In the mid-eighties, a seminar was held in Beirut, when it was still a flourishing place for cultural and intellectual encounter. Among the attendees was a friend I knew from our school days in Britain, an Israeli Arab, who came over to chat because we had not met for a while. I asked him jokingly, "Did you learn anything from the Israelis?" He answered me with a humor that I envied him: “They learned from us!” It is clear that among the things the Israelis have learned from the Arabs is the love of positions of power. Here is Benjamin Netanyahu holding on to the prime minister’s position and pulling every maneuver possible to remain in power. At the opposite end of the political spectrum, Israeli political forces who have political connection between them of any kind are allied, just to oust Netanyahu from the position he has held onto for more than a decade.
This means that the battle is personal and not political. At the same time, an Arab Islamic party from the Arabs of the interior enters into the alliance, so internal Palestinian and even Arab voices rush to reject that alliance, condemning the act, the party and its leaders in some of the harshest terms. Some seemed to blame the Islamic party and remind its brothers in the currents of Arab political Islam that it betrayed them! This position weakens the observer, as the assumption that political Islam deals on the basis that "the means justify the ends" is a kind of false awareness into which some have slipped. The goals of political Islam that are the same everywhere are political through and through, and the slogan is nothing but a means to recruit the gullible. These groups play with different rules for different settings, in terms of the halal and haram, or allowed and forbidden, in relation to their interests, which are consistent with the interests of their leaders. Thinking that is contrary to this rule means that some people, after all these experiences, have not gotten the message. Today, the message is loud and clear in Yemen, Lebanon, Iran, Turkey and Tunisia, and it was clear in Egypt and Sudan.
On the other hand, it seems that the traditions that the Israeli settlers brought seventy years ago from the West to build something resembling the societies they left in arranging democratic mechanisms of governance have receded due to transgressions in the region. They began to forget, or at least ignore, those rules, and acquire a political culture from their Arab neighbors eschewing the idea of democratic transfer of power, which plunged them into a fragmentation where rivals attempt to outbid each other for power.
The majority in the Israeli political bloc are fearful of their surroundings and of each other, and this fear feeds the interests of the select few. Perhaps the fear comes from what the Jews experienced in Europe, especially in Germany, to the extent that some Israeli historians scoff by saying that an Israeli who had no grandparent who was killed in the Holocaust must invent one! This eternal fear produced its opposite, through the adoption of fascist policies that have begun to recede in the world, but they produce the worst political behavior that affects not only the Palestinians, but the Arab citizens of Israel who have difficult days ahead as a result of their joining the recent Palestinian movement. The political difference in Israel today should only be explained by what exists. It is a dispute and a struggle over positions and gains, but for the most part it is united against the neighboring Palestinians. Perhaps the statement of the potential prime minister, Yair Lapid, in which he said that he will attack Gaza and southern Lebanon if necessary, shows an agreement on the constants, reassurance for the frightened majority, and feeding the fear of the other.
The problem is not the fire. The problem is the outcry on the part of the Arabs and the Palestinians in particular. The absence of a counter-strategy while a chain of reactions appears, publicizing the illusion of victory and reducing demands to the fringes of the issue, not to the core, squanders opportunities and closed doors that have been opened and may open more in the future. It is nothing new to say that world public opinion is changing. In fact, American writer Thomas Friedman, who has extensive knowledge of the subject, went so far as to say in a televised interview that Joe Biden may be the last democratic president sympathetic to Israel! The statement may be exaggerated, intended to urge Israeli moderates to make concessions in some way, but it is a sign that must be heeded. The political game here does not require shouting or outbidding, as is the case for some Palestinian forces. It needs a vision and a strategic mind that understands the variables and deals with them through a realistic reading of the events and variables, because relying on the Israeli internal conflict is relying on a mirage, for the one causing the crisis cannot provide the solutions.
This article was originally published in, and translated from, Lebanese daily an-Nahar.