By Ray Hanania
When the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) truly became a worldwide concern in March this year, Israel was involved in a political battle to oppress Palestinian rights.
Long-serving Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu was under indictment on three counts of corruption, facing a trial that has now finally begun. There was a lot of hope that the corruption charges against Netanyahu might have seen the March 2 election finally bring about change in a country whose government has been driven to extreme right fanaticism and rejection of peace with the Palestinians. Israelis assert that they want peace with the Palestinians, but their government does everything possible to make it unachievable by stealing Palestinian lands. Yet still Netanyahu was not voted out of office.
At first, the Israelis touted themselves as being at the forefront of medical research into COVID-19, with numerous stories claiming that Israeli scientists and researchers were on the verge of developing a cure. Israel understands the power of money and communications, and it uses them very effectively to mold public perception and make itself look good amid a backdrop of a lot of “bad.”
After the election, Netanyahu undercut his political rival, the wishy-washy Benny Gantz, and hoodwinked him into a coalition agreement that excluded the growing Arab representation in the Knesset. It even appeared that the Pyrrhic victory of forming this government might allow Netanyahu to continue to sidestep the nation’s laws and block his prosecution, similar to the way he sidesteps international law to violate Palestinian civil and human rights.
Two months after Israel reported its first case of COVID-19, Netanyahu declared on April 18 that Israel had “succeeded” in its fight against the deadly virus. He credited himself with “safeguarding life and blocking the outbreak of the pandemic.” Netanyahu then bragged that Israel, under his stewardship, would set an example in restarting the economy.
However, in the following months, Netanyahu’s “success” turned to failure. The criminal prosecution against him gained momentum; the coalition with Gantz developed major cracks; and COVID-19 resurged in Israel.
The country is seeing a 50-fold surge in new coronavirus cases, according to media reports. The figures went from 20 new cases a day in mid-May to more than 1,000 less than two months later. Netanyahu is now rushing to shut the businesses he bragged he had reopened.
The data is ominous. NBC reported that: “With a population of around 8.6 million — roughly the size of New Jersey — Israel has had 32,714 coronavirus cases since the beginning of the pandemic and 343 deaths. There are currently just over 14,000 active coronavirus infections, according to the Ministry of Health.” So much for Israel’s so-called genius medical technologies. Even Gantz reportedly entered self-quarantine after possibly coming into contact with an infected person.
We should not be surprised. Israel’s government has had a lifelong difficulty with the truth; preferring to spend hundreds of millions of dollars on public relations to spin lies rather than tell the truth about its apartheid system, racism, violence, oppression, land theft, and more.
On top of this trauma, the International Criminal Court (ICC) could make a decision next month on whether it will open an investigation into allegations that Israel engaged in war crimes in the Occupied Territories.
US President Donald Trump, whose administration is continuing its freefall in the polls, last month rushed to Israel’s defense, declaring that the war crimes court is “illegal” and ordering a series of sanctions against the ICC and its officials. He asserted that the ICC was illegally investigating war crimes committed by US forces in Afghanistan.
Despite the sanctions, the ICC plans to investigate American troops’ actions in Afghanistan, as well those of the Taliban. It’s a slow process, for sure, but Trump is acting now because the ICC measures will have a stronger impact on Israel, isolating it from the rest of the world. The Trump administration coordinated its assault against the ICC with Netanyahu.
This is an opportunity for the Arab world and the Palestinians to step up their pressure on Israel to turn away from violence and hate and embrace a two-state solution. They should step up to the plate and start applying pressure by freezing contacts with Tel Aviv, at least on the basis of not wanting to allow the spread of the coronavirus from Israel to the rest of the Middle East.
Now is the time for Arab leaders to demand that Israel backs down from its threat to annex the West Bank, dismantle many of its illegal settlements, and offer a plan that will result in a genuine Palestinian state, not one controlled by Israel.
However, we are talking about the “Arab world,” which, today, stands divided. The Arab League is a shambles. Extremism continues to flourish in places like Syria, Qatar and Iraq, as well as in neighboring Iran. Iran’s ayatollahs continue their belligerent rhetoric in order to destabilize the Arab world and replace it with a Hezbollah-run empire — not that Iran will ever achieve its goals.
Genuine peace in the region would undermine Iran. Peace would sooth the frustrations and emotions that fuel extremism and bring an end to the violence. Peace is worth fighting for, but it takes true leadership to seize an opportunity. Israel’s government is in disarray. Now is the time to act.