According to the Israeli Central Bureau of Statistics (ICBS), Israel’s population was estimated at 7,695,000, including 5,802,000 Jews who represented 75.4% of the population census and 42% of the Jewish population worldwide. The Arab population comprised 1,573,000, or 20.4% of the whole population. Classified as ‘Others”, another 320,000 residents represented 4.2% of the Israel’s population. Compared to 1.8% in 2009, 2010 marked an average population growth of 1.9%. Settlers and ultraorthodox Jews scored the highest rate of population growth among the Jewish population. The population growth throughout Israeli settlements in the West Bank registered 5.3% in mid 2009, but rose to 5.9% in 2010.
One third of children born in 2010 belonged to ultraorthodox Jewish (Haridim) households. As is shown by the correlation between the level of religious observance and generations, variable growth indicators within Jewish groups have borne a strategic impact on the Israeli society’s future composition, form and transformation into a more religious and ultraorthodox community. Compared to only 2% of persons of 65 years of age or above, 14% of the Israeli youth in the 20-29 age category consider themselves as ultraorthodox religious Jews (Haridim) . If we add a little less than half of the Jewish first graders at religious schools (Haridim and national religious schools), it is evident that the Israeli society is steadily changing into a more ultraorthodox and religious society, which yields a more stringent attitude towards Arabs and Palestinian-Israeli conflict. Recently published studies and surveys show a correlation between the level of religiosity and attitude towards Arabs. According to the latest 2010 Israeli Democracy Index of the Israel Democracy Institute, a breakdown of the Jewish public by level of religiosity shows that the greater the level of religious observance, the stronger the objection to equality of rights between Jews and Arabs: only 33.5% of secular Jews are opposed to such equal rights, in contrast to 51% of traditional Jews, 65% of religious Jews, and 72% of ultraorthodox (Haridim) Jews. It should be noted that this change reflects on the composition and structure of the state power institutions, including political, economic and military. In this content, recent data released in September 2010 indicates a rise in the percentage of Israeli army officers who put on the Yarmulke caps. Also, the number of graduates of the Israeli air force officers climbed from 2.5% in 1990 to 31.4% in 2007 – 12 times as much within a period of 17 years.
On the economy level, Israel’s public budget for 2010 comprised approximately ILS 325 billion (US$ 86 billion). Over the next two years, the public budget of Israel will reach ILS 714 billion (approximately US$ 348 billion), including ILS 348 billion earmarked for 2011 and the rest for 2012.
2010 marked a drop in the unemployment rate, declining from 7.9% at the end of 2009 to 6.7% in 2010. In contrast, the real wage rate per worker rose by 3.6%, following a deterioration of 2.4% in 2009. Compared to ILS 7,463 in late 2009, the wage rate per worker increased to ILS 8,340 (US$ 2,330). GDP per capita share amounted to ILS 106,400 (approximately US$ 29,7000).
Features of the Israeli Government Policy throughout 2010
It can be claimed that Netanyahu’s policies was formed by a combination of four central factors:
• Full reliance on the military force: The Israeli Government has a deep-rooted belief that the military and deterrence force are so pivotal to Israel’s policy in order to materialise defence, deterrence and, most importantly, political goals. Furthermore, Israel firmly believes that what has not been accomplished by force will be realised by more and more force.
• Hegemony of the internal policy over external policies: In the Palestinian context, this means that consequences of the Palestinian file are not only associated with strategic national accounts, but also with coalition and party tactics.
• Steady, but ongoing, shift in the composition of the society from secular to religious and rightist: The Israeli society is further experiencing a continuing transformation of the Oriental ultra-Orthodox (Haridim), represented by the SHAS political party, into rightist Zionism. This change means that what has been politically possible is becoming more difficult overtime.
• Absence of a consolidated Israeli vision of a conflict resolution mechanism: Israel’s policy lacks a strategic vision of resolving the Palestinian-Israeli conflict. This is well articulated by steady changes of positions towards the conflict in line with various parties and constant alterations in the composition of the ruling elite. Despite the claim that there is not a pragmatic difference between the so-called Zionist right and left, variation even in the tactics and diplomatic conflict management tools exert a varying international and regional impact on the stance of Israel as a whole.
In late 2010 and early 2011, a set of internal, regional and international paradigmatic events have intersected at a certain moment, during which the political deadlock and Israel’s intransigence dominated the entire scene. Such a situation might compel Israel either to seriously work towards ending the conflict (a step which includes making a new offer Israel has not so far presented) or to deepen its seclusion and move into an unknown future with multifaceted features of the apartheid state of the 1970s and 1980s.
1. Signs of the “New Middle East”: Constituting the single most significant event, signs of the “New Middle East” have arisen from a combination of two central factors:
(i) Arab revolutions: As the predominant of Arab revolutions, the significance of Egypt’s rebellion surpasses the mere overthrow of Hosni Mubarak’s regime, which had been considered by Israel as very friendly and cooperative. This dramatic change will open up the prospect for Egypt to resume a more effective and efficient role as a regional power. It is anticipated that Egypt’s positions, alliances and political choices will be in harmony with the pulse of the Egyptian street, from which the new regime derives its legitimacy. This selfsame street is now demanding that agreements with Israel which the Egyptian public consider as unfair, including the gas export agreement, be changed. Even though the Higher Military Council declared that Egypt would respect international agreements, including the Camp David Agreement, it is unlikely that bilateral relations between both countries restore their former status.
(ii) Demise of the Israeli-Turkish military alliance: Turkey’s increasing shift towards the Syria-Iran alliance (although talking about a Turkish-Syrian-Iranian alliance is still early) practically means that Israel has lost one of its most important friends in the region. The said decline of the Israeli-Turkish alliance intersects with another significant change – the return of Syria in a way or another to Lebanon through the success of its allies in the Hezbollah-led March 8 opposition in fragmenting the March 14 alliance and overthrowing the Hariri government. In practice, this transformation signals a new repositioning of the Syrian-Iranian alliance on the Lebanese scene as well as an increasing Syrian influence in the Lebanese sphere. It also indicates arranging regional alliances in line with the Iranian-Syrian vision in isolation from US and Israeli wills.
2. Growing international isolation and de-legitimisation of Israel : Combined with the intransigent positions of Netanyahu’s government and Minister of Foreign Affairs Avigdor Lieberman as well as refusal to renew settlement freeze, the political deadlock in the peace process, has led to a growing isolation of Israel on the international scene throughout 2010 . Israel’s isolation has also been accompanied with a sharper European criticism to Netanyahu. “You must understand: You are losing the greatest of your friends in Europe,” Catherine Ashton addressed Netanyahu during a conversation. In parallel with the growing criticism of Israel by allied European governments, more Israeli reports are addressing the continued de-legitimisation of Israel and its deteriorating image around the world. On the eve of launching a campaign to enhance Israel’s image in the world, a survey published by the Israeli Ministry of Information and Diaspora showed that 90% of Israeli respondents consented that Israel faced a ‘serious’ and ‘very serious’ problem in relation to its image. Another 80% agreed that Israel appeared abroad as a violent state . These responses crosscut with the results of an opinion poll of the BBC World Service , suggesting that Israel was viewed as a state that has a mainly negative influence in the world. In the opinion poll, Israel stands in the fourth penultimate rating, just preceded by Iran, North Korea and Pakistan. In 2010, the Israeli Reut Institute for Strategic Planning also published a position paper, considering that Israel was facing an unprecedented campaign of de-legitimisation. The report deemed the campaign as a strategic threat that follows the Iranian nuclear threat.
3. More religious and more rightist Israel: As mentioned above, the Israeli society is experiencing an internal structural transformation into a more religious and, consequently, more rightist orientation. This is evident in the steady increase in the percentage of religious persons in the total population as well as their growing number in effective and efficient state institutions. In contrast, more and more emphasis is ascribed to the Jewish status and nature of the Jewish state. This trend can be monitored by the increasing regulations presented to the Knesset as well as the prosecution campaigns launched by rightist Jewish parties against Jewish and Arab human rights organisations and leftist community actors, including the New Israel Fund. Also in the context of tightening the grip on Arabs, Jewish rightists have launched a McCarthyistic campaign, instigating against sociological circles and critical sociologists in Israel. To this avail, the Legal Centre for Arab Minority Rights in Israel (Adalah) released a report, including a list of 20 new primary laws and draft law which were raised for discussion during 2010. All these regulations “discriminate against the Palestinian minority in Israel and threaten their rights as citizens of the state. In some cases, they also impinge on rights of Palestinian inhabitants in the occupied territory.” According to Adalah, the list does not monitor “all discriminatory and/or racist regulations currently in place at the Knesset. It only enumerates draft laws with a plenty of opportunities for success to be enacted into laws and/or to cause a grave damage to Palestinian rights once they are passed.” In contrast, Avigdor Lieberman’s influence on Israel’s internal policy is growing. Many, including some of the senior officials in the ruling Likud party, believe that Lieberman, Israel’s Minister of Foreign Affairs and Head of the extremist rightist Yisrael Beiteinu (Israel Our Home) party, has become to be the “actual head of government” in Israel in the aftermath of Barak’s break up. Despite the fact that he is secular and entirely remote from religiosity, Lieberman’s strict and extremist rightist views of the Arabs dominate his discourse and strongly crisscross with the rightist notions of the religious Jewish community, including the ultraorthodox stream represented by SHAS or the Zionist settler stream. In practice, this intersection transforms into a scene of integration between both trends. It benefits from an excessive partnership in rightist attitudes in order to render successful a weird, or even impossible, partnership in other societies on grounds of alleviating the sharp dichotomy and variation in religious positions.
Israel and Changes: Confrontation Tools
A set of tools which Israel uses, or expects to use, in the course of confronting successive developments in the region:
1. Military preparedness to the confrontation scenario: Israel presumes that the confrontation scenario is a real probability, which requires complete alertness in logistic and military terms. In particular, preparations should be in place to cope with probable security dangers generated, not exclusively, from Egypt.
Although these dangers will necessarily be linked to regional developments and to the shape of developing international alliances and emerging regimes, Israel will presume a worst case scenario and take preparations accordingly. This can be understood from the allocation of an additional US$ 700 million to the already approved security and defence budget in the aftermath of the Egypt January 25 Revolution. During a press interview held on 8 March 2011, Israel’s Minister of Defence Ehud Barak announced Israel’s intention to request an additional military aid of US$ 20 billion from the USA so that Israel can prepare itself to the dangers, which may emanate from Arab rebellions.
2. Promoting the idea that “Israel is the only stable ally of the USA in the Middle East”: Despite the fact that the Israeli Government attempted to restrain itself and abstain from making relevant statements, it has attempted to exploit incidents of Arab rebellions and promote, according to Netanyahu, the idea that Israel is the sole, constant and stable ally of the USA in the Middle East. This claim, however, conceals two intertwined issues: Israel looks at regional instability as a constant factor and deals with stability as a transformative factor. Consequently, it will always be alert to permanent future dangers. This means that Israel will remain prepared to confront any developments since its military force is its only guarantee to confront its turbulent environs. In this context, it should be noted that Israel’s trend will not change even if an Egyptian president, who is “moderate” in the eyes of Israel, ascends to power.
3. Attempt to establish new international alliances: Israeli lost its strategic alliances with the Shah of Iran in 1979 and with Turkey in 2010. It seems that Israel is also about to lose friendship with the Egyptian regime. In other words, Israel’s map of alliances in the region has collapsed, and Israel has now been striving to establish new alternative alliances to compensate for its strategic losses. According to information published in the Israeli press, Israel has already started to develop a new military and intelligence partnerships with Greece, Bulgaria and other countries in the Balkan region, including Ukraine and Mac