“Fortress Israel” is a nice place to be

Increasingly, the Zionist world frames itself as the victim in the Middle East – “nobody understands us” and “if only the West would offer unconditional backing for our enlightened occupation” – and this Jerusalem Post interview with Britain’s departing ambassador to the country reveals a newspaper editor who just wants to be loved. He needs to hear nice words about the “challenges we face, and it [Britain] faces, from Islamic fundamentalism.” He needs to know that Britain approves of the siege on Gaza, behaviour towards Hamas and the colonies. Alas, it doesn’t happen.

It’s an odd position to take; Israel is a super-power backed by the US and yet it craves legitimacy, something it increasingly lacks in the global arena. Hard to imagine why:

Is Britain broadly coming to the opinion that Israel is not acting in its own interests, that the Israelis are being very foolish?

After four years here, and having gone back to the UK quite often, talked to people there – in the Jewish community, in parliament, the press, universities, etc – I certainly think there is a problem.

There is a drift of opinion away from Israel. This is not government. This is happening with the popular mood.

What’s the core reason? When I grew up, I remember taking my [exams] when the Six Day War was happening.

You’ve got plucky little Israel against a sea of non-democratic states as a dominant image out there. Now the image is the other way round. David has become Goliath and vice versa. The image that’s out there is of Israel as the occupying power.

What people see in the UK is, OK, Israel has some genuine security concerns and they’ve got to be met. But the answer to that cannot be keeping several million people without full civil, human and other rights, in a state of occupation. This is not a problem of hasbara. You get a lot of people in Israel who say, “Let’s launch a new hasbara campaign, change our image in the West, hunky dory.” No, it’s a problem of substance.

People in the UK sense that Israel hasn’t made up its mind. What does Israel want? Is Israel so drawn, for understandable reasons, for deep historical reasons, to the biblical homeland – east Jerusalem, Judea and Samaria – that it cannot renounce them, even if renouncing them is the only way to achieve sustainable long-term life for the Jewish people? Or is it really ready to make that compromise? This is why the settlements issue has become so crucial.

Because to go on building settlements signals “that’s the agenda. Actually we want to go on building there. We haven’t made that choice.”

And that’s why settlements has become a critical litmus test of Israeli intentions.

You have basically two choices: Fortress Israel – we stick there and we hold on until, we hope, things are better. Or you try to achieve peace with your neighbors.

Text and images ©2024 Antony Loewenstein. All rights reserved.

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