Hebrew University Political Science professor Ira Sharkansky evaluates the latest happenings in Israel.
Thu,Dec 12,2013 9 Tevet 5774
Palestine is poised to receive recognition as a state by the United Nations General Assembly. Someone has labeled this as its arrival to the level of a "virtual state" without membership in the United Nations or recognition as a state by the two governments most important, i.e., Israel and the United States. Its new status may allow Palestine to trouble Israel by bringing cases to international courts, but Israel will not be without its own leverage.
Just last week Israeli security forces entered the major cities of the West Bank to arrest Hamas members of the Palestinian parliament. Was that an affront to Palestine of the kind likely to recur, or Israel's cooperation with the Fatah government of Mahmoud Abbas, which is likely to recur in order to limit the power of Hamas? We must ask questions like that--which we cannot answer with certainty--in order to understand events in this region of amorphous realities.
Those who will applaud Palestine's elevation in status may also be joining Hamas' claims of victory in the most recent mini-war with Gaza.
Even with all of the above reservations about the success of Fatah in the United Nations or Hamas on the battlefield with Israel, the two events push us to consider some of the expectations about a Palestine ascending to statehood.
Lest I be mistaken, it's appropriate to indicate at this point that I would welcome a real state--with a disciplined security force and a government responsive to its population, able to support itself with taxes and other fiscal mechanisms along with decent social services--alongside Israel to the east and the southwest. It would be possible to arrange secure ground connections between the West Bank and Gaza, if only the leaders of the two areas could talk with one another without the threat of yet another civil war between them.
The thrust of this note is more in the direction of dismissing any fantasies that Israel is on a cliff, about to tip over into the graveyard of former countries.
The United States Government may be close to a financial cliff. Israel is vibrant economically, politically, and militarily. Palestine, in contrast, may win a majority vote in the United Nations General Assembly, but is heavily dependent on others for financial assistance and the surreptitious supply of arms, and has been on the edge or over the edge of a civil war since the rise of Hamas.
Among the expectations we read about from commentators gleefully confident about Israel's end are those derived from western colonialism and South Africa. The image conveyed is that Israel is an outpost of the West in the Muslim Middle East, and will crumble like the colonial outposts in the 1960s, perhaps in response to economic sanctions as did white South Africa in the 1990s.
There are no guarantees about the future. Those who are certain about any drift, trend, or inevitability must wait and see. Beyond a few years, it will be the next generation of leaders and observers who will decide and comment about their present and future. A few years ago Americans were concerned about learning Japanese. Now it is Chinese, but again it is too early to declare the end of the American era and the beginning of Asian hegemony.
It would be an exaggeration to describe Israel's future as "rosy," but "secure" appears appropriate. Not only is there a population tilt the opposite of what it was in the most European of the colonial outposts and in South Africa, but many--perhaps most--Arabs of Israel appear to be better integrated and appreciative of the country's benefits than wanting to become part of Palestine. The Arabs of Jerusalem are less well integrated in Israel by virtue of language and citizenship than Arabs living within Israel's pre-1967 borders, but 35% of Jerusalem Arabs responded to a 2011 survey that they preferred Israeli citizenship to that of a Palestinian state; 30% preferred affiliation with Palestine, and 30% didn't know, or preferred not to answer the question.
The recent Gaza operation may not be the last, but the Hamas regime is much closer to the cliff of extinction than Israel. Moreover, the Netanyahu government--considered right-wing and extreme by detractors--proved itself able to obtain international legitimacy for the start of the operation, and then fit within the frameworks promoted by the United States, European countries and Egypt in bringing it to a close.
The immediate future is likely to include verbal and ceremonial excesses over another declaration of Palestinian statehood. There was already such a declaration by Palestinians in 1988, proclaimed by Yasir Arafat and the Palestine National Council sitting in Tunisia. New York is no closer to the many times declared Palestinian capital of Jerusalem.