Wednesday, September 7, 2011
Gaza Siege Chokes Israel Diplomatically
The crisis with Turkey is just the latest example of Gaza's ability to cause Israel enormous diplomatic damage from within the fence surrounding the Strip.
By Zvi Bar'el
"Gaza envelope" is not just a geographic term or an imaginary border line delimiting the threat zone around a group of communities in the south. It is a political situation in which, for the sake of accuracy, "Israel" should replace "Gaza." It is the Gaza Strip that envelopes Israel, and not the other way around. If a closure or blockade is the index of a smothering "envelope," then it is Israel that is being smothered, largely on its own account and in no small measure on account of Gaza.
The crisis with Turkey is just the latest example of Gaza's ability to cause Israel enormous diplomatic damage from within the fence surrounding the Strip. While Israel's alliance with Egypt is not like the one it had with Turkey, Egyptians are calling for a reappraisal of the Camp David Accords in light of last month's terror attack near Eilat, in which Gaza had a hand. To its east Israel is trapped within a new diplomatic front; in less than two weeks the United Nations will recognize an independent Palestinian state that will of course include Gaza as well.
It's true that unlike Gaza's inhabitants Israelis are still free to leave the state, to import and export goods and even to go abroad to study. But the siege is setting in. It isn't just the boycott on goods from the territories, the withdrawal of invitations to Israeli professors or directives to avoid speaking Hebrew in certain countries. It is the sense that Israel is increasingly isolating itself within its righteousness, magnifying the genuine and the imaginary threats, once again using the military language that speaks of the "high" or "low" probability of war, no longer confident of the U.S. position toward it and seeing most European states as political rivals.
A large majority of UN member states will support recognition of a Palestinian state. Many of them will say "yes" not because they care about the Palestinians' political rights - some of these countries oppress their own citizens - but because of Israel's opposition. Some will support a Palestinian state because they are fed up with Israeli policy, with the occupation and with Israel's arrogance. Others will vote in favor because they want to poke Washington in the eye with a sharp stick for pampering Israel for so long. It would not be going too far to suggest that the UN vote will be mainly a protest vote against Israel, a part of the undeclared siege.
Israel has never given the UN its due. The organization's failures, and its anti-Israel tendencies, are no secret. No one knows better than Israel that its resolutions are mainly ink on paper. But the UN is a dangerous arena, incapable perhaps of solving conflicts but good at defining goals, building international coalitions and imposing sanctions. It's an arena in which Israel's status is slipping away, and where even its closest friends labor to understand what state exactly they are supposed to be protecting.
This is part of the same siege, that can be likened to icebergs surrounding a straying ship whose captains are confident of their ability to thread their way through, until it can no longer move. It is natural to develop a siege mentality, a solidarity of the besieged, under such conditions. It's not the captain who ran the ship into the icebergs who is to blame, it's the terrible weather. It's not the closure of the Gaza Strip that's to blame for destroying relations, it's the Turks, the Islamists, the pro-Iranians. The Egyptians are also at fault, for revealing their true faces. And, of course, it's not the occupation that is at fault, it's the Palestinians who resist living under it.
And so, what is the only possible response when the entire world rises up against you; when Gaza, in any of its various names, is closing in on you? That's the time to hold onto the government's hand, to embrace the army, to consecrate the settlements and begin a new siege-mentality conversation. A conversation that will convince the besieged that the only way is that of the government, a conversation of prestige and condescension, of "We survived Pharaoh, we'll survive this, too," of "us against the world."
These are precisely the symptoms of the siege. They are the same words used by the leaders of countries under international sanctions. The terrible thing is that one can get used to a siege, at least for long enough to forget what it's like not to be under siege. But there is nothing like a siege to fortify esprit de corps - look at Gaza, for example. There's also nothing like a siege to cure a people that has begun to challenge the decisions of its government, to demonstrate or to ask superfluous questions. The siege is good for us.
This commentary was published in HAARETZ on 07/09/2011