09.12.2014 Author: Salman Rafi Sheikh

Israel: In Quest for Uncontested Hegemony

6546333While the Arabs certainly make up 20 percent of Israel’s total population, they continue to face Israeli atrocities committed under the disguise of the so-called internationally accepted notion of “self-defense.” The guiding principle for Israel is its self-projection as victims of Arab vandalism, which is most frequently, albeit allegedly, expressed as Arab’s blatant refusal to acknowledge the state of Israel’s right to exist. That the Arabs are violent and often attack Israeli cities is the pretext the state of Israel often uses to justify and legitimize bombing of Palestinian areas. However, the reality is that the state of Israel persistently invents such pretexts to advance its own position in the entire Palestinian area in particular, and in the Middle East in general. By adopting an offensive policy, Israel attempts to seek uncontested hegemony not only against Israeli and Palestinian Arabs, but also against its rival regional states such as Iran. It is for this reason that the use of force, both military and non-military, has become one of the most prominent ways, which Israel has adopted over the years, of communicating with its rivals.

A recent example of the use of force or coercion of non-military nature is the law the Israeli parliament is going to legislate that would be used to leave minimum or no space at all for Arabs living in Israel/Palestine to express themselves. The law would allow the state of Israel to curb Arab Israelis, if found guilty of throwing Molotov cocktails and even firecrackers, by banishing them to Gaza; would deny families of assailants the right to bury their dead; and would expose anyone who waved a Palestinian flag at a demonstration to the loss of their health and social security benefits. The package was drawn up by Yariv Levin, chairman of the Likud Party faction in the Knesset. Netanyahu is the leader of Likud. “The bill would apply to everyone,” Levin said — to every Israeli citizen, of any religion, including Jews — and those who hold residency permits, who, by no coincidence, are mostly the Palestinian residents of Jerusalem. He was further quoted saying, “but obviously, the main problem is with the Arabs. The families and the leadership support what they have done and talk about them as heroes, they name squares and streets after them, pay salaries to those who carry out attacks.”

The “Jewish nation-state” law—-as it has officially been called—-will enshrine in statute a situation that has been practically palpable on the ground for decades now; and, which is now only being ‘legitimized’ through legal enactments. Its discriminatory character can be judged from the fact that it will turn a large Arab Israeli minority into second-class citizens and delist Arabic as an official language. These steps will certainly only confirm the ongoing discrimination that the members of this group have been subjected to well before the drafting of the new law.

The Law declares the land—that is the land Israel has occupied—as the “historic homeland of the Jewish people”, which further implies that the Arabs living there are not only alien but also need to be repatriated to somewhere else. It further implies that the state of Israel has the right to construct settlements on this land; for, it has been their land for centuries. The words quoted here usurp, by all means, the historic origin as the exclusive property of one group of citizens, Jews, and turn a deaf ear to the rightful claims of another group, Arabs. Moreover, they render the Jewish attachment to a distant past more important than the ongoing presence of non-Jewish inhabitants in the same territory. All these are major stumbling blocks in the peace process, which will be rendered useless and meaningless if future Israeli governments lock themselves behind the excuse of being bound by the “Jewish nation-state” law. For instance, in accordance with it, the right of return for Palestinian refugees will be outright denied to them on the grounds that the territory claimed by Israel was not their (Arab’s) historic homeland; rather it is Jews’ historic homeland—hence, no question and no need for peace settlement and return of refugees.

While the state of Israel vociferously justifies its stance, it does create anxiety among Arabs. For instance, the Palestinian Arabs of Jerusalem, who constitute 38 percent of the city’s total population, believe that Jerusalem is not governed for them or by them. They consider that it is run by the Israeli state for the exclusive benefit of its Jewish population, and with the aim of establishing complete Jewish hegemony in the city in particular and in Palestine in general to the extent that she would like to expel all Arabs ultimately. These provocations have created the conditions for a major eruption of unrest in Jerusalem, and perhaps beyond: in the rest of occupied Palestine and in the larger Arab and Islamic worlds. The governments of the United States and European countries bear a major responsibility for leaving Jerusalemites to their fate at the hands of extremists inside and outside the Israeli government.

While the government of the US has recently taken a ‘stiff stance’ over the state of Israel’s policies, this so-called ‘stiff stance’ is not going to create any meaningful exception. The reason for this is that vast sums of charitable donations from the United States support the settlements in East Jerusalem—-a clear example of the presence of a solid socially based support for Israel in the US. However, what is far more important for the government(s) in Israel is concurrent support from its own people. Despite the fact that the US is exasperated with Netanyahu’s internal and external policies, he does not value the US so much as he does value his own constituencies; after all, the former do not cast vote. As such, to the disappointment of some US policy wonks, most Israelis do not consider the two-state solution, or improving relations with their neighbors a high priority. It therefore makes little sense for Netanyahu to pursue either goal, especially because he has always been openly hostile to both, mainly because both of these do not fit very well with the state of Israel’s ambition of becoming an uncontested regional hegemon. She can become a hegemon only when she has full control over its population, that is, Arabs living inside Israel; and, this law purports exactly to do this.

On the other hand, so long as Israel is seen as serving the US’ interests in the region, the US support for Israel will not waiver to any significant extent. At least, that is how the Israeli policy makers conceive of their position vis-à-vis the US. Still, frustration with Israel on all levels of US policy making is real and growing, and could soon begin eroding even the more fundamental certainties of the US-Israeli relationship. Israel would do well to remember that states’ interests change, cultures shift and even strategic priorities shift fundamentally; and, this is the one scenario Israel cannot afford; for, without assured US support, Israel will not be able to check-mate an all-out military and non-military offensive by its regional rivals.

Salman Rafi Sheikh, research-analyst of International Relations and Pakistan’s foreign and domestic affairs, exclusively for the online magazine “New Eastern Outlook”.