European diary, 18.5.2021: The Austrian chancellor has packed the flag away again. For days, an Israeli flag hung above the Chancellor’s Office on Ballhausplatz. As it was said out of “solidarity with Israel”, which suffers from the terror attacks of Hamas. The chancellor pushed through this sign against reservations in his own ranks. In fact, it was probably mainly a matter of political bargaining chips. At the expense of the people in Israel and Palestine. Because when it comes to solidarity between Sebastian Kurz and Benjamin Netanyahu, there is no longer any question of Austrian neutrality. Not even in the face of a civil war in which both sides are doing what they can to fuel the conflict. But one side has the more efficient means to do so. This should not be completely forgotten.
If you want to know more about the background of the current Hamas rocket attacks and the air raids on the Gaza Strip, you will find only sporadic information in European newspapers, and if you want to know more, you have to look in the New York Times or in Israeli newspapers like Haaretz. The whole disaster began to unfold as early as April. This year, several occasions for possible provocations coincide. The Israeli “national holidays”, not least the commemoration of heroes on the so-called Yom Hazikaron, the day of remembrance of the fallen soldiers, went hand in hand with the beginning of the fasting month of Ramadan.
Elections were once again scheduled in the occupied Palestinian territories. The last ones were held 15 years ago – and once again they were canceled. Once again, Palestinians in East Jerusalem were not to be allowed to participate in the elections. And Fatah feared an election victory for Hamas.
On the other hand, Benjamin Netanyahu had to fear that a coalition might actually form against him. That alone was enough to play with dynamite. And there was plenty of it in April. Unnoticed by the world public, this new drama, if one is looking for a symbolic turning point, had probably begun on the evening of April 13. The commemoration of Yom Hazikaron is to take place once again at the Wailing Wall. But it is also the first day of Ramadan, the highest Muslim holiday. And Israeli soldiers storm the Al Aqsa Mosque to cut off the juice to the prayer leader and his microphone. There are priorities.
At the same time, six Arab families in East Jersualem are fighting their expulsion from their homes in Sheikh Jarrah. The houses they live in have been legally disputed since it became possible after 1967 for Jewish Jerusalemites to reclaim their real estate property lost in 1948 when they were expelled from East Jerusalem, while conversely there is still no chance for Arab expellees from the west of the city to have their lost property returned. The Supreme Court’s decision on the acute case is still pending.
Protests against the expulsion began to gather momentum in April. And a few days after the first incident on the Temple Mount, for Arabs the Haram al-Sharif, the Israeli government has the square at Damascus Gate closed, the main access for the city’s Muslims to the Old City and its main mosques, all this during Ramadan. And there are increasingly brutal police operations against the protests. In Sheikh Jarrah as well as on the Temple Mount. Stun grenades are used, including on the grounds of the Al Aqsa Mosque, and as a result there are serious injuries. Attacks by Arabs on Jews further inflame the atmosphere, and as early as April 21, hundreds of Israeli right-wing extremists from the “Lehava” group parade through the Old City, chanting “Death to Arabs” and indiscriminately attacking Arab passersby.
Hamas is not long in taking advantage of this escalation to play to the fore as the true defenders of Palestinian interests. While the Haram al-Sharif Authority and Abbas’ Palestinian government stand as impotent cardboard cutouts, Hamas unleashes its arsenal of rockets. Twenty-seven days after the April 13 provocation.
In the meantime, however, something else has happened. The coexistence of Jewish and Arab Israelis in the mixed cities of Haifa and Akko, Jaffa and Lydda has turned into a civil war-like situation. For a long time it was pretended to the world public that a harmonious coexistence of the “Jewish state and its minorities” was possible there. And those who were of good will on both sides did everything to ensure that this possibility was lived out as well as possible, despite all resistance and discrimination, prophecies of doom and warning signals.
Now mosques and synagogues, Arab and Jewish houses are burning. Armed gangs roam the streets, spreading a mood of pogroms. But in this conflict, too, the government is making it clear who is the strongest and who actually enjoys the protection of state power in all consequences. Even though many police officers are actually trying to contain the violence of right-wing Jewish mobs as well, and not just to take action against Arabs. The official rhetoric, on the other hand, knows exactly who and what is meant when “pogroms” are mentioned. Only one side. And the Israeli government and its friends, in Europe and the United States, they keep pouring oil on the fire.
While the Israeli flag flies at the Chancellor’s Office in Vienna, as it does at some German town halls and government buildings, international diplomacy tries to persuade both sides to end the violence. But the Israeli government has no plan except to stay in power and prevent a “fall” of Netanyahu. And until that happens, the bombardment against Gaza continues unchecked and aimless. While Hamas has long since achieved “its” war goal. They have already symbolically won, no matter how many houses in Gaza Netanyahu still has reduced to rubble, no matter how many civilians on both sides have to believe in it. In any case, there will be many more on the Palestinian side than on the Israeli side, and the agitators on both sides can live with that.
And something else remains visible in the midst of this absurd and at the same time absolutely expected spiral of violence. For the first time, both Netanyahu and his opponents have actually included something hitherto completely impossible in their calculations, a new hypothesis: neither of the two camps can govern any longer without a partner from among the Arab parties. And no one has ruled out this possibility any longer. In the midst of the madness, a completely paradoxical, tiny option for normality, of a state that will either eventually be a joint state of its Jewish and non-Jewish citizens. Or, in the end, will no longer be a state at all.
Flashback, 18.5.2020: EU foreign affairs envoy Josep Borrell congratulates the new Israeli government while warning it on behalf of the European Union not to annex parts of the occupied West Bank. The coalition agreement of the new Israeli government led by Benjamin Netanyahu and his rival Benny Gantz envisages “extending Israel’s sovereignty” to parts of the West Bank. The EU maintains that it would not recognize any change to the pre-1967 borders without the mutual consent of Israelis and Palestinians, and that unilateral annexation would violate international law.
Two of the 27 EU states have withheld their consent to the EU foreign affairs envoy’s statement. The anti-Semitic Orban government in Budapest and the Austrian federal government. Luxembourg’s Foreign Minister Jean Asselborn regrets the two states’ walk-out. The Austrian Foreign Ministry refers to a statement by Foreign Minister Schallenberg that Austria rejects a “prejudgement” of Israel. The Israeli government would be “judged by its actions.