Sunday, 2 February 2014

The peace process and the fear factor.

As negotiations with the Palestinians wind down to their inconclusive ending, panic-stricken voices are being ratcheted up to agree, or not agree, a deal. The name of the game in Israel is the Fear Factor.

There are two competing teams in this game. Team A favors accepting a geographically reduced Israel out of fear that, by not withdrawing, Israel faces isolation and international sanctions that would be diplomatically, commercially, and economically crippling. They also make the case that agreeing to massive land, and even population, withdrawals would give a major economic boost via new diplomatic and trade ties with Arab states that have, so far, distanced themselves from Israel.

Team B points to the security menace of an Israeli withdrawal to indefensible borders, what Abba Eban described as “Auschwitz lines.” They cite the enormous economic and social damage of physically removing “settlers,” people who have made Judea and Samaria their home.  They remind us of the national trauma that came with the uprooting of thousands of Jews from Gaza that resulted in Palestinian rockets, deaths, and kidnapping.  The personal sacrifice made by the settlers in Gaza on our behalf did not bring peace or added security. On the contrary, more of us experienced the shock of Palestinian terror and missiles.

Team B point to the frightening possibility of rockets fired on planes at Ben Gurion Airport, visible to the naked eye from the high ground of a new Palestinian state. Israel, unable to intrude into the sovereign Palestinian state, would have the effectiveness of obtaining human intelligence, an essential element in our fight against terror, drastically reduced.  Team A respond by claiming that such attacks could happen in today’s environment, but haven’t.

Team B have convincing arguments based on Israel’s past experiences when relinquishing territory to Palestinians. They ask why a Palestinian state would be less a terror regime than Gaza? They have a valid point with the news that Palestinian Authority figure, Jibril Rajoub, has just returned from talks in Tehran with Iranian leaders. Iran would jump at the opportunity of having a new Palestinian state become its new proxy in the area. Perhaps the national security experts at Amos Yadlin’s INSS (Institute of National Security Studies) should wrap their heads around the possibility that Iran’s Republican Guards would be invited by a sovereign Palestine to help train, arm, and supervise their domestic police and security forces. Such a security apparatus would operate without infringing any agreement that Palestine remain a demilitarized state. However, could Israel tolerate or trust Iranian commanders looking down on Israel’s exposed low-lying coastal plain that contains significant infrastructure and 70% of our population?  Tolerate or not, there would be little that Israel could do about it.

Iran could be the catalyst that would unite Fatah and Hamas in a new Palestinian state under their patronage. This was confirmed by Rajoub’s statement on his return from Tehran. “Hamas is part of the Islamic Arab social, political, and national fabric in Palestine.”  

Based on such a scenario, can Team A deny that Israel would not be under close threat from a new Palestinian sovereignty with a capital in the streets of Jerusalem?

The fear factor was on display at the recent INSS Conference in Tel Aviv with Isaac Hertzog cajoling Benjamin Netanyahu to boldly overcome his fears and agree to the Kerry parameters, and with Yair Lapid spelling out the economic costs that non-compliance would bring. Naftali Bennett and Moshe Ya’alon, on the other hand, warned of the consequences of living under (strategically and geographically) a rogue state.

There is no doubt that both camps are trying to persuade us of the damages of surrendering, or not surrendering, land to the Palestinians, rather than extoling the benefits.  The public, it seems, is ambivalent. It would like to see peace, but it is not convinced that huge territorial concessions, and a jeopardized security, will lead to Arab states standing in line to open embassies and do business in Israel.  On the other hand, economic disaster warnings of swathing sanctions, if Israel does not reach a deal with the Palestinians, outweigh the financial benefits that may come with such a peace deal. This muddles the mind of those who favor deep concessions to the Palestinians.

Naftali Bennett, unlike Yair Lapid, a successful businessman in an earlier life, downplays the harmful effects of settlement boycotts when compared to the burgeoning global desire for Israeli technology and innovation. Sectional damage, he claims, is more than offset by the success of Israel’s Start Up nation. He may have a case. Europe may be leading the sanctions campaign on Israeli products from the West Bank, but they find Israeli ingenuity increasingly irresistible. Israel is putting greater emphasis in opening up Asian markets that are impervious to BDS.

Politically, the fear factor of those calling for withdrawal is to show us the South African consequences if we don’t accede. There, internationally imposed sanctions brought about the collapse of the white regime, though some would argue that it was the emergence of Mandela, the peacemaker, meeting a receptive De Klerk, that brought about the Rainbow Nation.

The unseemly sight of a thousand NGOs descending on Durban to claim credit for a new South Africa while declaring “Zionism is racism” was appalling. Like vultures looking for another carcass to feed on, they targeted Israel. Like carrion, sustained by bloated budgets, they have attacked the Jewish state for decades with a concentration that leaves them blinded to the awful crimes and mayhem that surround us. The noises they make have affected governments to squeak their mantras. This has drawn the attention of our own politicians to take notice of the commotion.

Israeli government ministers would be better advised to provide the necessary budget to fight delegitimization, rather than run around making unseemly public noises out of fear.

Barry Shaw is the Special Consultant on Delegitimization Issues to the Strategic Dialogue Center at Netanya Academic College. He is the author of ‘Israel Reclaiming the Narrative.’

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