The Arab media, the BBC, and a host of other voices unfriendly to Israel compare the cottage-cheese-and-rent protests on Rothschild Boulevard to the “Arab Spring” (which I characterized from the outset as a harbinger of societal collapse). It does not seem to occur to the punditeska that Israel has never had a national political fight over economic history, for an obvious reason: Israelis were too worried about security issues to bother about the price of cheese. Never mind that Israel, one of the world’s most successful economies, has little in common with its neighbors, whose problem is that Chinese pigs will be fed before Arab peasants. The fact that the Israeli left has chosen to take a stand on economic issues shows that the national-security consensus around Prime Minister Binjamin Netanyahu is impregnable.
The Israeli left isn’t stupid. With Syria in civil war and Egypt in a chaotic march towards Islamism, there simply aren’t any Arabs with whom a rational discussion can be held about a comprehensive peace agreement. The Palestine Authority cannot find its footing in this quicksand; it cannot even find funding, for aid from Arab states has slowed to a fraction of last year’s levels. The PA can’t meet its payroll in consequence. Israel’s much-vaunted diplomatic isolation seems a distant memory with China’s army chief of staff visiting the country, and the China Daily proclaiming “China, Israel vow to improve military ties.”
Whatever happens in Egypt–and it almost certainly will be ugly–Israel’s neighbor will be consumed by economic crisis for years and forced to cut military spending. Syria’s army is too busy killing Syrians to bother with Israelis. One doesn’t want to sound cynical, but by making Arab life cheap, Basher al-Assad has made it much harder for the world to denounce collateral damage inflicted by Israel should it require an intervention in Gaza or Lebanon.
As I argued last April, Israel’s strategic position has improved immeasurably in consequence of the Arab revolts. Iran is still a deadly threat, but Iran must now contend with a Sunni alliance intent on containing it. Whether or not Assad survives in power, Syria will be crippled as an Iranian ally.
Netanyahu can sit in his office in Jerusalem and offer to go to Ramallah and negotiate without preconditions, while the Palestinians run in tighter and tighter little circles. And no-one on the Israeli left can complain about it. Whom is he supposed to talk to?
So the Israeli left has thrown its resources into a protest over the high price of housing. We in the United States should be so lucky. Come over here, and see what it’s like when home prices collapse. The impetus behind the protest is that the pie has suddenly become much bigger, and the economic laggards want a bigger share of it. That’s a high-class problem to have, compared to Egypt, which imports half its caloric intake and is running out of foreign exchange.
And it might be added that the Israeli protesters are enjoying themselves in a great open-air carnival along Rothschild Boulevard, one of the most pleasant avenues in the Mediterranean world. It’s hard to confuse that with Tottenham.