Israel is a deeply troubled democracy. A democracy it still is, for its citizens—both Jewish and Arab. But Israel is no democracy when it comes to the semi-occupied 2.5 million Arabs of the West Bank and the 1.5 million semi-besieged Arabs of the Gaza Strip. And all this is now congealing.
Since the West Bank and Gaza were conquered in 1967, successive Israeli governments have failed to fully withdraw from them, either unilaterally or with a peace deal. The Arabs may have been largely at fault—in 2000 Palestinian leader Yasir Arafat turned down an Israeli offer to withdraw from 95 percent of the West Bank and 100 percent of the Gaza Strip—but Israel retains its stranglehold over these people and continues to expand its settlement enterprise.
Now there looms the even greater threat of resurgent Islam, not just within Israel’s borders or the Palestinian territories, but across the region, where it is spreading like a brushfire. Many in the West have taken heart from the so-called Arab Spring, viewing the upheavals as heralds of democratic transformation. Israelis are less optimistic. The Islamist message that is coming out of Ankara, and moving to center stage in Cairo, includes a hard core of anti-Zionism usually accompanied by anti-Semitic overtones. (Egypt’s deposed president Hosni Mubarak is now denounced as a “stooge of the Zionists.” A photo of Netanyahu, dressed in an SS uniform, with a Hitler mustache, making the Nazi salute, appeared on the cover of the popular Egyptian weekly October on Aug. 28. Inside, the journal carried an article called “The New Nazis”—and it isn’t even an Islamist publication.)
Netanyahu is creating a series of bureaucratic salves for the country’s economic ills. But they will be swamped, and rendered irrelevant, in the tide of Palestinian activism and anti-Zionism that will be set off by the Palestinian statehood bid. It will then trigger shock waves around the Arab and Islamic worlds. Months ago, Ehud Barak predicted that Israel will face a “political tsunami.” Here it comes.