Newswise, we’re in the silly season now, which means that the media are full of soft and silly stories due to the lack of hard news over the summer. That’s not necessarily a bad thing; most of the news we get is so utterly depressing that it’s good to have a respite every now and again.
The silly season is traditionally the time when Bibi Netanyahu increases the volume of his ranting and raving against Iran and he hasn’t disappointed. Once again, the media are stuffed full with his bulldog jaw and clenched brow as he launches terrifying warnings in the direction of the perfidious Persians. I don’t quite know why he chooses mid-summer for this stuff – perhaps it’s silly season in Israeli politics as well (or is it some sort of gut understanding that his silliness is appropriate in this season?) – but he’s been doing it like clockwork for as long as I can remember (which isn’t very long, given my advanced age and the parlous state of my memory.)
My advice is that you remind yourself that it’s the silly season and ignore him. Bibi is not going to attack Iran. Things have changed in the past year (last year this time I really thought he might do it) and the bulldog has lost a lot of his teeth. Ahmedinijad is out, the West is dithering about Syria and the Israeli public is far more concerned about its magically disappearing money than about Bibi’s oriental obsessions. Let him foam at the mouth.
Taking what appears in the media with pinch of silliness does not mean ignoring it altogether, of course. Important stuff is sometimes published over the summer, not least the news this week that agreements between the European Union and Israel will no longer be applicable beyond Israel’s 1967 borders. This development was important enough for Bibi to take time off from his fulminations against Iran to spit and splutter in the direction of the EU.
Simply put (I am basing myself on a piece that appeared in Haaretz newspaper), the EU has issued a binding directive barring all funding of and cooperation with Israeli entities in the occupied West Bank and East Jerusalem. Significantly, according to Haaretz, “the order also requires that any future agreements signed with Israel include a provision stating that the settlements are not part of the State of Israel and therefore are not subject to these agreements.”
Which leaves Israel with a very stark choice: It can either cease trading with the EU, which is Israel’s largest export market, or it can stipulate in writing that the occupied territories are not part of Israel. Both are anathema to the current government, of course.
We can expect that Israel will try to weasel its way out of the dilemma and it’s not beyond reason that the EU will eventually accept some sort of compromise. Israelis are past masters at what in Hebrew is called the kombina (roughly translated as a precarious workaround to avoid complying with laws or other unwanted restrictions) and the Europeans have not exactly demonstrated backbone in the past when it came to pressuring Israel to comply with international law.
The smart money is on the EU directive turning out to be less of an earthquake than it appears to be at first glance.
But there is no getting away from the fact that it is a critical milestone; another twist of the screw. It has taken well over a generation, but all the indications are that the West is now losing patience with Israel’s intransigence. Without a clear and credible indication from Israel that it is prepared to halt settlement construction and engage seriously in negotiations with the Palestinians for a return to the pre-1967 borders (with agreed border swaps etc.) the pressure is likely to increase inexorably.
This may be wishful thinking, but I discern a new and far more ballsy international environment. Failing a change in Israeli policy, the boycott and disinvestment movement can be expected to move out of the shadows and into the corridors of power and, crucially, into the boardrooms. Only when Israeli business begins to suffer seriously, will the government begin to count the cost of the occupation. (The public, of course, has been counting the cost for a long time, though most of the time not consciously.)
To the Israeli mind everything is mutable – unless it has to do with Iran, in which case everything is the next Holocaust. Israel will wriggle and squirm and call on its friends in the US Congress; it will propose all sorts of diplomatic bluffs, lie as much as is necessary, huff and puff outrageously and appeal to the Jewish diaspora to save it. We can expect to pig out on Jewish victimhood.
I hope that the US and the EU don’t capitulate, as they have done repeatedly over the years. Now is the time for them to gird their loins and do something courageous. It may be a forlorn hope, but right now it’s all we have.