Dr Mohammad Makram Balawi
The situation in Israel is bleak. Benjamin Netanyahu ousted his defence minister who warned of an armed forces mutiny in the making. Demonstrations and strikes happen daily, with banks, the health service, labour unions, airports and seaports all paralysed. The Israeli prime minister had no option but to step back from his proposed judicial overhaul.
Internationally, Israel’s position is no better. Netanyahu presents himself as the king of Israeli diplomacy and international relations, but he and his extremist government have scarred Israel’s relations with almost everyone.
Far-right Finance Minister Bezalel Smotrich, for example, was ridiculed in Israel for his cold reception in the US and his terrible English. In France he maximised the damage to Israel’s image and foreign policy. Speaking from a podium with a map of “Greater Israel” that incorporated Jordan and parts of Syria and Lebanon, Smotrich claimed that there isn’t any “Palestinian history or culture… [and] no such thing as a Palestinian people.” These statements followed his racist comment that a Palestinian village “should be wiped out” after Israeli settlers rampaged through Huwara in the occupied West Bank.
Jordan, which signed a peace treaty with Israel in 1994 and has the longest border with the occupation state, was particularly angry, as this happened while Washington was convincing Amman and other Arab capitals to intervene with the Palestinians to defuse the current wave of violence. The Jordanian parliament voted unanimously to sever diplomatic relations with Israel, and the government condemned Smotrich. The minister’s now infamous speech not only angered Jordan, but also Saudi Arabia, Syria, the UAE, Algeria, Kuwait, Bahrain, Egypt, Oman, Iran, the Arab League, the Organisation of Islamic Cooperation, the EU and historic allies such as France and America.
The Americans have many reasons to be furious with Netanyahu and his government. Despite advice and warnings, they did exactly the opposite of what Washington wants. Senior US political and security officials visited the region and met Netanyahu and expressed their displeasure with his government, especially far-right demagogues Itamar Ben-Gvir and Smotrich, and said that they will not meet or deal directly with them. Netanyahu tried to reassure the Americans by saying that he has both hands on the wheel, which was proven to be wrong almost immediately. Days after his reassurances, he went to Jordan and met King Abdullah. Both Ben-Gvir and Smotrich said that they are not bound by his pledges to the Jordanian monarch about Al-Aqsa Mosque and illegal Israeli settlements.
Ten days ago, a summit was held in the Egyptian resort of Sharm El-Sheikh to encourage cooperation to stem the violence in the occupied West Bank. Representatives of Israel and the Palestinian Authority took part, along with officials from the US, Jordan and Egypt. It was agreed that Israel would suspend settlement planning for six months. The Israeli government then repealed part of the 2005 Disengagement Law under which it had withdrawn settlers from the Gaza Strip and four settlements in the northern West Bank. A spokesman for the US State Department spokesman described the move as “particularly provocative and counterproductive” and not “consistent” with Israel’s commitment to the United States. The deputy secretary of state summoned the Israeli ambassador in Washington to discuss the issue, a rare move that indicates US displeasure. Netanyahu responded by claiming that the law was purely symbolic.
During his visit to Germany, a country so haunted by guilt about the Holocaust that it rarely criticises Israel, Netanyahu was rebuked politely over the proposed judicial overhaul. “As democratic value partners and close friends of Israel, we are following this debate very closely and — I will not hide this — with great concern,” said Chancellor Olaf Scholz. He urged Netanyahu to try to find “the broadest possible” social consensus by dealing positively with the Israeli president’s initiative to defuse the crisis. “We know that President Herzog last night also made concrete proposals for resolving the difficult situation. As friends of Israel, we would like to see that the last word has not yet been said about this proposal,” Scholz added.
Netanyahu, as befits him, tried to justify his controversial reform proposals: “Israel has an independent judiciary, but many believe it is too powerful… the accusation that we are breaking with democracy is not true.” Tens of thousands of Israelis protesting on the streets disagree.
Moreover, he did not convince US President Joe Biden. “Like many strong supporters of Israel, I’m very concerned,” he said. “And I’m concerned that they get this straight. They cannot continue down this road.” When he was asked whether he planned to send an invitation for Netanyahu to visit the White House soon, Biden answered: “No, not in the near term.”
Time after time Netanyahu and his fellow extremists seem determined to damage Israel’s relations with the ally which provides the occupation state with at least $3.8 billion in US military aid every year.
“Israel is a sovereign country which makes its decisions by the will of its people and not based on pressures from abroad,” tweeted Netanyahu arrogantly, “including from the best of friends.”
His minister Ben-Gvir, meanwhile, noted that Israel is “not another star on the American flag. We are a democracy and I expect the US president to understand that.”
With such people in charge, Israel doesn’t need any outside enemies.