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Is Israel getting the message?

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Israeli PM Binyamin Netanyahu has said that the Palestinian bid for UN membership 'will fail' [Reuters]by Khaled Amayreh

With Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu recognising, though fairly belatedly, that the Middle East is undergoing a real political earthquake of historic proportions, Israel is showing signs of confusion in face of what the Israeli media is calling "the new strategic situation in the region".

Israel had hoped the "Arab Spring" would be a passing cloud that would leave the basic regional geopolitical order more or less unscathed. However, with the latest crises between Tel Aviv on one side and both Cairo and Ankara on the other, the former is beginning, though slowly and reluctantly, to realise that the arrogance of power is largely inexpedient, unduly provocative and detrimental to Israel's standing and interests.

The storming of the Israeli embassy in Cairo at the weekend and outbreak of a serious "mini-crisis" of relations with the largest Arab country was an ominous development that Israel didn't want to foresee due to a prevailing psyche that discounts even looming dangers and treats adversaries with contempt, including their grievances.

Reacting to the embassy incident in Cairo, however, Netanyahu described the incident as "serious and dangerous". Bemoaning the "severe injury to the fabric of peace" between the two countries, Netanyahu said Israel would undertake the utmost efforts to maintain peace with Egypt.

Nonetheless, the Israeli premier failed to make any connection between the criminal treatment Israel has been meting out to Palestinians and rising anti-Israeli sentiment across the Arab and Muslim world. "We must maintain security and advance our interests," he said.

Israeli leaders, including Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman, have perhaps recognised that Israel, at least for the time being, has to keep a low profile in the hope that this "murky phase would pass with minimum losses for Israel". It is a change, at least in discourse, from last week when Lieberman threatened Turkey with doom and gloom, including arming and training PKK rebels. The sabre rattling drew strong reactions from Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmed Davutoglu.

Some Israeli opposition figures as well as media pundits dismissed the restrained tone of Netanyahu and his political and ideological allies as disingenuous, and "burying one's head in the sand". Aluf Ben, Haaretz editor-in-chief, lambasted Netanyahu for adopting a misleading policy based on ignoring the reality around Israel and pretending that everything will be fine in the end.

Describing the "crises" with Turkey and Egypt as a "political Tsunami" for Israel, Benn argued that Israel was left isolated facing Iran, Turkey and Egypt, the latter two of which in the past were considered close allies.

Another Israeli commentator, Sefi Rachlevsky, described Netanyahu as an extremist leader to an unfathomable degree who has got to go as he is leading a generations-old dream to an apocalypse. "Promises, deceit and words are tools. But in Netanyahu's case, the masquerade is over, even for those who are addicted to false hopes."

Acting on recommendations issued recently by Israel's intelligence and security agencies, including Mossad and Shin Bet, which urged the Israeli government to restore normal relations with both Egypt and Turkey as soon as possible, Israeli leaders have vowed to maintain relations, including the 1979 Camp David Peace Treaty with Egypt.

Opposition leaders also urged the Netanyahu government to preserve and strengthen the peace agreement with Cairo, with Shaul Mofaz, a notorious figure now chairman of the Knesset Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee, describing the storming of the Israeli embassy in Cairo as "the new painful and evil definition" of Israeli-Egyptian relations.

Apart from showing "goodwill" towards Egypt and Turkey, Israel so far seems unwilling to take tangible steps to defuse anti-Israeli sentiments across the Arab world, which have accumulated across many years of Israeli aggression and murderous and callous disregard for Arab rights and grievances.

Indeed, many observers in the region readily assert that any Arab leadership amid the new Arab situation would find it difficult to control and contain anti-Israeli sentiment if Israel keeps behaving characteristically, which is to say arrogantly and belligerently.

Recommendations by the Israeli Foreign Ministry, Shin Bet, Mossad and Military Intelligence advise speedy progress vis-³-vis the Palestinian issue in order to tone down anti-Israeli feelings in the Arab world and improve Israel's standing.

However, such a tactical course and manoeuvre would only have short-lived benefit for Israel and might trigger even greater hostility across the Arab and Muslim world where the masses are well versed in, and fed up with, Israeli deceptions and prevarications.


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