The military and economic prowess currently enjoyed by Israelis has led to a
false sense of invincibility and a belief that the status quo is sustainable.
While the economy is robust and public confidence in the IDF remains high, the
national aspiration for a safe, secure and prosperous homeland for the Jews has
yet to be achieved.
Achieving this goal is inextricably linked to the
establishment of a lasting two-state solution, relinquishing other occupied Arab
land while abandoning the perilous notion held by many that their country can
maintain this false sense of invincibility. Perhaps this attitude explains the
Netanyahu government’s unwillingness to extend the settlement freeze for a mere
two more months, because the public has become complacent and does not care if
the negotiations break down completely.
Israelis are currently enjoying
life in a mirage. To drive on the country’s state-of-the-art highways and walk
along the Tel Aviv beachfront with carefree people enjoying the sand and sun is
to witness this illusion in action. With a strong economy and violence
significantly reduced, Israelis today have a chilling sense of security. They
continue to feel victimized and isolated by the international community, yet
feel assured in their ability to defend the state against enemy
Meanwhile, they have begun to lose compassion and empathy for
those who are suffering so that they may enjoy this false sense of
I REMEMBER recently having breakfast in one of Tel Aviv’s
beachfront hotels with a colleague who said to me in the midst of our heated
discussion about the peace process: “Alon, you keep talking about the need for
peace and ending the occupation, why should we do that? Look at what we have
created, look at the array of food and splendor; we live in a de facto peace and
enormous prosperity – why should we give anything back?”
In a poll last March,
only 8 percent of Israelis cited a resolution of the conflict with the
Palestinians as the country’s most urgent problem. With an alarming
shortsightedness, they have come to believe that the status quo can be preserved
indefinitely. But can this really last? This mirage could be undermined in a
single day by a few deadly attacks. Protecting Israel against such a potential
catastrophe requires diligent and concerted efforts to end the conflict, while
the whole world is urging an equitable solution.
The country’s perceived
invincibility stems from its military power, economic prosperity and
technological might. Its military is among the strongest and most expertly
trained and experienced in the world, with defense spending per capita
consistently among the highest.
Even as Israel was criticized by the
international community for using disproportionate force in wars in Lebanon and
Gaza (and in the flotilla affair), the public has remained fully supportive and
confident in the use of the IDF’s military power.
Meanwhile, despite a
sluggish global economy, the country is experiencing rapid economic growth. In
the second quarter of this year, its economy grew 4.7%, the fastest pace in two
years. Consumer confidence is high, with spending increasing nearly 9% in that
same period. Meanwhile, it has rebounded from the global financial crisis due to
the strength of its global exports, which constitute nearly half of its gross
Finally, its technological might and entrepreneurial
spirit are unmatched. Today, it enjoys more start-ups per capita than any
country in the world, and has more companies listed on the Nasdaq exchange than
all European nations combined. Its reputation as a leader in the hi-tech sector
has led many to call it the “Silicon Valley of the Middle East.”
of these achievements sustainable without peace? The short answer is no. Without
a viable peace process, the Palestinians will have nothing to lose, while Israel
has everything to lose. This is a formula for disaster which must be upended
before the dream of invincibility devolves into a nightmare.
ago, the situation was quite similar. The West Bank was calm and economic growth
in the area considerable. Israel was enjoying advances in its economy and a
general sense of confidence that despite the failed Oslo process, the status quo
could be sustained. The complete breakdown of peace talks and the violent
second intifada revealed that this was indeed an illusion. It would be
tragic if history were to repeat itself.
Winning wars has become
expensive, both in dollars and diplomacy. Defense spending has exponentially
grown to more than NIS 50 billion this year. But the country cannot spend enough
to overcome the international scrutiny and isolation it will receive as a result
of “winning” another war. If there is no progress in peace talks, it could
become only a question of time as to when a new violent eruption will occur that
could make the second intifada pale in comparison.
Even if the
Palestinian Authority seeks to prevent such an escalation, its security forces
may not be able to control a widespread popular uprising, which could be fueled
by extremists. The strengthened weapons capabilities of Hamas and Hizbullah are
well documented, and each have thousands of rockets capable of reaching Ashkelon
and Tel Aviv. Israel could win another war – even one that would occur on all
fronts – but at what cost in lives and property and to the prospects for
achieving long-term peace and security?
In fact, if the current peacemaking
efforts cannot be salvaged, and the situation dangerously devolves, the costs
would be shattering. As Israel refrains from a settlement freeze that would keep
peace talks afloat, the international community is of the consensus that its
inaction demonstrates that it does not want peace.
In addition to the
increased isolation in the international community, the Arab states could
abandon their peace initiative, giving Islamic extremists the opportunity and
justification to undermine Israel in any way they can.
delegitimization campaign is likely to intensify and gain support. While for the
time being the US is likely to remain at Israel’s side, it is unlikely that it
can fend off its growing isolation in the face of little evidence that it is
willing to continue peace efforts, and in doing so help the US to advance its
goals in the region. Economic growth may indeed suffer as one country after
another seeks to distance itself from a country that is viewed not only as an
obstacle to peace, but one that undermines their strategic interests in the
Middle East. Israel could become a liability even to the US, which would have
the direst consequences imaginable.
Opponents argue that the status quo
is indeed sustainable and that peace efforts are useless. They argue that no
matter what Israel does, the Palestinians will never deliver peace with security
and the international community – especially the Arab states – will criticize
and isolate it.
They argue that the withdrawal from Lebanon and Gaza, and
the subsequent rocket attacks and wars, prove that the concept of land-for-peace
is no longer valid. In short, they now argue that “we made a land of milk and
honey” – as my friend said – “why should we give it away when we have means to
This is a fallacy. Genuine peace, security and prosperity can only
come with an agreement negotiated between the parties in good faith, with the
assistance and support of the US, Arab states and the international community.
Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu is in a unique position to lead efforts to
achieve this goal, but he must show the determination and political will for it
Israel is therefore facing a pivotal crossroad – continue
dreaming that it can maintain the mirage of invincibility and potentially lead
itself to a national nightmare, or make its dream a reality by pursuing a
twostate solution and doing so from a position of strength.
As the father
of modern Zionism, Theodor Herzl, famously once said, “If you will it, it is no
Netanyahu is capable of steering the country in either direction.
To move toward peace, he must now follow Herzl’s dream of a Jewish state living
in peace and harmony with its neighbors.
The writer is professor of
international relations at the Center for Global Affairs at NYU. He teaches
international negotiation and Middle Eastern studies.