A Way Out of the Chaos in Israel

Joe Biden has lost patience with Benjamin Netanyahu.

Previous US Presidents must have been exasperated by the succession of Israeli Prime Ministers who paid lip service to international law, UN resolutions and human rights, and then ignored them in practice, but this time the frustration is public. Netanyahu is no longer welcome in the White House, and Biden has told him he must end his attempt to destroy democracy in Israel. Jewish organisations like Yachad in the UK have demonstrated around the world that Israel’s leader must not be allowed to join the autocrats’ club, along with Putin, Erdogan and Orban. In stark contrast to Biden, the UK government kowtowed to Netanyahu only days before the US condemnation of his latest moves, and has published what must now be a deeply embarrassing ‘roadmap’; it ticks off virtually everything on Netanyahu’s wish-list.

Netanyahu’s initial response to Biden’s announcement was to say Israel could manage without US help, and to call on his supporters to stage counter-demonstrations opposing those seen over the last few recent weeks. Tens of thousands have shown their disapproval of the planned legal reforms, both in Israel and in cities around the world. The truth is that Israel needs its friends more than ever, and dismissing Biden’s call to end his attack on the Israeli judiciary was a mistake.

From its founding in 1948 until now, Israel’s rulers have relied on its strategic importance to the US when it wanted to get away with flouting international rules and ignoring criticism, or to justify actions taken against hostile neighbours. But times have changed. Israel no longer faces a credible threat from its neighbours, and is now of little strategic importance to the US.

Given Netanyahu’s manufactured conflict with Iran, with which he hopes to enhance the US perception of Israel as an important ally, it’s ironic that he relies on domestic support from far-right religious groups. Their desire for a theocratic state based on fundamentalist religion exactly mirrors the belief of the mullahs ruling Iran. Israel’s leaders have in the past been proud to proclaim it ‘the only democracy in the Middle East’, but the proposed law reforms, slowed after Biden’s remarks but not halted, will turn Israel into a dictatorship.

Liberal Democrats, together with our allies in other parties in Britain and across Europe must choose this moment to support the call for a democratic Israeli state which reflects the will of all its people, including Palestinians living in Israel and the moderate and secular Jews who reject Netanyahu’s vision.

Indivisible from achieving peace inside Israel’s borders is recognising the existence of the neighbouring state of Palestine. Israel’s refusal to do so is at the heart of the present wave of protests in Israeli streets because hatred directed by the far-right in Israel at their Palestinian neighbours is what sustains the extreme right-wing in Israel. The Palestinians’ main crime has been to resist the 55 year illegal occupation of their country.

Britain and most other European countries have held back from formal recognition of Palestine, waiting for “the right time”. For Liberal Democrats the right time is now, and this is precisely what Layla Moran called for in her Palestine Statehood (Recognition) Bill which had its second reading in Parliament on 17 March. Recognition would be a powerful step towards realistic peace talks.

Ending its repression of the people of Gaza, East Jerusalem and the West Bank would allow Israel to re-assert the principles of fairness, justice and freedom on which it was founded, and make present day Israel a country to be proud of.

* Andy Daer is a member of the Liberal Democrats in South Gloucestershire, and Vice Chair of the Liberal Democrat Friends of Palestine.

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15 Comments

  • The conflict with Iran isn’t “manufactured”, and it does face a very real threat from 2 Iranian-backed militias: Hamas and Hezbollah. Hezbollah has an estimated 100,000 rockets that can be fired into Israel, mostly supplied by Iran. Hamas is now weakened but continues to attempt acts of terrorism. The Iranian regime has directly launched terrorist attacks against Jews and Israelis around the world, including one in Buenos Aires that killed 85 people in 1994. It is also wrong to ignore ongoing terrorist attacks by Palestinian groups, which are a weekly occurrence. None of that is any excuse for anti-Democratic domestic measures or Israeli settlement policies in the West Bank, but it does help to explain the appeal of far-right chauvinists, militarists, and nationalists who argue Israel will only be strong and secure if it holds the West Bank.

  • Nonconformistradical 3rd Apr '23 - 5:30pm

    @David
    “None of that is any excuse for anti-Democratic domestic measures”
    Indeed

    ” or Israeli settlement policies in the West Bank”
    Do you think the West Bank Palestinians should stand idly by while Israel’s illegal settlements policy continues?

  • Leon Duveen 3rd Apr '23 - 5:35pm

    Andy, thanks for this. I have been following the demonstrations in Israel closely and even this weekend, after Netanyahu call a “time out” on his Judicial Reform legislation to allow for a discussions with the opposition parties for a compromise, there were still 100,000 of Israelis out on the streets. The UK Government should make it very clear that the reforms would mean Israel could no longer be considered a democracy.
    Many of the demonstrators are realising that it is the Occupation of Palestine that has lead to the far right taking power in Israel and that while it continues, there can be no true democracy inside Israel.
    Netanyahu & those parties on the far-right (Otzma Yehudit & Religious Zionists) are the biggest danger to Israel. They are using every trick they can, heightening tension with Palestinian, Syria & Iran, to distract from the growing political crisis inside Israel. We must use whatever pressure we have to stop them.

  • I was pleased to see that all 14 of our MPs signed a strong letter to the PM criticising his recent hosting of Netanyahu. https://twitter.com/LaylaMoran/status/1638927152031891461

    It has been heartening indeed to see all the demonstrations in London recently, mirroring those in Israel, and led by liberal organisations in the Jewish community like https://yachad.org.uk/campaigns/ At one of these rallies a keynote speaker was the increasingly prominent Lib Dem internationalist Ruvi Ziegler.

    As Andy Daer, and our MPs, have pointed out recognition of the State of Palestine so that Palestinians can negotiate on an equal basis with Israel, is long overdue. On its own this won’t be enough pressure to bring about change which is why we agreed a motion at our September 2021 Conference that also called for a ban on trade with illegal settlements. There are many in the Labour Party (and even some Tories) who support our position but sadly the Labour leadership is silent on the subject of Israel/Palestine. I suspect there is an audience out there – especially among young people- for a Party that really stands up for human rights and international law wherever they are under threat.

  • George Thomas 3rd Apr '23 - 8:41pm

    “Britain and most other European countries have held back from formal recognition of Palestine, waiting for “the right time”.”

    I can’t believe the UK, and others, don’t even recognise Palestine yet. We can’t enter into serious conversation regarding worst parts of their elected officials until we do as before that it’s just a “bogey man” type character which we use to justify the worst parts of Israel’s elected official’s behaviour.

  • David McDowall 3rd Apr '23 - 10:19pm

    Layla Moran’s bill to recognise Palestinian statehood is greatly welcome, 104 years after the UK deceitfully promised Palestinians self-determination only to renege on it. It is unlikely a Tory government would support the bill since it would cause a row with Israel, with which it has just signed a disgraceful trade agreement, disgraceful because it is turning a blind eye to Israel’s serious breaches of peremptory norms of international law, which it may not do without itself coming into serious disregard of its international obligations.

    Meanwhile, one must remember that Israel’s protesters object to measures that affect them, as Jews. Palestinians have little skin in this game since the Supreme Court is hardly a friend, having approved the annexation of conquered land, colonisation of occupied territory, collective punishment including house demolitions, detention without trial and many other violations besides.

    These issues that might have been separate are now in collision, thanks to Netanyahu’s cabinet comrades, who may suffer a temporary reversal. But the demographic trajectory of the religious right suggests Israel will, unless checked, deepen the oppression of its subject non-Jews, including those with Israeli citizenship. Who will now stand for the rule of international law? Britain? Europe? America?

  • Leon Duveen 4th Apr '23 - 10:29am

    @David McDowall – while I would agree that most of those demonstrating each week are Israeli Jew, is is nor correct to say Palestinians have little skin in this game. If Netanyahu, Smotrich & Ben-Gvir get these reforms past, the first target for their use will be Palestinians, both in the Occupied Territories & inside Israel.
    Smotrich & Ben-Gvir have been explicit in saying that the main reason for these reforms is to remove judicial oversight from their activities to further oppress the Palestinians in OPT and to remove more of the rights of Palestinians inside Israel.
    We must all pro-Palestine or pro-Israel, do what we can to stop these reforms and the other changes (like a new “National Guard” under Ben-Gvir’s control, his price for agreeing to the delay) proceeding.

  • Thanks, everyone, for your comments. I think it’s fair to point out that all international conflicts are to some degree manufactured, usually for the benefit of the rulers of both countries. George Orwell made the case better than I can in his book 1984, and I don’t mean to single out Israel for squaring up against Iran, especially while our own government is demonising refugees in the hope of winning the next general election.
    Although I know he speaks for many, and no-one condones the killing of innocent people, I’d like to pick up the way @David uses the word ‘terrorism’. Both sides use tactics which the know will instil terror in the opposing civilian population. What seem to be lost for some observers are the different reasons for the violence: Israeli violence is used in pursuit of the long-held ambition to turn the illegal occupation of Palestine into permanent annexation. Palestinian violence is the response, a direct consequence of Israel’s actions. Nobody wants to be driven out of their own country, and the English language has a word for a response to an invasion – resistance.
    Whichever language you use to describe it, the only way out of the current mess for Israel is a new initiative to establish an independent Palestinian state. It would not only fulfil the promise we made to all the people of Palestine just over a hundred years ago, it would go a long way towards healing the schism in present day Israel.

  • I have some sympathy left for Israel and the jewish population but it is mainly based on historical abuses by the Nazis.
    I have very little sympathy for the current and previous gov’ts who, in a very difficuly position, have consistently acted in ways that can only make the situation more intractable and therefor worse.
    They already have the upper hand over the Palestinians and to subjugate their own people by Ditching the Rule of Law is probably the last starw for me. They say that my enemys enemy is my friend. Will the disafected Israelies work with the Palestinians?

  • Westerners who make apologies for Palestinian violence against Israel are prolonging the conflict not shortening it. Much of this violence may indeed be provoked by awful Israeli policy, but much is also “provoked” by Israel’s existence. Until Israel’s right to exist is acknowledged and resistance to that existence by force comes to an end, there is no possibility of an end to the conflict. No democratic sovereign state would or should concede its own destruction like this.

    Nonconformistradical asks if West Bank Palestinians should “stand idly by”. It might not be the best strategy, but it’s a lot better than resistance with rockets and abductions – no democratic sovereign state would or should give in to that sort of thing.

    It’s dead right to oppose the judicial reforms that Netanyahu is attempting, but if you conflate this opposition with all the anti-Israeli grievances around, you are reinforcing exactly the polarisation that Netanyahu wants. So the tone of this article is wrong and unhelpful.

  • @Joe Otten, I agree no-one should get drawn into the same mind-set as the aggressor when they are attacked, if they can help it. For Netanyahu it’s very convenient to be able to label the Palestinians as terrorists. What I thought my article was advocating was for British and European politicians to recognise Palestine, and get a peace process moving forward.
    You go on to say Israel is just defending itself against the possibility of “it’s own destruction”. None of Israel’s leaders can seriously believe Hamas is capable of defeating one of the most powerful military states in the Middle East even if it wanted to, and my understanding is that the PLO, including Hamas, has long since recognised Israel’s right to exist – within the 1967 borders. Other neighbouring Arab countries are also no longer a threat to Israel.
    Talk of Israel’s existence being on the Palestinians’ wish list is simply a way of justifying Israel’s continued domination and oppression (Amnesty International’s words) of the Palestinians.
    So it seems like doublespeak to construe Palestinian resistance to occupation as denial of Israel’s right to exist. Israeli settlers have been claiming Palestinian territory bit by bit for years, and the new government openly admits it intends to annex the entire West Bank. Surely it’s as plain as day which of the two is denying the other’s right to exist ?

  • Andy, thanks for your response. You’re right to say that Hamas don’t have the power to destroy Israel. If they had that power, I do think they would have used it, I guess you don’t.

    They don’t even have the power to resist any of Israel’s policies, so it is fair to ask what purpose the violence serves. The rocket attacks – the occasional killings of a handful of Israeli citizens – what might this conceivably achieve and therefore what can be inferred about its purpose. Clearly it isn’t resistance of any kind because it is not resisting anything. It has clearly hardened attitudes in Israel over the years, and perhaps this is part of the purpose. This does nothing for the Palestinians but certainly serves Iran’s agenda, and Iran after all are supplying all those rockets aren’t they?

    Whatever the violence is intended to achieve all it appears to actually achieve is to prevent any peace process from succeeding, and therefore it is at least as contemptible as any violence from Israel.

  • Joe, thank you for continuing this discussion. I can’t answer for Hamas, or guess how they would use more powerful weapons if they had them, but while we’re on hypothetical questions, would Hamas even exist if Israel hadn’t invaded East Jerusalem, the West Bank, and Gaza in 1967, and remained as the illegal occupying power ever since? Or what if Israel hadn’t imposed a blockade on Gaza in 2005 which breaks almost every article in the Fourth Geneva Convention?
    I’ve already agreed with you that meeting violent repression with violent resistance is largely counterproductive, but I’m not one of the two million Gazans living in deliberately imposed poverty, with no access to clean water, limited electricity and fuel, no job and no prospects, and nor was my cousin or brother killed or injured by an IDF soldier.
    Both sides include advocates of continued, pointless violence, but it is Israel’s refusal to recognise the Palestinian people’s right to their own country which is the obstacle to peace.

  • It is quite heartening to see this push back from so many Israeli citizens against the effort by the Netanyahu coalition to undermine democracy in Israel. His plans for an overhaul of the independent judiciary would give the governing coalition the final say over all judicial appointments, remove Israel’s system of checks and balances and concentrate power in the hands of the government. The UK Yachad are right to say that Israel’s leader must not be allowed to join the autocrats’ club, along with Putin, Erdogan and Orban.

  • Peter Hirst 8th Apr '23 - 12:21pm

    A sound bit of writing. Israel would benefit from some deliberative democracy so its people can decide what sort of democracy it is. Recognition of the Palestinian state is the obvious first step to defusing the violence and bring some normalisation to the politics of the Middle East.

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