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From upstart to start-up nation, 75-year-old Israel faces new challenges

Seventy-five years ago, the State of Israel declared its independence from the former British Trust Territories demarcated by the 1947 UN Partition Plan. Arab states have never recognized the partition plan, which also demarcated territories for the Arab population under the Mandate. Less than a day after declaring independence, armies from five Arab nations attacked the nascent Jewish state. Despite having no formal army (or navy or air force) and vastly outnumbering its opponents, the upstart country defied all expectations, defeating the coalition Arab forces and shocking the world.

This is not the first time. Israel again faced off against Arab forces in 1956, 1967 and 1973, winning each time despite being badly hit in the previous conflict. Egyptian President Anwar Sadat, realizing the futility of constant war with his neighbors, withdrew after the 1973 war and negotiated the Camp David peace with Israeli Prime Minister Menachem Begin with the extraordinary help of US President Jimmy Carter Agreement, which ended the era of Arab-Israeli wars.

However, for the other residents of the former mandate, the Palestinians, Israel’s “war of independence” came to be known as a “catastrophe” or catastrophe. This coming May 14, as Israelis celebrate their independence, Palestinians will commemorate the “Day of Tribulation”. They haven’t forgotten the trauma of the time, and their conflict with Israel continues unabated.

Emerging countries, on the other hand, have prospered beyond all expectations. Israel accepts Jews from all over the world, using its greatest resource, its people, to go from near poverty to first world prosperity. By the late 1990s, Israeli engineers, scientists, doctors, and technicians were entering the big leagues of the global economy. It became a “startup” nation, regularly spawning new technology and financial companies, often snapped up by major US, UK and European corporations hungry for new ideas, technologies and products.

Internal Conflicts for a Democratic Future

As Israel celebrates its many achievements in its 75 years of existence, Israel must face new and unprecedented challenges today. The first one is probably the most difficult. In the weeks leading up to the recent celebration of Passover, there have been massive public demonstrations across the country, some with more than 200,000 participants. Demonstrators spanned all segments of Israeli society — from active duty and reservists to academics, youth and technologists — and took to the streets. They are protesting the actions of the most right-wing government in Israel’s history to undermine the independence of the country’s judicial system.

Critics of the government’s move say it will upset the balance of power in Israel. Supporters assert that the move is aimed at correcting a deeply powerful elite and liberal court system. Former Prime Minister Ehud Barak has described the efforts by Netanyahu and conservatives as a “regime change” attempt to manipulate Israel’s democracy. Former Defense Minister Benny Gantz accused Netanyahu and his allies of a “constitutional coup”.

With no formal constitution and no effective executive branch, and with its presidency primarily a ceremonial and symbolic office, Israel is a government with two branches, the Knesset (its parliament) and the judiciary. As a parliamentary system, the Prime Minister is elected by the Knesset. A coalition of Likud and five ultra-Zionist conservative and ultra-Orthodox parties voted to return Likud’s Benjamin Netanyahu to the prime ministership. This is Bibi’s deal with the devil. Right-wingers seek to weaken the authority of the judiciary (i.e. Israel’s Supreme Court), uphold the military exemption for Haredim Jews, expand settlements in the West Bank, and undo previous court rulings protecting LGBTQ+ rights. Israel’s huge secular class, those who defend the country in the IDF and make up its highly productive workforce, have nothing to lose and take to the streets.

Bibi, who had never been under such pressure in his 15 years as Israel’s prime minister, blinked. In the face of rebel reservists, an army of university students, an all-powerful tech and financial sector, his intelligence chief, and hundreds of thousands of rebellious citizens, he agreed to suspend pending legislation in parliament that would undermine the independence of the Supreme Court . Currently, the matter has been submitted to discussions and dialogue led by Israeli President Isaac Herzog to find a compromise. Still, Israelis remain vigilant. Smaller demonstrations continued, with some Israelis saying they would return to the streets if the government tried to introduce reforms that would change the independence of the courts and judiciary. That said, this internal struggle over the country’s democratic future is not over yet.

External Enemy Merge

Israel’s test goes beyond its borders. It also faces a host of external threats. Its long-distance enemy, Iran, now appears to be working with a closer national enemy. According to recent statements by Defense Minister Yoav Galant, Iran is supporting these enemies with money, weapons, advice and other means. They include Hamas and Palestinian Islamic Jihad in the West Bank and Gaza. Meanwhile, Iran continues to support Hezbollah, Syria and anti-Israel militias in Syria. According to Galant, Iran’s support for the multi-line attack may have exceeded $1 billion. It may also provide assistance to the many small militia groups that have emerged in the West Bank (see below).

The combined destructive power of these disparate enemy forces could exceed 100,000 rockets and missiles, not including Iran’s own formidable arsenal. For Iran, this means that even without its long-sought nuclear weapons, it would pose a real and serious threat to Israel—perhaps not an existential threat, but still capable of massive destruction and casualties.

Multi-front warfare is nothing new in Israel’s storied history of conflict. It often has to contend with enemies on all sides of the postage stamp-sized country. As it turns out, betting on Israel was never a winner. But the barrage of multiple rockets and missiles coming from all directions is a challenge on a different scale than the barrage of Arab tank battalions and puny Soviet-era aircraft. The country’s advanced defense systems, such as Iron Dome, Iron Beam (scheduled for 2025) and the upcoming David’s Slingshot, are certainly a mitigating factor, not to mention the continued support of its most important ally, the United States. However, Israel may need more than ingenuity and innovative weapons to counter this threat.

Enduring challenges remain

Finally, there is the most persistent conflict in the region. Israel’s cohabitants in the area between the Sea and the Jordan River, the Palestinians, present a new challenge, or rather an old challenge in a different form. The West Bank has been ravaged by violence for more than a year. In 2023 alone, 80 Palestinians and more than 20 Israelis will die in violence. If this continues, it will be the most violent year since the second intifada of 2000-2005, now widely regarded as a disaster for Palestinians. Palestinian attacks on settlers and other Israelis have become all too familiar, as have IDF retaliatory attacks on the West Bank, including Area A, over which the Palestinian Authority nominally holds administrative and security authority.

What makes the current situation different is that the Palestinian attacks appear not only to be indiscriminate but also aimless, that is, with no apparent overarching purpose other than causing harm. In fact, they’re mostly carried out by boys and young adults who are outraged by the pandemic. The attackers were members of small, localized, militia-like groups, mainly from the Nablus and Jenin areas in the northern part of the Territory. They are groups such as Lion’s Den, Balata Brigade and Hornets’ Nest, which enjoy surprisingly general support among Palestinians, and they also have many frustrations. They may have loose ties to more established Palestinian groups and parties such as Fatah, Hamas and Palestinian Islamic Jihad.

However, unlike previous Palestinian groups, these new groups lack an overarching political ideology. They are a new generation of young Palestinians who are simply fighting the status quo. This means not just the Israeli occupation, but the incompetent, incompetent, selfish and corrupt Palestinian Authority, whose aging President Mahmoud Abbas is entering his 18th year of a four-year term and Multiple elections were called off. The toxic cocktail of Palestinian Authority incompetence, little hope of change, and despair for a better future will only fuel the frustration and anger of these young people. They act out of desperation, perhaps the most insidious motive.

These attacks pose little significant threat to Israel, but Israelis must be more cautious to avoid these occasional incidents of violence. Most importantly, however, they point to 75 years of continuing Palestinian frustration and anger. Nakba continues to simmer.

In its short history, Israel has demonstrated a remarkable ability to overcome difficulties, dangers and challenges. How will it meet today’s new challenges? Going back to address the unresolved issues of 1948 is probably the best option. This will not fully resolve its internal political problems or external challenges. These may be minor challenges. It is addressing perhaps the most critical challenge for the Palestinians.

For Palestinians commemorating the 75th anniversary of the catastrophe, there may be even more daunting challenges. The current system, if that term can be used, doesn’t work. If it wasn’t for the Palestinian Authority, which desperately needs fresh and innovative leadership, then they will have to find another way to prove to themselves and to the Israelis that they are capable of self-governing and being a real negotiating partner for their neighbors.

It is hoped that the Palestinians will not have to wait 75 years.

The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Fair Observer.

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