Benjamin Netanyahu is trying to show that nothing has changed. Israel will defend its citizens just as it did before the Arab Spring. The language of Israel’s politicians, the brutal efficiency of its bombing campaign and the asymmetrical death count all echo Israel’s campaigns in the past. But the political dynamics surrounding this assault could not be more different.
The American president – rather than spending his time in the White House Situation Room – is flying around Asia planning his “pivot” from the Middle East. Egypt’s President Mohamed Morsi, rather than sealing the border, sent his prime minister to Gaza for a display of solidarity. And regional leaders from Qatar to Tunisia and Turkey are putting themselves in the middle of the skirmish. But rather than responding to this changed environment with a creative diplomatic strategy, Israel’s government seems to be doubling down on tried and tested techniques.
On my last visit to Israel, I noted that officials speak about how their government in recent years has moved from making peace to “managing conflict.” They have built a wall to pen in potential terrorists, while launching periodic attacks to disrupt the military operations of Hamas and Hezbollah. (One official referred to these repeated attempts to defang Hamas as “cutting the grass.”) Every nation is entitled to defend itself. But unless violence is part of a political strategy, it rarely creates real security. The problem with these repeat military operations is that they create a growing pool of anti-Israel resentment in the neighborhood while eroding Israel’s international standing.
Israel under Netanyahu is indulging in a form of triple escapism – defensive, geopolitical and economic ‑ that takes the nation further and further away from engaging directly with the Palestinians.
The almost 30-foot-high concrete walls that dot Israel’s security barrier do not simply shield Israelis from terrorist attacks. They also shield them from the reality of their occupation, and have led the Israeli government to avoid the sorts of negotiations that are necessary for any lasting peace.