There are competing narratives about Israel: that it is flying-high, or that it is heading towards disaster. Wise and important actors around the world are coming to the conclusion that the first assertion is true. Israel is an anchor of sanity and a source of ingenuity in an unruly world. Israel’s strategy of vigilance, patience, and looking over the horizon for new partnerships is working.
A deep dissonance between competing narratives about Israel has become evident; between the Israel-is-flying-high narrative, and the Israel-is-heading-towards-disaster narrative.
Several relatively recent news items reflected the debate: Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas’ latest retrogressive and hostile speech, President Donald Trump’s decision to partially defund the United Nations Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA), dissent over Israel’s plan to deport African infiltrators, and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s celebratory visit to India.
Good News is Not in Vogue
The lead item about Israel in the local and global media should have been, in my view, the “royal” visit to India. The splendidly strong embrace of Israel by India significantly boosts Israel’s regional and global standing. It is an alliance of enormous strategic importance. It is a gargantuan counter-weight to the pathetic predictions of Israeli diplomatic isolation. Yet, aside from The Jerusalem Post, the news media gave miserly attention to Netanyahu’s India coup. Good news stories about Israel’s fortunes, or those that highlight Netanyahu at his best, apparently are not in vogue.
Instead, journalists and politicians around the world were seized by the 50 percent cut in American funding for the uber-corrupt, super-sinecure organization that purposefully perpetuates the Palestinian war against Israel, UNRWA. They played this as some sort of grand humanitarian crisis; as a great dislocation that would threaten global peace and security.
They were oblivious to how ridiculous this claim is when the Palestinian Arabs receive more than $3 billion a year in global aid, and especially when nobody in the world has done much to alleviate the plight of two million Syrian refugees. The latter crisis is indeed a great dislocation that is rocking multiple counties in Europe and the Middle East and truly threatens global peace and security.
Western journalists and politicians purposefully played ignorant of the valuable political message signaled by the U.S. aid cut; that Palestinian leaders have to get real about compromise with Israel; that the United States will no longer subsidize an everlasting struggle against Israel anchored in self-images of permanent victimhood.
Belgium certainly didn’t get the message. It rushed to increase its contributions to UNRWA to fill some of the shortfall. So much for helping to drive the Palestinians toward political realism!
Then there was Abbas’ speech against Washington and against Zionism; a horrid two-hour harangue filled with lies, curses, and racist references; a rant that rolled back three decades of effort towards Israeli-Palestinian reconciliation.
The Palestinian Tantrum
Abbas explicitly denied the Jewish people’s indigenous roots in the Land of Israel; asserted that establishment of the State of Israel was a criminal venture, and that anybody who helped it rise was guilty of war crimes; and he revived classic anti-Semitic tropes about Jews/Zionists poisoning Palestinian wells and drugging Palestinian kids. And of course, he evinced no willingness to compromise with Israel in order to secure a better future for his people and for ours.
Abbas’s tirade was news in Israel but not so much elsewhere. This enormously frustrated Israeli public diplomacy professionals, who want the world to recognize – finally – that it is Abbas and his fellow old-time Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) rejectionists who are the obstacle to peace, not Netanyahu or Israel.
They correctly pointed out that had Netanyahu given a speech one-one-hundredth as critical of the Palestinian Arabs, or one-one-thousandth as dismissive of Palestinian rights, or one-one-millionth as hostile to world leaders, he would have been excoriated internationally at the highest levels for weeks on end.
Netanyahu would have been tarred-and-feathered in immediate emergency session of the UN Security Council. Israel would have been convicted of killing the peace process. Sanctions would have followed. European foreign ministers would have been tripping over themselves to compete for the coveted title of most-aggressive Netanyahu-basher.
But when Abbas unmasks the deepest Palestinian decrepitude and blows all hopes for a stable peace out of the water – nada. The world is silent or not paying attention.
That’s Just Fine
My view is that this is just fine. Israel doesn’t need to draw attention to Abbas’ sad last words. I sense a new maturity on the part of global observers with regard to the relative non-importance of the Palestinian plaint.
In the grander scheme of things, given the tectonic changes sweeping across the region and the grave threats to world security (such as the Iranian drive for Mideast hegemony and totalitarian Islamist terror attacks), the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is a sad but manageable problem.
It’s terrible that Abbas is blocking any movement toward peace – indeed it’s tragic for Israel – but we are all rightfully seized by more urgent challenges, and indeed greater opportunities elsewhere.
Which brings me back to India and Israel; China and Israel; Africa and Israel; Central America and Israel; North America and Israel; the moderate Sunni Arab States and Israel. Wise and important actors around the world are beating a path to the prime minister’s doorstep in Jerusalem (yes, in Jerusalem!) seeking opportunities to cooperate with Israel, not to isolate her.
They have come to accept a central strategic assertion made by Netanyahu: that Israel is an anchor of sanity and a source of ingenuity in an unruly world. They recognize that Israel should be judged on its central role in promoting regional stability, and its leadership in advancing globally-useful partnerships in the fields of education, democracy, hi-tech, bio-tech and cyber-tech, etc. – rather than on failures in peacemaking with, alas, intransigent and radicalized Palestinian adversaries.
So, there is an Israeli grand strategy of sorts, and it has been largely successful. It involves caution, vigilance, patience, and looking over the horizon for new partnerships. It has led to what Col. (Res.) Dr. Eran Lerman of the Jerusalem Institute for Strategic Studies calls an anno mirabilis, a “year of wonders,” with a string of Israeli strategic and diplomatic achievements.
Unfortunately, some self-styled progressive activists and politicians prefer to ignore Israel’s impressive achievements, and instead assert a narrative of Israeli blemish and blunder. They are fixated on Palestinian rights despite the objective problems, and on the rights of African infiltrators in Israel, on the rights of Bedouin in the Negev, on the rights of non-Orthodox Jewish religious denominations in Jerusalem and so on.
All of the above are serious issues that require respectable attention and responsible policymaking. But they have become “intersectional” causes, around which some people rally, lovingly and less-lovingly, to confront the Israeli government with the explicit threat that unless the government bends their way across the board, Israel will lose global support and become an “immoral” or “apartheid” state.
That is an unacceptable way to relate to Israel. It generally involves gross simplification and misrepresentation of the delicate issues at hand. It easily leads to special pleading on behalf of the Palestinian side including silence over Hamas and Palestinian Islamic Jihad, dismissal of Israeli rights and invoking “social justice” to cloak antisemitism. Sober and caring leaders should reject this approach and cheer up – because Israel is worthy and winning.
David M. Weinberg is Vice President of the Jerusalem Institute for Strategic Studies; the Institute published a version of this article.