Thursday, January 24th, 2019
  
 

Israel’s strange bedfellows tilt the scales in two-state hopes

These days, Israel has a wider circle of admirers, drawn not by the David v Goliath situation of 1967 when its population was just 2.75 million, but by the present regional military dominance and global high-tech prowess of its 8.8 million people under a tough ethno-nationalist leader, Benjamin Netanyahu.

Two deaths recently emphasised this Israeli transition.

Author Amos Oz pictured in 2011.Credit:Quentin Jones

Peace activist Uri Avnery died last August aged 94. He’d said that if he’d been a Gaza teenager he’d have joined the protests at the border fence, where some 168 young Palestinians have been shot dead. As a 15-year-old member of the Irgun underground in 1939, he’d done the same against the British mandate in Palestine, until dispersed by shots fired over their heads. “Remembering this event 79 years later, it crossed my mind that the boys of Gaza are greater heroes then we were then,” Avnery wrote. “They did not run away.”

Then author Amos Oz died on December 28, aged 79. Much comment has been about the fading of the old Ashkenazi elite he represented and portrayed − brainy and cultivated from old European roots, tanned and muscular from the kibbutz and military service – and his warnings about the corrupting effect of occupying lands seized in 1967 if the Palestinians were not conceded their own state.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.Credit:GALI TIBBON

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Israel’s new fans don’t share such empathy. They include Hungary’s Viktor Orban, who recently visited the Yad Vashem memorial to the Holocaust without any apparent self-reflection on the rising anti-Semitism he has encouraged; Rodrigo Duterte of the Philippines; and Brazil’s Jair Bolsonaro. American evangelicals, who might once have considered Jews guilty in the death of Jesus, now see full Jewish control of the Holy Land as prelude to the Second Coming and Last Judgment.

While also an evangelical, the only second coming obvious in Morrison’s mind was his own, in this year’s election. But the embassy idea flopped in the Wentworth byelection and Morrison’s later decision (recognising only West Jerusalem as Israel’s capital and “acknowledging” East Jerusalem as the capital of a future Palestinian state, while keeping the embassy meanwhile in Tel Aviv) drew pained comment from Israel’s Likud government and an approving editorial from the Liberal newspaper Haaretz − not exactly Morrison’s intended result.

The last thing Netanyahu wanted was an influential Western nation reinforcing the two-state solution. Recently, Netanyahu has been working on the coup de grace that may finish it off, with the Palestinians getting only small, unconnected semi-autonomous lands, perhaps appended to Jordan.

It would see Saudi Arabia and the Gulf states tacitly dump the Palestinian cause with an increasingly overt alignment with Israel against Iran. This seems to have the blessing of US President Donald Trump, mesmerised by Saudi wealth, who moved the US embassy to Jerusalem in May. Mohammed bin Salman, the Saudi crown prince, also looks interested. Trump’s son-in-law Jared Kushner has been working for almost two years now on a new Middle East “peace plan”, partly in consultation with the Saudi prince and Netanyahu.

Some spokes have been put in these secret wheels, however: the murder of Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi, tainting the crown prince; and Israel’s police recommending action against Netanyahu for alleged bribery and abuse of office.

It emerged mid-December these police referrals have already gone to Attorney-General Avichai Mandelblit. Netanyahu’s reaction was to call elections in April, seven months early. His strategy, according to many Israeli analysts, is to give Mandelblit an excuse to hold off on prosecution, return to power, then use an immunity for Knesset members against “bad faith” prosecutions.

Early polling suggests Netanyahu and Likud are still popular enough to form a new government with other right-wing and religious parties. Centre-left coalition hopes have been dashed by a public split between Labour’s Avi Gabbay and Hatnuah’s Tzipi Livni, but political entry by a recently retired defence force chief Benny Gantz could be critical.

So Netanyahu may manage to face down his legal problems, especially if Mandelblit wilts. A consummate populist, “Bibi” is a master of painting “existential” threats – Iranian nuclear weapons, Hezbollah tunnels from Lebanon, Hamas rockets, the Arabs within – though former prime minister Ehud Barak says Israel has never been so secure.

If he does, it would widen a rift emerging between Israel and the Jewish diaspora. It’s already pronounced in the United States, and is starting here where a new group of younger Jewish liberals, +61J, questions the automatic endorsement of Israel’s actions by older community bodies.

The rest of us might as well take the two-state solution off diplomatic life support, suggest to the Israelis they own the Palestinians, and look for a way Israel can be both Jewish and democratic in a wider constitutional setting.

Hamish McDonald is a former Sydney Morning Herald foreign editor, and author of Mahabharata in Polyester, about India’s richest business family.

Hamish McDonald was the Asia-Pacific Editor of The Sydney Morning Herald. He has been a foreign correspondent in Jakarta, Tokyo, Hong Kong, New Delhi and Beijing and has twice won Walkley Awards, and had a report on Burma read into the record of the US Congress. He is the author of books on Indonesia and India, and was made an inaugural Fellow of the Australian Institute of Inernational Affairs in 2008.