Israel is Losing the PR Game
If fireworks are the quintessential trademark of the way Americans celebrate the 4th of July, the Israel Defense Force “celebrated” in their own special way: stun grenades, rubber bullets and tear gas. Despite being the biggest U.S. ally in the region, Israel was not expected to exercise restraints when aggrieved Palestinian protesters pelted them with rocks giving rise to the chance of a third intifada.
The perpetual antagonism between Palestinians and Israelis is taking its toll. The murder, what the Palestinian authority termed ‘a revenge killing,’ of an Arab teenage boy in the aftermath of the abduction and subsequent murder of three Israeli teens is the continuation of events spurred by the failed peace process. After spending considerable time and energy, U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry and his team have practically withdrawn from the negotiation table. Kerry’s Middle East peace envoy, Martin Indyk, has stepped down from his role further propelling the uncertainty of striking a deal between the two intractable parties.
In fact, skepticism crippled the Kerry-initiated peace talks from the beginning. A cabinet minister branded Secretary Kerry as “messianic” and a Nobel Peace Prize aspirant earlier in January. However, PM Netanyahu’s timely action helped subdue the bitterness as the contrite minister offered an apology to John Kerry.
Yet, Netanyahu, like most of those responsible for the failure of the talks, must accept some blame. During the talks, new settlements have been built in the West Bank and East Jerusalem that the Palestinians claim to be theirs. Hope, if any, was quickly fading away as Israel failed to hand over the last of more than a hundred Palestinian prisoners.
What happened next assured the failure of the peace initiative. Frustrated, Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas signed at least 15 international conventions including the Geneva Convention. Israel lambasted Abbas’s hastiness since as a signatory of the convention Palestine can formally lodge complaints against Israeli aggressions and settlements in the UN. Last month he formed a unity government that includes Hamas, Israel’s arch-foe. It empowered Fatah, the party of Abbas, to take control of the Gaza strip which was lost in a coup orchestrated by Hamas in 2007. Despite the negative response from the Obama administration, Israel ruled out any possibility to negotiate with the new government as long as it includes Hamas.
As the friction increased, Eyal Yifrach, Naftali Fraenkel, and Gilad Shaar were abducted and murdered. The murder of the teens has united Israel. Israeli leadership has, however, failed to translate this into a greater good. Netanyahu placed the blame on Hamas promptly without the aid of any investigation; one cabinet member called for demolishing houses of Hamas members and IDF launched airstrikes against a Hamas stronghold in Gaza. Some rabbis sought vengeance and further fuelled hatred against the Palestinians. The Facebook page ‘The Nation of Israel Wants Revenge’ has gained traction.
Worst of all is a video that surfaced showing Israeli police brutally beating, Tariq Abu Khdeir, 15, the cousin of slain teen Mohamed Khedira. The victim’s mother said her son was “not recognizable.” US State Department voiced its dismay too saying it found the incident “profoundly troubled.”
Now Bibi Netanyahu can ignore the reinvigorated social loathing of the Palestinians as an ephemeral expression of anger triggered by the heinous killing of the Jewish teens. But how can he turn a blind eye to the immoral act of Israeli police or the hate speeches of his colleagues? How can he justify the statement he recently made: “Vengeance for the blood of a small child, Satan has not yet created”?
Netanyahu administration did not give diplomacy a chance; vilified Secretary Kerry’s effort and therefore U.S. cooperation; left settlements largely unchecked and then impetuously sided with fanatics chanting for revenge. One miscalculation after another does little good to Israeli interests. Hence, it was unsurprising when John Kerry candidly offered his thoughts behind-the-door on the fate of the Jewish state, labeling it “apartheid.”
When a close friend cannot help but predict such a bleak future, you had better reconsider. The state of Israel is, however, not questioning itself. It seems to be losing in the end.