Why did Israel suddenly declare that it is a state for the Jewish people and pass a law in the Knesset to back it up? Is there a connection between this and previous developments, such as the declaration of Jerusalem as the indivisible capital of Israel and feverish settlement expansion in the West Bank? Were such steps conceivable a quarter of a century ago, let alone seven decades ago?
The underlying theme behind these and other questions is the imperialist audacity that drives Israel to realise dreams so mad that they should remain just that: dreams voiced by groups of ultra conservative fanatics of which there is no shortage there.
Apparently, those extremist trends are now entertaining other dreams such as annexing the occupied Syrian Golan Heights to Israel and annexing Israeli settlements in the West Bank, preparatory to absorbing most of the West Bank territories that fall under category “C”.
Such dreams, which may also become mainstream in Israel in this second decade of the 21st century, defy certain facts and realities on the ground.
Unfortunately, the current Israeli mentality is unaware of what should best remain the stuff of dreams.
So, why is this happening now when, at the beginning of the first decade of this century, Israel was open to the two-state solution based on the 4 June 1967 borders in addition to some land exchanges of equal proportion to help make such a solution possible?
There are two sets of reasons for the change: one internal, the other external. Internally, Israeli society has swung dramatically to the political right, while the Israel centre and left have shrunk.
This is largely due to the militarisation of the second Palestinian Intifada and the concerted campaign on the part of the Israeli right to demonise the Intifada and strip it of its quality as a national liberation struggle.
Externally, the regional and international environment has shifted in a direction favourable to Israel.
Since the Iraqi invasion of Kuwait, the Arab world has succumbed to increasing degrees of strategic vulnerability, starting from the huge expenditures outlaid for the process of liberating Kuwait followed by the US invasion of Iraq, which would eliminate Iraq from the “eastern front” of the conflict with Israel.
Then came the so-called Arab Spring, a phenomenon that had a debilitating effect on some countries, plunged others into civil war and forced others to take pre-emptive measures to ward off upheaval.
With regard to the Levant, in particular, the Syrian civil war aggravated the strategic vacuum that arose in Iraq and in which surfaced the self-proclaimed “Islamic Caliphate” that straddled the Iraqi-Syrian border and that quickly united the world against it.
At the same time, Iran took advantage of the opportunity to intervene militarily, directly and indirectly (through Hizbullah), in the Syrian civil war.
Then, along came Turkey, extending its war against the Kurds into Syria. Meanwhile, on the Palestinian front, the Hamas coup against the Palestinian Authority and its monopolisation of rule in Gaza handed Israel a strategic superiority it could not have dreamed of.
Hamas, a branch of the extremist and terrorist Muslim Brotherhood, was not just another militant Palestinian faction. It was a faction connected with an organisation that had declared war against everyone else, including the Palestinians themselves.
All these developments combined to increase Israel’s power in the region. That power was supplemented by Israel’s success in building its autonomous economic and technological capacities and it was augmented further by the success of the Arab Spring and extremist Islamist groups in precipitating unprecedented waves of asylum and migration to Western Europe.
The latter phenomenon turned the European political situation on its head, stimulating a revival of ultra-right groups and parties that directed their ire against Jews in the past, and direct it against the Arabs today.
Israel kept winning gain after gain virtually free-of-charge, without having to exert much effort on of its own.
Then, the Donald Trump electoral victory, based largely on the support of American Christian Zionist forces, ushered in a qualitative shift in US-Israeli relations, giving Israel the chance to realise one dream after the other.
When representatives of 32 nations gathered to celebrate the declaration of Jerusalem as the capital of Israel, one was struck by the fact that among those present were Eastern European, African and Asian nations (such as Vietnam) that had once been firm supporters of the Palestinian cause.
The US was there on the strength of a campaign pledge that Trump had made and then decided that the time had come to fulfil it.
However, the growing shift in the balance of powers in favour of Israel and the greater opportunities that this has created for it were not the only reason behind Israel’s recent actions.
Israel was also contemplating certain facts, not least of which was that there are 12 million people between the Jordan River and the Mediterranean, half of whom are Jews and the other half of whom are Palestinians.
As Israel has absorbed as many Jews as it could get who wanted to migrate to Israel and as Palestinian birth rates are higher than Israeli ones, many Israelis grew worried by the thought of a single state with an Arab majority.In fact, attitudes on this question became one of the defining points between the Israeli left and Israeli right.
The upshot is that Israel is in the process of solving the Arab-Israeli conflict in the Israeli way, which is to take as much as it can, and to leave the rest to the Palestinians to fight over and to grow more divided over, as usual.
Internally, the decision to “Judaicise” the state and to strip Arabic of its capacity as an official language ups the pressure on the Arab minority in Israel, including the Druze and the Bedouins, to emigrate, individually and in groups, using their Israeli passports to travel from a country where they are second class citizens to another where they can become first class ones.
In fact, there was no reason why Israel had to declare the “Jewishness” of the state.
The UN partition resolution of 1947 called for the creation of a “Jewish” state and an “Arab” state. It is just that from then on, Israel made it its objective to alter the partition boundaries so that the Jews could get a much, much larger plot of land than had originally been designated for them.
That was what Israeli expansion into demilitarised zones and the wars of 1948, 1956 and 1967 were about.
Today, now that Israel sees that it has the strength and that the regional and international circumstances are in its favour, it wants to impose its own version of a partition by annexing all the territories mentioned above while pre-empting the creation of a single state by means of a law intended to guarantee the prevalence of the Jewish majority and Israeli majoritarian law.
Ultimately, it is an infernal plan that was cheered by the Israeli public and that has supplied the current right-wing Israeli government another guarantee to remain in power in the forthcoming elections and beyond.
*The writer is chairman of the board, CEO and director of the Regional Centre for Strategic Studies
*A version of this article appears in print in the 9 August 2018 edition of Al-Ahram Weekly under the headline: Israel’s nationality law