I am in Paris and meeting friends, bright and prominent political philosophers who are not Middle East specialists. They usually have a strong pro-Israeli bias and they never considered trusting or supporting the so-called moderate Islamists. I have known them since the early eighties and this is the first time I have ever seen them fed up with Israel’s policies and discourse.
They consider the Israeli argument “no country in the world can tolerate a daily bombing without reacting” to be very powerful and convincing, but it stops there. They no longer accept Israel’s other points. Moreover, they say the other points tarnish Israel’s sole logical argument.
They accept the primary Arab argument, that the Israeli government is not really interested in peace. It would not negotiate under the pressure of Arab but it would consider negotiations when there is no pressure and no “urgency.” It wants “negotiations” without ever reaching a deal – while some Palestinians would like a deal without negotiations.
All of this is known. But the criticism does not stop there. The Israelis, or at least the Israelis they know, cannot seriously accept the idea of a partition of the historic land of Palestine. They want it for themselves and the Palestinians’ presence is a serious nuisance.
Then Israel keeps on saying Tsahal is keen on protecting civilian’s lives, including Palestinian ones – as all of its behavior refutes this claim. Ten years ago, I told my friends this was not true, that Israel was dead afraid of an attrition war, although some Arab actors were seduced by this option, thinking: if we kill one Israeli and lose five of us, we still are the winners. Knowing this, the Israelis feel justified in overreacting, changing the level of the game, in to inflict maximal damage and to prevent the “attrition war option.” Ten years ago, my friends would criticise me for holding this opinion, calling me too cynical. Now they listen and say nothing, just nod in silence.
My friends also are fed up with Israel’s inability to draw distinctions between its ever-increasing critics. Some of them are true friends, others are foes who still do not want the destruction of the Jewish State, and of course you have those who long for it. The Israeli officials increasingly put all these people in the same bag and suspect every criticism to be an expression of new or old form of Anti-Semitism. This is not a simple rhetorical ploy – Israelis increasingly believe this stuff and risk to create the feeling they fear; being hated by everybody.
My friends still support Israel. Some of them think this is a simple public relations problem. That Israel can improve its communications skills and use better arguments. Most understand life is not easy for the Israeli people, surrounded by hostile people. Nonetheless, their exasperation stunned me. The mixture of “no political solution” and “brutal practices” is now too much for them. The most curious thing is that this occurs while they are also fed up with Islamists’ activists, who attacked Jews in France and Belgium. Israel has been unable to “build” on this and on the growing antipathy toward Islamic fundamentalism (and of course the reverse is true).
Two and a half years ago, an American expert told me all the militaries across the world prepared the future while considering three scenarios: the best, the worst, and the plausible/probable. Israel’s top commanders are the only exceptions: for them there is no best-case scenario, and the plausible/probable and the worst are the same. This greatly complicates dealings.
My friends also evoked Putin, Russia and Ukraine. They deplore Putin’s popularity in France. His communication is targeting both the Christians (who are dismayed by the West’s contempt for Middle East Christians) and the anti-American groups. More importantly it seems to be working. They asked me questions on Russian/Egyptian relations and told me: Russia may be doomed, but for the next ten years it will remain a major player, able to stir trouble for the West. So a good question for us is: how to develop ties, while keeping in mind there are no long-term prospects?