Middle East

How Israel Can Find Its Way Out of Isolation

Articulating a plan for Gaza can help Israel stave off some of the criticism and potentially keep together some of the support that it still has around the world.

In all of its 76 years as a state, it is hard to think of another time when Israel was as isolated as it is today.

There have been periods in the past when Israel did not have countries to rely on for weapons shipments or when Israelis were targets of airplane hijackings and terrorist attacks around the world. Today, it is worse.

The United States is reconsidering shipments of certain arms, countries in Western Europe are unilaterally recognizing a Palestinian state, the International Criminal Court is considering arrest warrants against Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Defense Minister Yoav Gallant and the International Court of Justice has called on the country to stop its operation in Rafah. The bombing on Sunday night of a Hamas target in Rafah which led to a blaze in a nearby complex housing displaced Palestinians and reportedly killed dozens of civilians has only made matters worse.

All of this has two dramatic consequences for Israel: The first is that Israel’s isolation increases the country’s dependence on the U.S., as its only friend. It will need that friendship, for example, to veto any resolution put before the United Nations Security Council to enforce the ICJ order. Simply dismissing U.S. requests regarding the war could increase tension and lead the U.S. to let such resolutions pass. That would be disastrous.

The second consequence is harder to quantify but is already being felt. When regular people hear that Israeli leaders are wanted by the International Criminal Court; when they see that the country is censured by the ICJ; and when European leaders recognize a Palestinian state that they say Israel illegally occupies, there will be a silent boycott against the Jewish state. It will be seen in people changing travel plans and deciding that Israel is no longer a country to visit, or by hedge funds skipping Israel-based companies for others that are similar but located somewhere else.

The isolation is having a direct impact on regular Israelis too. Airlines continue to avoid. Even United Airlines, which renewed service a few months after the war began, has again suspended all operations in Israel, a sign of growing skepticism that things will improve anytime soon.

Some leading U.S. and European institutions have announced that they are suspending student and researcher exchanges with Israeli institutions and will not negotiate any new agreements. One leading Israeli academic said recently that he was supposed to receive an appointment at a prestigious British university, but the offer was rescinded a few weeks after October 7.

Israelis look at this situation with increasing frustration. They do not understand how the world sees what is happening so differently than they do. Israelis were victims of a brutal Hamas attack and as long as Israelis are kept captive in Gaza’s dark tunnels, there can be no talk of a day after the war.

But so much of the world sees things differently. Most of the public, especially in the West, have moved away from supporting Israel’s war. In the United States, for example, a march poll found that 55 percent of Americans disapprove of the Israeli operation, up from 45 percent just three months earlier. With the recent ICC and ICJ decisions, those numbers are likely to get worse.

Israel can work to repair the situation. It does not have to stop the war—that would be a gift to Hamas as long as hostages are still in Gaza–but it needs to articulate what its long-term plan is for the Gaza Strip. The government has refrained from doing so, leading to speculation that what Israel really wants is to reoccupy Gaza, almost 20 years after it pulled out in the summer of 2005. It is particularly challenging to counter this sentiment when senior ministers in Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s government are openly calling for such a resettlement.

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Articulating a plan for Gaza can help Israel stave off some of the criticism and potentially keep together some of the support that it still has around the world. Israel has the right to degrade Hamas’s infrastructure and capabilities.

Politics is certainly in play in the government’s decision not to offer a plan, but the need to keep the pressure on Hamas also has a role. Still, while this strategy might have some validity, the overwhelming isolation Israelis are feeling is new to this generation. The country will have a hard time getting used to this new reality.

Yet, amid the challenges, it is important to remember that Israel has faced insurmountable odds before and emerged stronger. The current isolation, while daunting, is not impossible to overcome. Israel needs innovative diplomacy, strategic clarity, and unwavering resolve, but it can be done. The future of the country depends on it.