The beginning of a new year is a good time to assess where Israel stands. Based on my conversations over the past year with experts, journalists and highly placed officials, it is possible to identify several trends of concern:
The nuclear deal with Iran, which will cause a dangerous shift of power in the Middle East, was the center of political life in the past year. Israel’s interests have been ruthlessly ignored through the nuclear free pass Iran received, and Shiite Iran gained tremendous power. How was that possible?
“You cannot achieve compromises through naïve concessions,” Iran expert Daniel W. Szpilman told me, “but through a willful determination not to compromise. The mullahs understood. The West did not.”
Seventy-eight percent of Israelis believe that the Iran deal threatens the security of their country. A senior associate editor of The Washington Post, Lally Weymouth, had the opportunity to talk with main members of the Israeli government about potential consequences of the Iran deal. She emphasized that, in particular, Israeli Minister of Defense Moshe Ya’alon has concerns and fears about the consequences: “We consider the deal a very bad one,” Ya’alon told Weymouth. A breach of the agreement through Iran is, in Ya’alon’s opinion, very possible. At the end of his long interview, Yaalon emphasized that the nuclear program consists of “lies and deception.”
“Iran came weak to the negotiation table and turned out as the winner — a real tragedy for everybody because the major exporter of terror now gets the power to maliciously interfere into the conflicts in the Middle East.”
After numerous additional concessions to Iran, there was a final push for a quicker lifting of sanctions. The foreign minister from Switzerland, Didier Burkhalter, interfered unilaterally, although the Swiss were not part of the negotiations in Lausanne. That didn’t keep Burkhalter from publicly claiming that the Iran deal was also a success for the Swiss. “The lifting of sanctions should happen as fast as possible, in my opinion,” Burkhalter emphasized. “We have close relations with Iran at all levels,” he added.
Even before the deal with the Islamic Republic was signed, European companies already had begun to get in touch with Iran, and it became obvious that the wish for substantial business with Iran was incomparably bigger than the concern about Israel. The co-founder of the Revolutionary Guard of Iran, Rafigh Doust, explained in a press conference: “The countdown to destroy Israel has begun.”
President Barack Obama is leading us to a “point of no return,” a nuclear Iran and, therefore, an atomized Middle East, Bret Stephens, opinion editor of The Wall Street Journal, told me.
Netanyahu proved to be an impressive statesman, with his speech in front of a joint meeting of Congress. Would it have been wiser for him to abandon Israel’s confrontation with Obama? My answer to that is clear and precise: It is absurd to propose that the Israeli prime minister should behave carefully while the existence of his country is threatened through the American support of a nuclear Iran. Not to resist such politics would be a violation for Netanyahu of his responsibility as a political leader of Israel.
“It is my expectation that Netanyahu will brilliantly succeed to put the successor to Obama, whether Democrat or Republican, under pressure to act against the Iranian hegemony and to prevent the development of Iran as a nuclear state. I am convinced that the post-Obama government will improve the relations to Israel considerably,” journalist Isi Leibler told me.
2. 11 years of Mahmoud Abbas
In the 11th year of his initial four-year term, Mahmoud Abbas, the president of the Palestinian Authority (PA), operates without legitimacy and without a parliament. He would receive only 30 percent of votes in re-elections — Hamas would be the clear winner. Abbas maintains security cooperation with Israel, but at the same time celebrates mass murderers as freedom fighters and eliminates any potential political opponent. In the 10 years of his presidency, the lives of the Palestinians haven’t noticeably improved. Israel recognizes Abbas because every alternative would be even less beneficial.
Abbas, for strategic reasons, has temporarily put the “armed conflict” aside and replaced it with “diplomacy,” but it is a fact that Abbas has so far rejected any specific peace proposals.
Why do so many in Israel believe peace negotiations should involve the people who were conquered in 1967? The reality is that for most of the Palestinians, it is not about the control of the areas conquered in 1967; it is about the whole existence of the State of Israel. The Palestinians would rather establish no state if they have to accept Israel as a Jewish state. “Zionism started as foreign business and will end as foreign business,” Abbas said.
Anti-Israeli propaganda is not just limited to the Middle East, but nowadays has spread through the whole world — especially in Europe, with calls to boycott Israeli products, divest from Israeli companies and levy political sanctions. At the same time, primitive calls of hate by the PA are ignored and their calls for ethnic cleansing tolerated, such as the explanation by Abbas that there is no room for Jews in a future Palestinian state.
3. Israel an “apartheid state”
The disparagement of Israel as an “apartheid state” is particularly ridiculous, as Arabs in the Jewish state can enjoy more privileges than in any other [Middle Eastern] country. There is a huge increase, especially of Arab women, in the Israeli job market. The Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development praised Israel for its efforts to expand job opportunities among the Arab population. The Israeli government also funded 85 percent of research to Arabic high- tech startups, unlike 50 percent of Jewish startups. All of those facts, however, are kept as a kind of secret in most media reports of Israel. Positive media coverage about Israel rarely gets attention and has to make way for one-dimensional and distorted facts.
“The automatism with which Israel again and again is assigned the worst intentions is breathtaking and at times malicious,” emphasizes Clemens Wergin in the German daily newspaper Die Welt. The demonization and delegitimization of Israel represents a difficult challenge for the Jewish state and has since its founding.
4. Jewish and Islamic terrorism
Not too long ago, there was scandalous news from Israel. Shira Banki, a 16-year-old girl, was fatally injured at the Jerusalem gay pride parade in a knife attack by a fanatic Orthodox man. At approximately the same time, an 18-month-old boy and his father died from an arson attack on the home of a Palestinian family. Israel’s Secret Service assumes that the perpetrators were fanatic Jewish terrorists. It is not a secret anymore that there are certain fringe/marginal groups of Israel’s radical terrorists, which neither follow rabbis nor politicians but call themselves “anarchistic anti-Zionists,” who try to pull down the whole region into a destructive territory with provocation and violent actions.
A society isn’t characterized by its fringe groups, but by how the mainstream of the society reacts to them, and it appears that the overwhelming majority of Israelis are united in a tremendous wave of protest against such acts of political or racist violence. The crimes of the Jewish perpetrators are condemned in all circles of Israeli society. The late philosopher and editor Frank A. Meyer asked exactly that question: “Do Muslims go by ten thousands on the streets because they won’t accept that Israelis are getting murdered by Muslims?” The question sadly answers itself.
Arthur Cohn is an international film producer whose films include “The Garden of the Finzi-Continis,” “Central Station” and “One Day in September.”