positive level, mostly behind closed doors. Which is a good thing. One example, at least so far, the US has still not reopened their consulate in Jerusalem.

Certainly, in Israel there is agreement on Iran and with Bennett, Lapid, Gantz and Lieberman presenting a united and forceful stance, including threatening military action. At the same time, other members of their coalition are not making any serious noises on this front – so this external issue does not threaten the government’s stability.

Iran and her proxies remain an open question and the number one ranking security question for Israel bar none.

2 – The Palestinians

As president, Trump undoubtedly did some great things for Israel. The Abraham Accords arguably ranking as his biggest achievement.

They are based on the principle that peace between Israel and Arab countries does not have to wait for peace between Israel and the Palestinians.

And in truth, in each case, it was President Trump and the United States that made the deals possible by their concessions to the respective Arab states, without Israel having to give up much at all – bar one act.

Prime Minister Netanyahu had to give up on annexation, which by historical demonstration was one thing that Netanyahu, whilst talking it up, had always indefinitely postponed in any case.

So, whether this was a Netanyahu concession, or now convenient excuse being ‘forced’ upon him, was a matter for speculation.

Enter Barak Ravid, Israeli journalist and commentator.

Ravid writes a book called “Trump’s Peace” and interviewed Trump for the book in April and July this year.

Re-enter Donald Trump in a somewhat new guise – frenemy.

Let’s leave aside Trump’s disparaging personal volcanic reaction to Netanyahu’s quite proper decision to congratulate Biden on his election to the presidency, as another example of Trump’s vanity and fragility.

There are some other important and potentially explosive revelations – especially as these come from someone, previously so highly regarded, as an uncritical friend.

Whilst Trump is offended by Netanyahu’s behaviour, he seems to have conveniently forgotten Mahmoud Abbas’ constant slights and open public criticisms of him and his intentions – not to mention things like Abbas’ ‘pay for slay’ policy.

Trump who is famous for using the term ‘fake news’ – makes his own.

Trump tells Ravid: “And I will be honest, I had a great meeting with him, Abbas, right. I had a great meeting with him. And we spent a lot of time together, talking about many things. And it was almost like a father. I mean, he was so nice, couldn’t have been nicer.”

In a further apparent surprise to Trump supporters, he reinforced what in truth he had actually been consistent on all along and his admirers had chosen to overlook.

Trump is indeed to the right on Israel, but he is also a ‘Two Stater’ in some form or another, for those who might have thought that the terms were mutually exclusive.

Already in February 2017, Trump told Sheldon Adelson’s Israel Hayom that: “They [settlements] don’t help the process… Every time you take land for settlements, there is less land left.”

Which begs the obvious question – less land left for what?

Regarding annexation after the 2020 Trump Peace Plan, which offered Israel 30% of Judea/Samaria/West Bank in return for a Palestinian entity on the other 70%, Trump told Ravid that he, personally, had stopped unilateral annexation.

“I got angry and I stopped it, because that was really going too far. That was going way too far, you know, when [Netanyahu] did the big ‘Let’s build. Let’s take everything and just start building on it.’ We were not happy about that.”

But perhaps amongst the most damaging of Trump’s claims and one that may haunt Israel in the future, just as his quite astounding and inexplicable description of Abbas, was his statement to Ravid that: “I [had] thought the Palestinians were impossible, and the Israelis would do anything to make peace and a deal. I found that not to be true.”

The editor of the TOI, David Horovitz, wrote: “It’s a devastating jolt to those who supported Trump because of his ostensible Israeli right-wing instincts, and a veritable bombshell for the blame-Israel camp.”

One early reaction came from leading US evangelist and former Trump advisor Mike Evans, who immediately understood the import of what Trump had said, when he wrote to Trump pleading: “Please, I beg of you, don’t put us in the position to choose between you and Bible land. There is no possibility you can win again if Bible-believing evangelicals see you as the ‘F–k Netanyahu’ president who . . . blames the State of Israel, and not the Palestinians, for not making peace.”

It is the Palestinian issue and the ‘settlements’ that present as the potential source for most internal friction within the government coalition.

Trump’s latest contribution has been to add to these tensions and embolden the left wing within the government. After all, if ‘even Trump’ is opposed to settlements and thinks Abbas is a ‘peace partner’, then…….

Trump has also done Israel some level of reputational damage on the world stage. How little or how much, remains to be seen.

3 – Covid and the Israel Diaspora relationship

Whilst Covid arguably brought Israeli Arabs and Jews closer together by shared experiences via the medical system and the resultant much greater general mixing of the two populations, the opposite is occurring between Israel and Diaspora Jewry, where the gap is widening.

This too is a strategic threat.

On one level there is the difficulty for traditional groups – high school, Birthright, long term Israel programs et al – to travel to Israel in the circumstances. With two years now soon stretching into a third, the educational and connectivity deficit is growing rapidly.

On quite another level, the raison d’etre of Zionism, that is Israel being the Jewish Homeland and open to all Jews, is also facing its challenges.

We’re not talking about differences on various Israeli policies here, but about the growing realisation that Israel, in an attempt to protect the health of Israelis, is willing to bar Jews from coming to Israel for shorter or longer periods. And here we are talking about relatives of olim, regular visitors to Israel and other committed Jewish Zionists and non-Jewish supporters et al.

Of course, this is part of general overall rolling bans – but that is precisely the point.

Is something happening to the special relationship between Israel and Diaspora Jews? Where, if at all, does this special relationship factor in? Or, when is it no longer special enough to make a difference?

Sure, impose whatever health conditions one needs to revaccination and quarantine – but stopping Jews from coming to Israel?? That’s something new.

There already exists a distance between disaffected segments of Diaspora Jewry and Israel.

Now, the government’s reaction to Covid is beginning to drive a wedge between Israel and those who are firmly in the committed camp.

Mooted exceptions for ‘lifestyle’ events are small steps in the right direction – if implemented – but are more humanitarian gesture than dealing with the basic principle of Jewish entry to the Jewish Homeland.

In their own way, each of these three issues present serious challenges for Israel to deal with.

She has the capacity to do so.

Time pressures demand they be seen to earlier rather than later.

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Ron Weiser is the Immediate Past President of the Zionist Federation of Australia and Hon Life President of the Zionist Council of NSW.

 

 

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