Opinion

What Should Israel Be Doing While the World Isn't Looking?

The never-ending Israeli Palestinian conflict - noisy echo-chamber apart - elicits one long yawn across the globe. It’s just us and the Palestinians, home alone - with a rare chance to try solve the conflict without interfering 'adults'

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu gestures as he speaks during the annual GPO (government press office) New Year's toast in Jerusalem on December 12, 2018
AFP

The Economist, in its end-of-year edition, included a fascinating visualization of the online readership of world affairs and events during 2018. Based on data from the online traffic analytics site Chartbeat, it was collated from 5000 international news sources. It allows you to see in a glance what global audiences were clicking on at any point during the year.

A lot of the spikes are obvious - readers around the world were particularly interested in events like the FIFA World Cup in the summer and the Royal Wedding in Britain in May.

Events involving North Korea, Iran, Venezuela, Saudi Arabia, and increasingly Yemen, attracted readers throughout the year, with periodic spikes due to breaking events, but one global hot-spot seemed to be losing the world’s attention.

The Economist's 2018 year-old news analytics chart showing flatlined interest in Israel-Palestine
Twitter

The graph depicting online readers’ interest in Israel-Palestine nearly flatlined for most of 2018, with a brief rise when the protests on the Gaza border flared up in April and one very short spike around the inauguration of the U.S. Embassy in Jerusalem and the simultaneous clash around the Gaza Strip, in which over 50 Palestinians were killed from Israeli fire on one day.

But immediately after, interest crashed back to the levels of indifference.

Simply put, for all the continuing coverage by the media of the never-ending conflict between Israel and the Palestinians, unless there’s a very major event, the world simply doesn’t care that much about it anymore.

The disproportionate monitoring and campaigning by human-rights groups, the lobbying by pressure groups, the online agitation of BDS activists, have all resulted in one long yawn across the globe. It’s almost as if the harder they try to draw attention to the conflict, the less the world cares. It’s the law of diminishing Palestinian returns.

There’s no lack of talk about Israel and the conflict, especially in the U.S. media. Young American Jews have been protesting against Israeli policies this year like never before, both within their communities at home in the U.S., and on visits to Israel, but the world, and Israel, don’t seem to have noticed much.

The Trump administration is busy pulling out of the region, and while that is worrying to Israeli officials, there is a silver lining. "Along with American support, we’ve also had American constraints on our actions," one former senior Israeli diplomat and advisor to prime ministers, told me this week. "Washington won’t tell us now what we can, or can’t do."

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu reading a book during a rest time from official duties in Central Park, New York, 1998
אבי אוחיון / לע"מ

And despite the clamoring from liberal Jews to have more of an influence on Israel’s treatment of the Palestinians, the only American Jews who seem to have any clout are right-wingers who have made aliyah, like MKs Michael Oren and Yehuda Glick in the current Knesset, and Jerusalem Post and Breitbart columnist, Caroline Glick, who joined The New Right party this week and will probably a member of the next Knesset.

There’s a very noisy bubble which can’t stop talking about Israel and the Palestinians, but it’s an echo-chamber and no one outside is listening. Which should lead us to the question, what should Israel be doing now that the world isn’t looking?

To listen to some Israeli politicians, you would think that they are still out trying to convince the world about Israel's righteousness. They obsess about BDS, the battle against "legitimization" and the need for better hasbara. It turns out, however, that David Ben-Gurion who said in 1955: "Our future doesn’t depend on what the goyim say, but on what the Jews do," was right. Even the data now bears him out.

The upcoming election should be about that. Israel is now master of its fate, the United States is lead by a ignorant isolationist who has no interest in anything but his television ratings, the Europeans are preoccupied by their continental angst, and the rising powers in the Far East are only interested in doing business.

There could be no more advantageous moment for Israel to try and solve the Israel-Palestine conflict, when it’s just us and them, home alone, without any pompous grown-ups trying to impose their exalted ideas.

Supporter of the Palestinian Fatah movement carry a placard showing a picture of their late leader Yasser Arafat, during a rally marking Fatah's 54th anniversary. Nablus, January 3, 2019
AFP

But no serious contender in this election is even trying to propose a solution. At the most, what passes for "left" in Israel is continuing to parrot the two-state-solution slogan, without any actual details of how it could be implemented. Neither is the "right" anxious to explain to voters how exactly they intend to carry on the occupation of millions of Palestinians without rights.

Not that the election is about any other of Israel’s existential issues. You won’t hear serious plans on how to integrate nearly a third of Israelis, Arabs and ultra-Orthodox, in to the workplace, how to close the inequality gap between the small number of people working in the high-tech fueled economy and the majority stuck in the old economy, how to tackle the housing crisis, blighting the existence of the middle-class or readjust the balance between Tel Aviv and the rest of the country. All this election will be about is Bibi or not to be.

Israel has reached the point in its history to which its founders always yearned . Due to a unique combination of external factors, its enemies are weak or distracted and critics ineffectual. Now is the time for looking forward.

But as Rabbi Eleazar said in Tractate Niddah of the Babylonian Talmud: "Even the person for whom the miracle is performed, is unaware of the miracle."