Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu Image Credit: Gulf News archive

Believe it or not, the Arab Spring has descended on Tel Aviv. Tens of thousands of young Israelis have camped in tents along the prestigious Rothschild Boulevard in protest against the housing policy of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's right-wing government.

Like their counterparts in the Arab world, whom they mimicked, these youth remain hopeful they can achieve revolutionary change within Israel. In their case, the young Israelis want affordable housing in the city.

The demonstrations, explained Haaretz in an editorial, were not merely addressing the housing crunch. "As with their counterparts in Spain, Portugal and Greece, and the courageous revolutionaries who overthrew the Tunisian and Egyptian regimes, these young, educated professionals also expressed significant discontent with the distorted priorities of their government," it said.

"They too demanded a more just distribution of resources, a commitment by the state to the well-being of its citizens and even restoration of the welfare state."

Describing it as "a welcome awakening", the newspaper concluded that the uprising "must not remain in the public square [which has been interestingly named ‘Tahrir Square' by some Israelis], and must also receive expression within the political system".

What has been disappointing and regrettable about the Israeli protesters has been their failure to focus on Netanyahu's boat which has been sinking as evidenced in his mismanaged foreign policy.

Take, for example, Netanyahu's ‘threat' to punish the Palestinians for their declaration of statehood by scrapping the Oslo Accord. Israeli columnist Akiva Eldar saw this as "akin to a fellow saying he'll cut off his own nose to spite someone else's face".

The Palestinians have scoffed at Netanyahu's nonsensical threat. Saeb Erekat, the chief Palestinian negotiator, pointed out that Israel has not implemented the accord and had it done so "we would have gained our independence since 1993". He insisted that "Israel's practices on the ground have practically cancelled the agreement years ago".

Empty threat

Under the accord, the Palestinians were to be given a transitional period which would not exceed five years to establish an independent state.

Moreover, Netanyahu has argued lately after US President Barack Obama had advocated resumption of Palestinian-Israeli negotiations on the basis of the l967 armistice lines, that these borders were not defensible.

But a prominent delegation of former Israeli military and government officials, now visiting Washington on a campaign to plead for urgent Palestinian-Israeli peace negotiations took issue with Netanyahu's view.

They argued that the 1967 borders are indeed defensible. "We are here because we feel we are running out of time," said Natan Sharoni, a retired major general who was head of the Assessment Department in the Israeli army's intelligence unit.

Besides its long-running conflict with the Palestinians and other Arab states, Israel is facing serious problems with other prominent countries in the Middle East — Turkey and Iran.

Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan is planning to visit Gaza, now controlled by Hamas, a step that will be considered a slap in the face of Israel.

Adding to Israel's woes is the assassination of another Iranian nuclear physicist, Darioush Rezaei, who is said to be involved in Iran's nuclear programme.

He is the latest among several Iranian nuclear scientists murdered in recent years and whose deaths have been blamed by Iranian officials on the US and Israel.

In the face of all these regional problems, Israel must find itself in a no-win situation, allowing Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas to calmly pursue his goal for UN recognition in September — a step that is favoured by a majority of Palestinians, according to a recent opinion poll.


George S. Hishmeh is a Washington-based columnist. He can be contacted at ghishmeh@gulfnews.com.