Saturday, 23 March 2013

Turning of the Tide

As Obama departs Israel, the white house has put out a press release declaring Israel has apologized to Turkey (for the mistakes made in the Marmara incident), that financial compensation (by Israel) to the families of those killed is forthcoming, that Turkey is once and for all dropping the accutsational rhetoric, the litigation of Israeli servicemen, restorating diplomats and that relationships between Israel and Turkey are re-normalised.

Huge bang for buck for Obama. Obama has more important things to do, the vast majority of which are inside America's borders. He has neither time nor spare resources to spend on fixing an Israeli-Palestinian conflict that neither the Israelis nor the Palestinians seem serious about wanting to solve.
A rich, highly-publicized, PR-laden visit to Israel, where 10 minutes before jumping on the plane he whips out a sledgehammer and hits the Israel-Turkey relathions machine in -exactly- the right spot, gets the machine to roar back to life, departs with a smile, ticking off a big-ticket achievement for his resume and not needing to worry about this area of the world again (and its associated lobbies) for the rest of his term.

Masterfully done.

Huge win for Turkey's Erdogan, in the eyes of both his voters (Turks) and his clients (Liberal Muslims the world over). You see, Erdogan is in business, and the world's Muslims are his market.
He is in the business of selling to them a new brand of liberal Islam that competes with the Iranian Shiite, Saudi Wahabi and Egypt's Salafist conservative dinosaurs.
His product's proposition? A proven version of political Islam largely compatible with western values, boasting a functional economy, sitting on a solid platform of a material (and vocal) NATO contributor as well as rich trade ties with both the Middle East and the West.
He's selling a vision every arab-spring revolutionary (note: both the secular freedom fighters of Syria and Lybia or the possibly to-be fanatic fruitloops of the radical Al-Nusra brigades) want to buy.

He's doing very good, thank you for asking.
And he's just handed his PR department a "hard-earned" win in an arm-wrestling match with Israel.

Oh, he's happy all right.

And... Israel.
This is a win for Israel for a long list of obvious technocratic reasons.
It restores business and trade, probably starting with the reinstatement of some parked defense contracts. Money talks.

It restores diplomatic ties and improves support for Israel's position in the world (both West and Muslim), as with "Turkey's cooperation on improving the situation with Palestinians" comes a silent approval-by-default of what Israel does there, except where explicitly stated otherwise. That in turn impacts trade with other places in the world. Money talks.

It lays the ground for trust to start building up, (and tourism business to start coming back
and so forth. So money talks.)

Despite the pride, Israelis seem to intuitively understand this. Ynet - Israel's main tabloid where sensationalism, an entire industry of paid talkbacks and hoards of emotionally-swayed readers are famous for running high on the national stiffy scale - even this readership qualified the decision with a 55% support rate.

All that is true.

But there's a bigger picture here. A seismic happening underwater, whose first visible effect is the apology we're witnessing.

Understanding it is understanding that Bibi Netanyahu - Israel's Prime Minister - is not (and has never been) the bus driver. Bibi Netanyahu is merely the bus. In Israel's minoritocratic (e.g. perpetual hung parliament) political system, policy is made by the coalition partners, not by the main party glueing them together.

In the years past, this policy was driven by the person who had a foreign-policy-oriented political gun to Bibi's head - Avigdor Lieberman, a hawkish (at times, to the point of fascism) major coalition partner representing the hard-line soviet-immigrant seventh of the Israeli voting public.

Two things happened in these elections - he merged his entire party into Bibi's just before (securing a personal position for himself in the current parliament), and his voters (quite literally, all of them) walked out. His material contribution (in parliament seats) to the Likkud ended up being zero growth (albeit, perhaps, no shrinkage).

Lieberman's nationalistic stiffy is still in full swing, rest assured, quoted in the media saying the whole apology to the Turks is a mistake.
But Lieberman is now completely irrelevant.

The new coalition partners - the new influencers and drivers of policy - all sing a very, very different policy song. We can evidence it in this apology and will be in decisions to come - 

Hatnua - Livni's party, with Livni herself tasked with leading the Palestinian negotiations, has been the most pragmatic, sensible and well-meaning voice in normalising relations with all of Israel's neighbours (in a realistic, security-minded, non-unicorns kind of way).

Yesh Atid - Lapid's party, swept a sixth of the nation on a platform of sensible pragmatism that bolsters prosperity. They'd weigh in towards whatever helps the nation pay the bills and keep the lights on.

Even "Habait Hayehudi" - Benett's party that raked in all of Lieberman's hawkish voters - is a settler/liberal-entrepreneur philosophical hybrid. Even to them, entrepreneur-supporting pragmatism would counterweigh theoretical ideology enough not have gotten in the way.

The common thread to these three parties is their focus on economic prosperity rather than firmer borders as the principle method of nation-building (yes, even Benett, compared to the previous representatives of the same electorate), a method particularly popular with that younger generation forming the guts of the electorate of these three parties. It is no coincidence Obama addressed his Israel speech to them rather than a roomful of statesmen. These young people, embodied in the three newformed parties, are now quite literally the policy makers, and they share their nation-building dogma with their US counterparts - those who overpowered Romney and put Obama in office.
Obama was pumping morale into the veins of the local equivalent of his own team back home.

Bibi's new government coalition partners have emerged bearing a re-thought agenda for Israel, and if under the decades of letting his coalition partners drive his policy Bibi himself has any similar intentions of his own, his current assembly would allow him to play these out with a long overdue dose of pragmatism.

If the Israeli apology to the Turks won Erdogan and Obama a battle, Israel, as a nation locked in a struggle with its own demon, has just sounded the horn of a turned tide in an epic, generations-old war.