Bahbah: Without Palestinian and Arab “Enemies,” Israel Could Self Destruct
By: Bishara A. Bahbah / Arab America Featured Columnist
Over the past decades, many believed Israel could self-destruct without their unifying focus of battling Palestinian and Arab enemies.
As relations between Israel and Arab countries are warming up, and Palestinians have ceased, in the view of many Israelis, including its military and security establishments, to be an existential threat to Israel, Israel’s Jewish population has turned its focus to what is happening inside Israel’s far-right-wing government and the actions this autocratic government has taken and intends to pursue.
Since Israel’s establishment in 1948, Israeli Jews have been obsessed with three distinctive issues:
- Israel as a Jewish state, and
Israelis’ Number One Concern is Their Individual and State Security
Palestinians and Arabs no longer pause an existential threat to Israel.
Palestinians are weak and divided. Hamas wrenched control in 2007 of the Gaza Strip from the Palestinian Authority (PA) controlled by Fatah. The PA has suspended the democratically elected Legislative Council or Parliament. PA President Mahmoud Abbas was last elected in 2005 for a four-year term. Abbas, at the age of 87, still holds power 18 years later and finds excuses not to have any national elections in the West Bank, Gaza, and East Jerusalem for either the Legislative Council or the presidency out of fear of losing those elections to the Islamic movement Hamas or, the presidency, to imprisoned Palestinian Fatah leader Marwan Barghouti.
The PA’s security service, which numbers between 50,000 to 75,000 armed men and is financed primarily by the United States through CIA funding, is viewed by many Palestinians as a tool Israel uses to prevent attacks on Israel and to squash any resistance to Abbas’s autocratic rule.
Threats to Israel from Arab states are marginal, if non-existent. Several Arab countries have normalized ties with Israel [Egypt, Jordan, the UAE, Morocco, Bahrain, and Sudan]. Others are waiting to find out what will become of the Israeli-Saudi behind-the-scenes talks about normalizing ties.
The Arab consensus not to normalize relations with Israel unless the Palestine question is resolved is dissipating before our very own eyes. All Arab countries with diplomatic ties with Israel offer lip-service support for creating a Palestinian state. If Saudi Arabia agrees to establish relations with Israel without the precondition of establishing a Palestinian state or having a roadmap with ironclad commitments toward establishing such a state, many Arab and Muslim countries could follow suit and establish ties with Israel.
Israelis Want a Jewish State
Israel was founded in 1948 as a “homeland for the Jewish people,” thanks to the Balfour Declaration and the British Mandate over Palestine. Most Jews worldwide want Israel to be a “Jewish” state that could be an ultimate refuge if needed. At this point, having a Jewish state cannot become a reality without separating Palestinians from Israelis and creating two states in historic Palestine – one Jewish and one Palestinian.
According to a 2022 census carried out by the Palestinian Central Bureau of Statistics, there are 14.3 million Palestinians around the world: 5.4 million live in the West Bank, Gaza, and East Jerusalem; 1.7 million in Israel; 6.5 million in Arab countries and 761,000 elsewhere around the world.
The total number of Palestinians under Israeli control is 7.1 million [5.4 million in the West Bank, Gaza, and East Jerusalem, plus 1.7 million inside Israel proper]. This is equivalent to the number of Israeli Jews who live in Israel, East Jerusalem, and the West Bank. Palestinians tend to have a higher birth rate. Hence, it is a matter of time before the number of Palestinians in historic Palestine exceeds the number of Israeli Jews.
The problem Israel faces is that its appetite to expand its settlements into the West Bank and East Jerusalem is unsatiable. Approximately 750,000 Jewish settlers now live in the West Bank and East Jerusalem. Those numbers grow with each passing day. Despite Israel’s physical withdrawal of its citizens and troops from Gaza, it maintains a stranglehold on the Gaza Strip that effectively gives it control of Gaza without directly occupying it.
Today, two national entities live in one land. Their numbers are almost identical. Palestinians, except those with Israeli passports, have no rights. Thus, Israel maintains an effective military occupation of over 5.4 million Palestinians against their will.
This month, a former head of the Mossad intelligence agency, Tamir Pardo, said Israel is imposing a form of apartheid on the Palestinians in the West Bank. Padro joins a growing number of prominent Israelis who compare the occupation of the West Bank to South Africa’s defunct system of racial discrimination.
Pardo’s views have added significance because Israelis hold the Mossad, their intelligence service, in high regard. His comments come when far-right members of Israel’s government are moving to kill off any prospect of an independent Palestinian state. Such a state would lead to the separation of Israelis from Palestinians, thus maintaining the dream of creating a “Jewish homeland.”
“There is an apartheid state here,” he said. “In a territory where two people are judged under two legal systems, that is an apartheid state.” Israel controls Palestinians by restricting the movement of people, goods, and services. They can be arrested for an indefinite period without being charged with any crime. Palestinians, unlike Jewish settlers, are ruled by military law. Jewish settlers travel freely, oftentimes on highways designated primarily for them.
Israelis Want a Democratic State
Israelis care deeply about living in a democracy. Israel’s current far-right-governing coalition is threatening the foundation of a democratic Jewish state in Israel.
A thrice-indicted prime minister leads the government, while two leaders of his coalition partners are avowed pro-settler racists. Itamar Ben-Gvir serves as the Minister of National Security in charge of Israel’s police force. He has often been referred to as the “Minister of Chaos.”
Bezalel Smotrich, a far right-wing politician and Minister of Finance, was handed by Israel’s Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, authority over civilian matters, enabling him to deepen Israel’s presence in the West Bank, increase settlement construction, and thwart Palestinian development. Smotrich was made a minister in Israel’s defense ministry in charge of non-military affairs in the West Bank.
Netanyahu has proposed legislative changes that constrain Israel’s judicial system to avoid a likely prison sentence emanating from his three indictments.
Israelis have been up in arms since that proposal was made, and this past weekend, over 120,000 Israelis protested across the country for the 36th week against the proposed judicial changes. This has led reservists in the Israeli army to refuse to be called up. Israeli youth publicly refuse their mandatory draft due to the ongoing dictatorship in the occupied territories and the developing dictatorship inside Israel.
The rift between Israel and the Jewish diaspora, especially in the United States, is now severe and profound. The relationship has for decades been described in such a manner that “without Israel, Jewish life in America would be impossible because Israel is essential, vital, and indispensable for American Jewish life.”
However, Israel’s drift towards authoritarianism has put off many Jews worldwide. Diaspora Jews have provided Israel with monetary, material, and political support since its establishment in 1948. Israel would not have a grip over the US Congress had it not been for American Jewish diligent support of members of Congress over many years.
Yet, American Jews are now split between what used to be the most fearful lobby, the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC), which took Israel’s position on issues no matter what. These days, more pragmatic groups who support a two-state solution are gaining influence, including J Street and the Israel Fund. Other Jewish groups supporting Palestinian rights and the two-state solution include Jewish Voice for Peace (JVP) and the Peace Now movement.
To conclude, Palestinians do not need these days to raise a finger in fighting Israel’s occupation. Benjamin Netanyahu and his co-conspirators in Israel’s current far-right government have pushed many Israeli Jews and Jews in the diaspora to fight an existential fight against the racists and fascists running Israel’s government.
Having humbled the Palestinians and shown the true face of Arab governments, Israel has no one to fear except its people.
About the Author: Bishara A Bahbah is the vice president of the U.S.-Palestine Council (USPC), the major Palestinian-American lobby in the United States. Bahbah was the editor-in-chief of the Jerusalem-based Al-Fajr daily newspaper. He taught at Harvard University and was the associate director of its Middle East Institute. He also served as a member of the Palestinian delegation on arms control and regional security.
Check out Arab America’s Blog!