As Israel Turns 75, The Biggest Threats Now Come From Within

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As Israel celebrating his 75th birthday, take a moment to see how he has succeeded against the odds. Before he declared independence in 1948, his own generals warned that he only had a fifty-fifty chance of survival. Today Israel is extremely wealthy, safer than it has been for most of its history, and democratic – if, that is, you are willing to exclude the areas it excludes. . It has survived wars, droughts and poverty with little natural resources other than human grit. It is an outlier in the Middle East, a hub for innovation and a winner from globalization.

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However, as we explain, Israel has various opportunities and threats in the coming decades. You can get a taste of this from the turmoil of the past weeks: a constitutional crisis over judicial independence promoted by Binyamin Netanyahu’s right-wing government; an eerie power vacuum in the dead West Bank; and the rules of the old American-led order are being cut as Saudi Arabia, Iran and China cut new deals. In the 20th century the threat of invasion threatened Israel’s survival. In the 21st, there is the risk of a split from within affecting the strength and flexibility he needs to succeed.

It is easy to assume that Israel’s achievements. After 1948 he built a liberal – and gladiatorial – democracy with highly independent courts, despite the lack of a written constitution. After flirting with socialism he embraced markets. In 1980 a gdp the man was about half German; now it is 12% higher. It is 11 times richer than Egypt. Israel has more “unicorn” technology companies than the rest of the Middle East and more Nobel laureates than China. It has led to a geopolitical shift. After the cold war it brought in 1m of Jewish immigrants from the Soviet Union, while at the same time maintaining its special relationship with America.

Like most successful places it has embraced competition and disruptive change with the potential for unity when the stakes are high enough. Its military advantage over its much more numerous Arab neighbors reflects advanced technology, as well as an army of over 400,000 motivated reservists. As climate change has exacerbated droughts, it has created a state-run desalination network that supplies half of its water. In its darkest and most divisive days – the Yom Kippur war of 1973; his disastrous invasion of Lebanon in 1982; the assassination of prime minister Yitzhak Rabin in 1995, and the endless peace talks with the Palestinians – he managed to change and find a new political and social accommodation.

Israel’s resourcefulness and resilience will be tested again with three new moves. First, demographics. The country is young: its population could rise from 10m now to 20m by 2065. But it is becoming more divided. Mr Netanyahu’s coalition relies on far-right religious parties involved in the growing settler movement. Reflecting this, he wants to limit the independence of the courts, which he sees as unrepresentative. At the same time, the share of citizens who are ultra-orthodox, a group less likely to work, do military service or attend mainstream schools, will rise from 13% now to 32 % by 2065. This breaks down the electorate, shifts politics to the right and tightens. Israel’s liberal-democratic character. Over time the values ​​of ultra-orthodox citizens may evolve as more attend mainstream schools or get jobs. But if Israel continues to follow liberal values, it will endanger prosperity. Its coders, capitalists and creators can move elsewhere.

The second major trend is the worldwide decline of Palestinians, with 3m of them living in the West Bank under “temporary” Israeli occupation and 2m of those pinned down in Gaza. . In the 20th century, American presidents strongly tried to establish a peace treaty, assuming that it was the best way to secure Israel and solve the possibility of the Middle East. Now the world has given up and moved on. For Israel this may seem like an advantage. It is unlikely to be forced by outside powers to make major land concessions or settlement construction, even as it has built political, defense and economic ties with more Arab states through Abraham contracts, signed in 2020.

But in the long run it is hard to see how ignoring the Palestinians can work out well for Israel. The economic gap is ever widening: gdp Each person in the West Bank is 94% lower than in Israel, and equal to Papua New Guinea. The Palestinian Authority is collapsing; the aging leaders have postponed elections and lost legitimacy. Israel’s hardliners once embraced the benefits of mutual economic development, even as they denied Palestinian political rights. Now the Israeli right-wing parties want to divide and destroy the West Bank. He and Gaza could end up even worse as failed states, affecting Israel’s safety and moral standing.

The latest trend is the arrival of a multidimensional world. America was the first country to recognize Israel in 1948 and has been a strong ally. A more diffuse global balance of power will create new opportunities for Israel, including ties with its Arab neighbors and with China and India, which have little concern for the Palestinians. Already Israel trades more goods with Asia than with America. The catch is that America still provides 66% of arms imports and a de facto security guarantee that will stop attacks, including from Iran. On Israel’s illiberal political path, public support for it in America will weaken and become more partisan: one in four American Jews say it is an apartheid state.

Plan for 2048

Israel’s first prime minister, David Ben-Gurion, wrote in his diary that “the fate of Israel is in the hands of its defense forces”. Today it also lies with its political system. It is easy to imagine a virtuous circle that will allow Israel to prosper in the next few decades. The key is a new political arrangement that reduces the power of extremists and is flexible enough to absorb pressures from demographic trends. This is why Israel needs to establish a constitutional convention that codifies the powers of parliament and the courts, and promotes party realignment that gives more weight to its centrist majority – which would require to leave the divorced Mr. Netanyahu. A more moderate politics at home would open up the possibility of a more just and pragmatic stance towards the Palestinians, and would reduce the risk of alienation from America. Israel is in control of its own destiny. It is time to act.

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