Why Israel's "Splendid Isolation" Is Doomed To Fail
The Israeli army's operation last week in the Jenin camp was particularly striking in its scale and violence, further undermining any hope of appeasement in the region or the newfound alliance with Arab countries, or even among American Jews. What if Israeli politics, instead, was inspired by the nation's Netflix series scriptwriters?
PARIS — On television screens around the world, the images appear in a steady chain, one after another — and they start to blend together.
There are endless divides between Ukraine and the West Bank: geography, history, geopolitical stakes. Everything except the most fundamental point: civilian victims. By intervening as they did in Jenin a few days ago, the Israeli armed forces were targeting an operational command center of the "Jenin Brigades."
But this intervention, the largest since 2005 (counting between 500 and 1,000 men, accompanied by armored vehicles, under the protection of the air force and drones) took place in the heart of a refugee camp of 14,000 people. Refugees who are often the children and grandchildren of Palestinians who have been – or are still – living in camps since the creation of the State of Israel in 1948.
This escalating violence is unlikely to lead to a third intifada, but it does make any hope of a political solution even more far-off and abstract. Was the Zionist ideal embodied by Theodor Herzl and David Ben-Gurion to impose survival of the fittest on its neighbors? Could that somehow erase from memory the Jews' own tragic history, in which they found themselves in the position of the weakest? Do children who've been abused tend to reproduce, as adults, the abuses of which they were the victims?
Isolated from the world
Over the past week, Israel has not only "neutralized terrorists," but has destroyed the infrastructure of a city within the city: deepening the gap between Israelis and Palestinians for generations to come. The day will come when this accumulation of tactical victories will turn against the Jewish state, when the young Israeli elites – no longer recognizing themselves in the choices and practices of their government, so profoundly far removed from Jewish values – will deliberately withdraw from a project that is no longer theirs.
The Palestinian demography no longer represents the main long-term threat to the State of Israel, but the behavior of its political leaders.
The first line of defense is no longer Israel, it's Ukraine.
To return to power, if not to escape justice, Benyamin Netanyahu has joined forces with "the devil": extreme nationalists who've made religion their clay, the alpha and omega of their politics. They flirt with overt racism, when they don't dive straight into it instead. They are unaware that the world has profoundly changed. Blinded by passion, intolerance and even hatred, they are witnessing changes that will ultimately render such off-the-rails behavior suicidal in the long-term.
Not so long ago, Israel could present itself as the Western world's first line of defense against Islamic fundamentalism. And this argument still holds true for those who see Islam as the main threat to our societies. But the reality is quite different. In the age of the Russian threat, the first line of defense is no longer Israel, it's Ukraine.
Far from strengthening Europe and the West as a whole, the behavior of Israel's current leaders is weakening Jewish communities around the world. It is even isolating Israel from the Jewish diaspora, which has long been among Jerusalem's strongest supporters.
The example of the U.S. is revealing. The majority (more than 70%) of American Jews are behind the Democratic Party and President Joe Biden, despite its growing criticism of Israeli policy. The problem of dual allegiance no longer arises. "To be virtuous, one is no less a man," said French playwright and poet Molière in Tartuffe. To feel close to the Zionist ideal is no less a belief in universal values: from the demand for justice to respect for others.
A burnt and destroyed car in the Jenin refugee camp
Extremism feeds extremism
By giving in to pressure from the far right, and especially from settler lobbies, Israel is contradicting its own objectives, and gradually undoing the Abraham Accords signed with a number of Arab countries. If the main threat to Israel is Iran and its nuclear ambitions, why risk isolating itself from its main supporters in the world, by adopting a policy towards the Palestinians that swings between disdainful neglect and excessive violence?
The stronger party always bears greater responsibility.
The restoration of diplomatic relations between Iran and Saudi Arabia, sealed in Beijing thanks to Chinese mediation, is both a success for Beijing and a diplomatic setback for Israel. Is anyone in Jerusalem unaware that without significant progress on the Palestinian issue, relations between Israel and Saudi Arabia can never truly be normalized?
Of course, the Palestinian authorities share some of the responsibility for the worsening relations between the two peoples. Weak and corrupt, the Palestinian Authority has left the way open for extremist organizations that may or may not depend on Iran. But the extremism of some feeds the extremism of others, and the stronger party always bears greater responsibility, especially when the gap in power, wealth (and trust) is so wide.
In the region, there is "too much" Israel and "not enough" Palestine. But on a global scale, with less than ten million inhabitants, Israel doesn't even represent the statistical margin of error when calculating the populations of China and India!
"Splendid isolation" doesn't work for a state that needs strong friends and allies to survive in the long term.
Fauda and Teheran soft power
Unlike the political leaders in Jerusalem, the screenwriters in Tel Aviv who produce successful series such as "Fauda" and "Teheran" seem to have fully understood this strategic necessity, and strive in spite of everything to preserve and develop Israel's soft power.
In both the above-mentioned series, protagonists, whether Arab or Persian, are treated with nuance, vulnerability and humanity. In the Teheran series, one of Iran's secret service chiefs is portrayed as a deeply human man, as concerned with his wife's health as he is with eliminating Mossad agents.
If only Israeli politics could draw even just a whiff of inspiration from the talent of TV series scriptwriters, we wouldn't be where we are today.
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