Published in El Mundo
What will happen to Israel?
Israel is facing huge problems in its environment and what their leaders decide will determine the international role, the shape and the nature of the country.
2015-03-17 by Rafael Bardají
(Published in El Mundo, March 17 2015)
Polls predict a close win during the election results of today, March 17 to the bloc consisting of the Labour Party and the very small formation of Tsipi Livni of the self-proclaimed Zionist camp. The party of the current Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, el Likud, would be second, two or three seats short. But given the Israeli electoral system and the increasing fragmentation of the political spectrum, it is quite possible that even when losing, Netanyahu would be the only one capable of forming a coalition government and finish renovating a new mandate. Currently, everything is possible.
However, whoever is in charge of forming a new government in Jerusalem is to find a strategic and security environment that promises more change for the worse in the short and medium term. The continuity of the executive would guarantee safety for many given the experience gained; for others, a left turn would only mean a change in social policy, but not in the foreign and security policy. The Israeli left would not have been historically less warlike than the right.
The current campaign has revolved largely around the bad relations between the Obama’s United States and Prime Minister Netanyahu. If the Labour leader comes out triumphant and fulfils what he said and would then immediately catch a plane to Washington to repair the deteriorating bilateral relationship, he will discover that little can be done in this area. For a very simple reason: the lack of understanding between Washington and Jerusalem was not caused by Nentayahu but by Obama. It is based on a fundamental question not on disagreements over specific policies. For Obama, Israel is a thorn in the eye that bothers him to achieve his big vision for the Middle East. This is an area where America has little presence and where stability is not based on their traditional allies such as Israel, Egypt and Saudi Arabia, but on the political normalization of Islamist populism, the Muslim brotherhood and others as well as in Iran. Obama has demonstrated that he has no red lines with which to defend Israel. Netanyahu has learned this the hard way since 2009, Herzog needed to learn this fast and dramatically.
Secondly, Iran. For the American president there is a clear disagreement with Israel on one thing: for him it is better to sign a bad deal on Iran’s nuclear program than not signing one at all. Whereas for Israel it is better not having a deal at all than a bad one. Netanyahu has done the impossible, he even addressed the US Congress with a controversial speech in order to try to avoid a bad negotiation. But little is to be expected of his effort. The White House believes that you have to sign something with the ayatollahs in Tehran, however bad this might be and is willing to make concessions that not so long ago were unthinkable. In that sense, the new Israeli government will come up with an international framework that leaves Iran with its uranium enrichment infrastructure largely intact, with the ability to move towards a nuclear bomb construction at any time (legally in half a dozen years; in secret, from now on) and what is worse, making a clean sweep with its terrible past of attacks in the region resorting to terrorism, and turning a blind eye to the ongoing expansion of its influence in the area from the east towards Yemen. Since 1979, all Israeli governments declared Iran to be an existential threat to their country. The moment of truth is coming dangerously close and the prime minister in Jerusalem, whoever he may be will have to deal with this possible black outcome.
Third, Israel is witnessing the collapse of traditional regimes and of the borders established in and around the region. Little can be done about this because it had little to do with it. But at its borders Islamist jihadist forces are coming dangerously close which is something that is relatively new to Israel. Al Qaeda never had real operating interests in Israel, but the Islamic State and other smaller groups have. Israel has had the Al Nusra Front on its borders with Syria which is affiliated with Al Qaeda, but the internal battles are ushering in jihadists associated with the Islamic state. Similarly, in the past, the concern in the Sinai was the infiltration of weapons, money and supplies to Hamas in Gaza, now Sinai is one of the 19 provinces recognized by the Caliphate, where Ansar Bayt Maqdis, currently known as Wilayat Sinai after his affiliation with the Islamic State, is swarming around. His approach to Jordan as well as the increasing penetration of jihadism in the Kingdom, or the explosive situation in Lebanon, where also the IS has been present is offering little comfort for Israeli strategists.
Fourthly, Israel has enjoyed a short break while campaigning. This will end when at the polls it is decided who the winner is and a new coalition government is formed. Although nothing that has been experienced in the region in recent years has its origins in the peace process between Israelis and Palestinians, the international mythology continues to believe that its solution will end all the problems in the area. Obama will therefore push a new peace plan, supported by the European Union, which will call for Israel’s withdrawal to the 1967 lines, before the war, the division or internationalization of Jerusalem, setting compensations in the field of supposedly returning refugees. It is not logical to think that Israel can accept all this without suffering a political trauma. And less if it is perceived as the consequence of the weakness of the new government. But more if there has been alternation to the left.
Moreover, it is conceivable that even with the Israeli acquiescence, Palestinians are not interested at this time to sign any peace plan that requires some concessions on their part. In recent months they have always preferred to go their unilateral way and neither Kerry, nor Obama have achieved moving Mahamud Abbas even an inch from his position. In fact it is likely for a fifth problem to open up in Jerusalem: a growing campaign to delegitimize the State of Israel and being pushed forward in the coming months. By sheer Palestinian decision Fatah, let alone Hamas, does not care who is in the Israeli government and will continue promoting the politics of hate and non-reconciliation. We will see this in the ICC and the announced lawsuits against Israeli leaders and members of their armed forces as well as actions such as Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions that are actually looking for the destabilization of Israel, not influencing its policies. And that is also something that will be maintained, albeit the left or the right ruling in Jerusalem.
In the end, the Spanish know this very well…. The elections have consequences. The dilemma between prosperity and security with which many candidates have played in these elections is not the right approach. Israel is facing huge problems in its environment and what their leaders decide will determine the international role, the shape and the nature of the country. That may not be anything new. What is, is the narrow margin of error with which the Israeli prime minister has come out of these elections. This is no time for mistakes. Neither at the polls, nor in the policies arising from them.