Palestine is again in the news, with mass protests and demonstrations on the anniversary of the 1967 War. Eleven people were shot dead by Israeli forces on the border of Syria and five more on the West Bank. Earlier, similar demonstrations had taken place on the anniversary of Nakba, the 1948 expulsion and massacre of Palestinians from within what now constitutes the borders of Israel. The Fatah and the Hamas coming together in an accord brokered by Egypt, the opening of the Rafah crossing by Egypt, the preparations of a new flotilla to Gaza are all indications that Palestine issue is not going to drop below the international radar.
For the Israeli security establishment, there is another looming threat – the likely recognition in September this year of an independent Palestinian state by the United Nations. If it comes to a vote in the UN General Assembly, the US and Israel would probably be the only nay votes, barring a few tiny client states of the US. Even the Europeans are likely to abstain rather than register a 'no' vote. It will indeed mark a new low for Israel internationally, though not materially changing the situation on the ground.
It is the increasing isolation of Israel that has caused a split within the heart of the right-wing security establishment. Meir Dagan, a former head of Mossad, has publicly criticised the current Israeli government's conduct, calling Benjamin Netanyahu and Yehud Barak “reckless and irresponsible.” Meir Dagan is no former hawk turned peacenik after retirement. Ariel Sharon selected Dagan because he wanted a Mossad with “a knife between its teeth.” As head of Mossad, Dagan was particularly brutal towards the Palestinians and played a key role in the illegal killings and assassinations that Israel carried out with US blessings. So when a Dagan says that the current Israeli Government is “reckless”, what does he really mean?
Let us be very clear that Dagan and others like him are not talking about a settlement with Palestinians or any kind of just peace. The issue for them is purely how Israel should react to its growing international isolation: the only issue is how to ‘manage’ the international narrative on the occupation of Palestine. His grouse is that Netanyahu and Barak – the duo running Israel today – are doing a bad job of this and have painted Israel into a corner. Refusing to respond – for example, to the Saudi peace plan or about a return to pre-1967 borders – makes Israel increasingly look like the rogue state that it really is.
Dagan, like many others of his ilk, want that Israel publicly responds to these peace plans, talks to the Palestinians and offers them a truncated West Bank divided into isolated Bantustans. If the Palestinians refuse as they probably will, Israel can try and capture the propaganda high ground, as they did after PLO turned down the completely one-sided Clinton ‘peace’ plan. Al Jazeera has made public the degree to which the Palestinian Authority was willing to go for peace – virtually surrendering Jerusalem, large parts of the West Bank and giving up the right to return except for a token 10,000. That in spite of this, there has been no peace makes it clear that the political and security establishment in Israel will not willingly give up the occupied territories. Their goal is simply the continued occupation, hoping that at some point the international opinion will 'allow' them to push the Palestinians completely out of the West Bank.
The problem for Israel now is that despite the Arab ‘spring’ bringing in only a truncated democracy, it has brought Arab people back as players on their respective national stages. Even the pro-US Egyptian military regime cannot ignore completely the will of the Egyptian people. The opening of the Rafah crossing, symbolic as it is – still not open for commercial traffic – marks a significant change. Israel can no longer count that the Arab regimes will continue to keep their people under their heel. Solidarity for Palestine runs deep in the Arab world. Increasingly, people will want to march to occupied territories and try and break the siege of Gaza. How many are the Israelis going to shoot? How many boats are they going to capture on the high seas? How long can they maintain that the siege of Gaza is only to prevent ‘terrorist’ attacks on Israel?
The other issue, on which Dagan has fallen out with Netanyahu and Barak, is on Iran. Anybody with a modicum of strategic understanding knows that a Israeli strike on Iran is currently no longer militarily feasible. It would drag the US into a shooting war with the Iranians and bring to boil the whole region. With Egypt currently out of the equation, Turkey having distanced itself from Israel, the US bogged down into two wars in West Asia and now a new one in Africa, the strategic game has changed completely. Dagan believes that more Israel focuses on the non-existent military option of an Israeli strike on Iran, the more it fails to address the immediate issues it needs to do for its future survival.
What is being discussed by both sides of the security debate – Dagan or Netanyahu-Barak – is what manoeuvre will be more effective in the continued occupation of Palestinian lands. For Netanyahu-Barak side, they believe that with an alliance with the American right, they can brow-beat a weak-kneed Obama and continue with business as usual and the brutalisation of the Palestinian people. The US – in their eyes – is the only one that counts. For Israeli establishment, the rest of the world does not matter; they are just some background noise. The Europeans are a little more important but can be cowed into silence by talking about the holocaust, anti-Semitism and the past European record. For Dagan, this is not a viable long-term option. As Israel continues to lose international legitimacy, it has to make some ‘peace’ manoeuvres – engage in some peace talks and then try and pit Hamas against the Fatah.
For the Palestinians, this is key issue – how not to accept a Bantustan solution or fight against each other. The Palestinian people recognise the importance of Arab spring. If democracy becomes stronger in Arab lands, Israel will become more and more isolated. The Arab governments will have to respond to the deep solidarity that the Arab people have for Palestinians, which their rulers have ignored. For the first time after Camp David accord, the Arab regimes are under the pressure from their own people; as are the Palestinian Authority and the Hamas. This is the game changer – the people and not regimes will drive the future course of history in this region.