|Benyamin Netanyahu’s visit to his American ally on 27 and 28 January 2020 brings with it a great paradox. In seventy-two years of history, never has the state of Israel been so strong, and never has its Prime Minister been so challenged at home. |
He has been indicted in three different cases for “corruption”, “embezzlement” and “breach of trust”. Independent, very much attuned to administrative ethics, the Israeli justice system has not hesitated in the past to throw a former prime minister in jail.
Politically, Netanyahu’s Likud is no longer as powerful as before. He won only 32 seats out of 120 in the Knesset in the September 2019 general elections. The attrition of power has played a role because Netanyahu, with more than 5,000 days as Prime Minister, has broken the record of longevity of Labour Ben Gurion, the founder of the Zionist state.
Likud was overtaken by the Blue and White coalition of his rival, the former chief of staff of the Tsahal. But neither he nor Benny Gantz managed to form a government supported by 61 deputies. A new election (the third in a year) will take place on 2 March 2020, to try to decide between them. In order to lay a claim to governing, each will have to ally themselves with parties that are ideologically very distant: the Arab parties for General Gantz and the religious parties for the agnostic Netanyahu.
Netanyahu has nothing urgent to ask the United States of America, Israel’s best ally since 1948. He goes to Washington to do politics: to be helped by Trump when facing of the Israeli electorate. The American president has already granted him the recognition of the Golan Heights (the Syrian high plateau conquered in June 1967) as Israeli territory, and the relocation of the American embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem.
He has now unveiled a “peace plan” that will give the Jewish state all the security guarantees it dreams of (maintaining a large number of settlements in the West Bank and absolute control of the Jordan River border), even if it has not the slightest chance of being accepted by the Palestinians.
Netanyahu has an effective electoral argument: “I am the one who gets the most out of the Americans!”.
But the dysfunctional Israeli political institutions are a worm-eaten tree that hides a healthy forest: that of a small, extremely dynamic country of nine million inhabitants that has never been so influential in its region.
Morally, the leaders of the world’s major countries have just participated in Jerusalem in the celebrations in memory of the Shoah, 75 years after the liberation of the Auschwitz camp. It was the most striking legitimization of Zionism (return to the land of the ancestors for the Jews, colonial settlement for the Arabs) as an international effort to protect a people threatened with extinction in Europe.
Diplomatically, the Jewish State is the friend of Russia as well as America. It has succeeded in breaking the united front of the Arab detractors of its existence, who, at the Khartoum Conference of September 1967, had adopted the policy of the “three nays”: no peace with Israel, no recognition of Israel, no negotiation with Israel.
The Israelis maintain excellent relations not only with Egypt and Jordan (with which they have made peace) but also with the Gulf States (United Arab Emirates, Saudi Arabia, Oman, etc.), which they discreetly supply with security equipment. In the eastern Mediterranean, they have forged an alliance with Egypt, Greece and Cyprus to stop the maritime expansionism of the neo-Ottoman Sultan Erdogan, their real rival, much more than the mullahs’ Iran.
Economically, the state of Israel, which has benefited from the arrival of a million Russian immigrants, many of them good scientists, has become a world centre for the creation of high-tech companies, on a par with California’s Silicon Valley. Its military industry exports all over the world.
Militarily, Israel is by far the most powerful country in the Middle East. It has nuclear weapons (supplied by France more than sixty years ago), and its conscription army is the best in the world. As the war against Lebanese Hezbollah in the summer of 2006 showed, young Israelis have remained patriotic, rarely seeking to escape their military obligations.
But if it wants to remain a Jewish state, Israel, a fifth of whose citizens are Arab, must face the demographic bomb that threatens it. Isn’t it dangerous in the long run to keep under its control the Arab territories it occupied after its victory in the 1967 war?
It is not Donald Trump who will help the Israeli leaders find an answer to this existential challenge?
This article was first published in Le Figaro.