|Uri Avnery--March 4, 2011--OF ALL the memorable phrases uttered by Barack Obama in the |
last two years, the one that stuck in my mind more than any
other appeared in his historic speech in Cairo in the early
days of his term. He warned the nations not to place
themselves `on the wrong side of history.`
It seems that the Arab nations took heed of this advice
more than he might have anticipated. In the last few weeks
they jumped from the wrong to the right side of history.
And what a jump it was!
Our government, however, is moving in the opposite
direction. It is determined, so it seems, to get as far
away from the right side as possible.
We are in a cul-de-sac. And it lies in the nature of culs-
de-sac that the deeper in you get, the further you have to
go back when the time comes.
THIS WEEK, a fascinating telephone conversation took place.
On the one end was Binyamin Netanyahu, on the other the
In time gone by, the world`s leaders did not generally talk
to each other directly. Bismarck did not pick up the phone
to talk with Napoleon III. He sent seasoned diplomats, who
knew how to smooth the edges and deliver an ultimatum in a
Netanyahu called to rebuke Angela Merkel for Germany`s vote
in favor of the Security Council resolution condemning the
settlements - the resolution blocked by the scandalous US
veto. I don`t know if our Prime Minister mentioned the
Holocaust, but he certainly expressed his annoyance about
Germany daring to vote against the `Jewish State`.
He was shocked by the answer. Instead of a contrite Frau
Merkel apologizing abjectly, his ear was filled by a
schoolmistress scolding him in no uncertain terms. She told
him that he had broken all his promises, that no one of the
world`s leaders believes a single word of his any more. She
demanded that he make peace with the Palestinians.
If a person like Netanyahu could be rendered `speechless`,
it would have happened at that moment. Fortunately for
Netanyahu, it just cannot happen to him.
THIS CONVERSATION is a symptom of an ongoing process - the
slow but steady deterioration in Israel`s international
In Israel, this is called `delegitimatsia`. It is conceived
as a sinister world-wide conspiracy, rather on the lines of
the Protocols of the Elders of Zion. Clearly, it has no
connection with anything we do - since all our deeds are
pure as gold. The obvious conclusion: the enemies of Israel
all over the world - including their fifth column in Israel
itself - are plotting the destruction of Israel by all
kinds of boycotts.
Our leaders know how to obstruct this plot - by enacting
laws. Anyone who supplies the enemies of Israel with lists
of enterprises located in the settlements will be punished.
Anyone who calls for a boycott of Israel or of the
settlements - in the eyes of the lawmakers, they are one
and the same - will have to pay astronomical fines and
indemnities, millions of dollars. And if all this doesn`t
help, the enemies of the regime will be sent to prison, as
has happened already to the serial peace demonstrator
But it appears that our leaders do not rely on these
measures alone. Therefore, our deputy Foreign Minister,
Danny Ayalon (remember? the genius who sought to humiliate
the Turkish ambassador by sitting him on a low stool?)
decided to reach for even more radical remedies: all
Israeli ambassadors will now be sent to the Machpela Cave
in Hebron for a historic meeting with our forefather
Abraham, who, according to Jewish belief, is buried there
(archeologists think that it is a Muslim Sheikh who lies
there in troubled rest.)
Seriously, our leaders now look like the boy in the legend
who thrust his finger in the dyke to stop the water, though
in our case the whole of the dyke is crumbling.
YES, ISRAEL`S standing in the world is indeed sinking
continuously, but not because of a world-wide plot uniting
`anti-Semites` and `Self-hating Jews`.
We are sinking, because we are on the wrong side of
Israel has maintained for decades a regime of occupation.
It continues to control and humiliate another people.
Ideologically and practically, it lives in the mental world
of the 19th century, while the rest of the world is
starting to live in the 21st. Israeli policy is simply
The 21st century will see the sight of nations coming
together. It will see the beginning of a world order, and I
have no doubt that this idea will be realized.
This is not a vision of starry-eyed idealists. It is an
essential necessity for the human race and all its peoples
and nations. The world is faced with problems that no
single state or group of states can solve by itself. Global
warming, which is threatening the very existence of the
human species, is by its very nature a world problem. The
recent economic crisis has shown that the collapse of one
country`s economy can spread like wildfire to the entire
world. The Internet has established a world-wide community,
in which ideas spread easily from country to country, as we
can see now in the Arab world.
International institutions, which once aroused only
derision, are slowly acquiring real jurisdiction. The
International Court has grown teeth. International law,
which in the past was mainly an abstract idea, is slowly
evolving into a real world law. Important and strong
countries like Germany and France are voluntarily giving up
large chunks of their sovereignty in favor of the European
Union. Regional and world-wide cooperation between nations
is becoming a political necessity.
Concepts like democracy, liberty, justice and human rights
are not only moral values - in today`s world they have
become essential needs, a basis for a new world order.
All these processes are advancing at a maddeningly slow,
almost geological pace. But the direction is unmistakable
and cannot be reversed. Whatever Barack Obama`s deeds - or
lack of them - his intuition about the direction can be
That is the `right side of history`. But our country is
closing its eyes to this. True, it excels in the most
international of industries, high tech, and is working
successfully to extend its economic ties to the far corners
of the world. But it scorns international public opinion,
the United Nations and international law. It sticks to a
form of nationalism that was `modern` at the time of the
French revolution, when the `nation-state` was the highest
ideal. Of course, nationalism has not died, and it occupies
even now an important place in the consciousness of the
peoples. But this is a completely new form of nationalism,
the nationalism of the 21st century, which does not stand
in contradiction to internationalism but, on the contrary,
constitutes a brick in the edifice of the international
THE ARAB nations have suddenly awoken from a centuries-long
slumber, and are now fighting to catch up with the other
nations. The anachronistic tyrannies that kept them down,
wasted their capabilities and imposed on them patterns of
bygone ages, are no more.
It is difficult to know where these uprisings, which are
engulfing the region from Morocco to Oman and from Syria to
Yemen, will go. It is hard to prophesy, especially the
2011 may be for the Arab world what 1848 was for Europe.
Then, when the French people stood up, the waves of
revolution spread over much of the face of the continent.
It seems that I am not the only one who is now reminded of
this example. Much can be learned from it, and not all of
it positive. In France, the uprising swept away a corrupt
regime, but paved the way for the rise of Napoleon III, the
first of Europe`s modern dictators. In Germany, then
fragmented into dozens of kingdoms and principalities, the
rulers were frightened and so promised democratic reforms.
But while the debates of the lawyers and politicians in
Frankfurt about the future constitution went on and on, the
kings gathered their armies, crushed the democrats and
started another era of oppression. (The failure of the
Frankfurt assembly found its expression in the immortal
German verse: `Dreimal hundert Professoren / Vaterland, du
bist verloren!` - three times a hundred professors /
Motherland you are lost.)
The revolutions of 1848 left behind a legacy of
disappointment and despair. But they were not in vain. The
noble ideas born in those heady months did not die, future
generations strove to realize them in all the countries of
the continent. The current flag of Germany was born in
The Arab revolutions, too, may end in failure and
disappointment. They may give birth to new dictatorships.
Here and there anachronistic religious regimes may spring
up. Each Arab country is different from the others, and in
each the developments will be subject to local conditions.
But what happened yesterday in Tunisia and Egypt, what is
happening today in Libya and Yemen, what happens tomorrow
in Saudi Arabia and Syria will shape the face of the Arab
nations for a long time to come. They will play an entirely
new role on the world stage.
ISRAEL IS dominated by the settlers, who resemble in spirit
the Crusaders of the 12th century. Fundamentalist religious
parties, not much different from their Iranian
counterparts, play a major role in our state. The political
and economic elite is steeped in corruption. Our democracy,
in which we took so much pride, is in mortal danger.
Some people argue that all this is happening because
`Netanyahu has no policy`. Nonsense. He has a clear policy:
to maintain Israel as a garrison state, to enlarge the
settlements, to prevent the foundation of a real
Palestinian state, and to go on without peace, in a state
of eternal conflict.
Just now it was been leaked that Netanyahu is going to give
a historic speech - another one - very soon. Not in the
Knesset, whose importance is approaching nil, but in the
really important forum: AIPAC, the Jewish lobby in
There he will unfold his Peace Plan, whose details have
also been leaked. A wonderful plan, with only one minor
defect: it has nothing to do with peace.
It proposes setting up a Palestinian state with
`provisional borders`. (With us, nothing is more permanent
than the `provisional`). It will consist of about half the
West Bank. (The other half, including East Jerusalem, will
presumably be covered with settlements.) There will be a
timetable for the discussion of the core issues - borders,
Jerusalem, refugees etc. (In Oslo, a timetable of five
years was fixed. It expired in 1999, by which time
negotiation had not even started.) Negotiations will not
start at all until the Palestinians recognize Israel as the
State of the Jewish People and accept its `security
requirements`. (Meaning: never.)
If the Palestinians accept such a plan, they need (in the
words of the US Secretary of Defense in another context)
`to have their heads examined`. But of course Netanyahu is
not addressing the Palestinians at all. His plan is a
primitive attempt at marketing. (After all, in the past he
was a marketing agent for furniture). The aim is to stop
the international campaign of `delegitimatsia`.
Ehud Barak, too, had something to say this week. In a long
TV interview, almost entirely consisting of political
gibberish, he made one important remark: the Arab uprisings
provide Israel with new opportunities. What opportunities?
You guessed it: to get increased quantities of American
arms. Arms and America ?ber alles.
And indeed, the one factor that makes this policy still
possible is the unequalled relationship between Israel and
the US. But the Arab Awakening will, in the medium and long
term, change the Israeli-Arab balance of power -
psychologically, politically, economically, and in the end
also militarily. At the same time, the world balance of
power is also changing. New powers are rising, old powers
are gradually losing their clout. This will not be a one-
time, dramatic occurrence, but a slow and steady process.
That is how history is moving. Anyone who places himself on
the wrong side of it will pay the price.