Panic, Panic and More Panic

The Arab world is in turmoil. Mubarak of Egypt and his sons are in a Cairo jail. Gaddafi of Libya is being bombed from the air by European planes. Ali Abdullah Saleh or Yemen agrees to step down voluntarily, then says he’d rather not. Bashar Assad of Syria is killing hundreds of his people in an effort to stop the protests. Nobody knows yet where this “Arab Spring of Nations” will end.

And what is the reaction of the Israeli government? Panic.

The two Palestinian factions – Fatah and Hamas – decide on a “historic” unity agreement (not the first of its kind). Abu Mazen and Ismail Haniyeh exchange warm embraces in Cairo (yet their body language speaks louder than any embrace). The Egyptians talk of opening the border with Gaza. The UN is probably going to vote in favour of a Palestinian state in a few months; hence the supposed unity.

And what is the reaction of the Israeli government? Panic.

The Obama administration announces a “new” Middle East peace plan. It is basically the same solution that’s been on the table for decades – two countries, 1967 border with adjustments, no right of return into Israel, etc. – so it really shouldn’t come as any surprise. Certainly not to those who negotiated with Clinton the very same deal. It is made public shortly before Netanyahu’s visit to the US, just to make sure there are no misunderstandings.

And what is the reaction of the Israeli government? Panic.

What is it with the government of the militarily strongest country in the Middle East that cannot express anything but panic? Why is every development in the region met with a doomsday scenario that divides the world into black and white, where black is the likely outcome? Is everything that’s happening really bad?

There various explanations to this panicky behaviour, but they all boil down to that farvourite mantra: “the entire world is against us”. The uprisings in the Arab world will bring new leaders that will hate Israel even more. The Hamas will take over the entire Palestinian government and wage war against Israel. And Obama, well, isn’t he that clueless Muslim that took over the White House and is slowly destroying the world?

I believe the explanation for this irrational response is different. This government is the reincarnation of the Shamir government of the 1980s and early 1990s: a government whose overarching policy was “do nothing and eye any change with utmost suspicion”. Today’s government is headed by a failed Prime Minister who has shown, time and again, that he is incapable of withstanding any kind of pressure (starting in his very home). It is as if this talented gentleman made it to the top (twice) but has then willingly bound himself in voluntary straitjacket that prevents him from doing what he needs to do: lead.

The result is politics of panic and fear. Fear of change, fear of developments, fear of rocking the boat, fear of doing anything that might change the status quo. In the absence of clear goals and leadership qualities, the only remaining modus operandi is one of panic. It’s easier to predict doomsday scenarios than to face change and deal with it.

This is not to say some of the recent developments are not risky to Israel. Of course they are. But simply saying “this is bad” or “I told you everybody is against us” is hardly the way a leadership should tackle such challenges. It is time for Israel to change leadership, to one that can do more than just project panic.

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