The corner into which Israel is painting itself has shrunk again.
On October 3rd, Sweden announced that it intended to recognise Palestine. On the 13th, Britain’s lower house voted 274-12 to do the same thing. Although only about half of British MPs turned up, and the motion itself is non-binding, the symbolism is stark.
If you need proof of just how friendless Israel’s hard-Right government has become, consider the statements last night from MPs who would normally count themselves the country’s natural allies. Arch-Tories such as Nicholas Soames (whose grandfather Winston Churchill is Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s political hero) spoke eloquently in favour of Palestinian statehood. And Richard Ottoway, chair of the foreign affairs select committee, said that despite having been “a friend of Israel long before I became a Tory”, its recent policies had “outraged me more than anything else in my political life”, concluding: “If Israel is losing the support of people like me, it is losing a lot of people.”
No one stood up to express support for Israel’s more controversial policies such as the recent war on Gaza or its settlements. And taboos crumbled.
Labour MP Andy Slaughter’s comparison of the West Bank occupation to South African apartheid drew only murmurs of assent around the chamber. Even most of those who expressed misgivings about the motion preferred to follow the Tory leadership and abstain rather than openly oppose it.
None of this is likely to alter Israel’s stance, at least in the short term. Indeed, it’s quite likely they’ll dig in more deeply. Nevertheless, when your oldest friends begin to shake their heads and look away, a moment of truth can’t be all that far away.
Has the ever deepening polarisation of recent decades left enough Israelis of quiet commonsense and realism to eventually lead Israel out of this terrible cul-de-sac? I don’t know but I dearly hope so.
Shortly after posting this I came across this perfect illustration of the divide within Israel.
Benny Gantz, the Israeli army chief, “praised the conduct of some Hamas fighters during the recent war with Israel as “courageous”. In a recent interview he also said:
The people there [in Gaza] need to live, and they are caught between Egypt on one side, us on another side and the sea with a six mile fishing zone on the other side.”
“At the end of the day, 1.8 million Palestinians live there, and the quiet [the ceasefire] is also dependent on the trend of creating economic hope there.”
Caroline Glick, a “veteran Israeli journalist” responded as follows:
Unfortunately, for as long as our unelected professional class is led by men who have internalised our enemies’ narratives, there is no way that Israel can act on these basic strategic truths regardless of whom voters elect. And as a result, we shall continue to witness our soldiers’ hard won victories being squandered by our leaders – in and out of uniform.