Friday, June 04, 2010

Eclipsed by madness

I had ended my previous column on the regionalization of global politics and the seemingly inevitable rise of new powers such as Brazil, India, Turkey, etc., with a rhetorical question on a crumbling democracy in a key region -- Israel -- and whether it will insist on being part of the problem rather than otherwise in a critically changing world.
As if to prove the latter, the Israeli government managed, in an extremely violent interception of the flotilla carrying humanitarian aid to the isolated Gaza Strip, to cause international outrage as never seen before. In an action marked by despicable arrogance and inhumanity, the Israeli Defense Forces (IDF) attacked civilian ships far outside the country’s naval borders and killed defenseless people, reminiscent of Somali pirates’ barbaric nature.
Such is the logic of madness. Whenever irrational forces hijack a state, the path to radicalizing everything in sight is very short, and inevitable. In recent years the same state succeeded in its ruthless objective of radicalizing the Palestinians, under the mantra of “divide, denigrate and punish.” The more radicalized the Palestinians have become in miserable Gaza, the more justified the Israeli government -- and the surrounding militarist mentality backing it -- has imagined itself in its shift toward inhumane behavior. The result is that Gaza has become an open-air prison for 1.5. million of people kept under gunpoint without any basic needs met, struggling for bare survival.

The unacceptable siege of Gaza would inevitably lead to phase two of the Israeli folly. With its disproportionate violence against the civilian ships carrying citizens of 33 nations and its breaches of international law, Israel has now managed to spread outrage to the world. The image of Israel in the outside world will never be the same.

Such madness makes any state -- however democratic and historically legitimate it claims to be -- fall into the same league of rogue states it has fought to distance itself from and fight against in the name of peace and security. With Monday morning’s brutal action, Israel is now in the same league as those states -- and it has its own senseless, adventurist government to blame.

“It seemed no one could resist the temptation to show the IDF’s strength in a place the IDF should not have been in the first place. Because the question was not who would win the confrontation, but who would win more public opinion points. In this test, Benjamin Netanyahu’s government failed completely. Israel let its policy of maintaining the siege on Gaza become an existential matter. This policy boomeranged and cost Israel its international legitimacy,” the independent Haaretz daily wrote in its editorial yesterday.

It concluded that “the decision-makers’ negligence is threatening the security of Israelis and Israel’s global status. Someone must be held responsible for this disgraceful failure. There is no way to convince Israel’s citizens and its friends around the world that Israel regrets the confrontation and its results, and is learning from its errors, other than setting up a state inquiry committee to investigate the decision-making process and to decide who should pay for this dangerous policy.”

Although the UN Security Council’s resolution may be perceived as yet another whisper by Netanyahu and his political thugs, the cost to Jerusalem will be much higher than before. As its relations with Turkey will enter a “cold war” period, public opinion in the EU and the US will no longer bear open sympathies for the current management of the Israeli state.

Predicting an ongoing global firestorm, George Friedman from Strategic Forecasting (Stratfor) writes: “Public opinion matters where issues are not of fundamental interest to a nation. Israel is not a fundamental interest to other nations. The ability to generate public antipathy to Israel can therefore reshape Israeli relations with countries critical to Israel. For example, a redefinition of US-Israeli relations will have much less effect on the United States than on Israel. The Obama administration, already irritated by the Israelis, might now see a shift in US public opinion that will open the way to a new US-Israeli relationship disadvantageous to Israel.”

However the demanded international pressure in any form might be of little value in the case of the current Israel. The primary contribution the ongoing diplomacy will have will be on whether or not the Netanyahu government has run its course. And the change, as with any democracy, must come from within Israel to end the madness. The critical question is therefore whether the large, silent, civilized segments of Israeli society will raise their voices for change.

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