Israel Will Be Greatly Harmed if Judicial Reform Changes Its Democratic Character
by Danny Ayalon
A unique synergy of regional and global trends has meant that Israel’s international stance has grown stronger over the last two decades; yet, while this growth trend could continue, it is being overshadowed by the country’s judicial reform crisis.
The global market recognizes the importance of Israel’s leadership in the high-tech sector, and because the future rests in the technological sector, Israel, by definition, has become a major asset, leading many countries to want to grow closer to the Jewish state.
Israel offers assets not just in the fields of AI, quantum computing, IT, or medical systems — but also in water technology, food-tech, and agro-tech, all of which can ensure global food security and water availability, particularly in the parched Middle East.
Another factor that has made Israel appealing as an asset is the discovery of Mediterranean gas fields in in its economic waters. This has turned Israel into a regional energy supplier, sending gas to Jordan, Egypt, and the Palestinian Authority, as well as to Europe via Egypt.
Israel’s standing was further significantly strengthened by the Abraham Accords, which have demonstrated that the country is perceived as the only force that can stand in the way of Iran’s expansionist agenda, as well as Tehran’s subversion, terrorism, and its nuclear ambitions.
Furthermore, Israel has been successful in detaching the Palestinian issue from its regional and global standing and diplomatic relations with Arab states. It has maintained strategic relations with Jordan (despite routine crises in bilateral relations), Egypt, the European Union, and, of course, the United States, despite substantive divisions over the Palestinian issue.
Now, the Abraham Accord states have bypassed the Palestinians, after the UAE, Bahrain, and Morocco realized they can no longer be held hostage by the Palestinian Authority’s veto power. They have instead recognized the importance of ties with Israel and cooperation on technology, food and water, counter-terrorism, and halting Iran’s nuclear program. This recognition by Arab states has, in turn, assisted other countries, particularly those in the European Union, which have always been sensitive to the Palestinian issue, to move forward on cooperation with Israel.
On top of these factors, global changes are underway, in the form of superpower competition between China and the US on one hand, and the war in Ukraine on the other, which have boosted Israel’s standing as well, adding to its importance and attractiveness.
Israeli military technology is among the most advanced in the world — whether it be precision weapons and ammunition, anti-ballistic missile defense systems, or cyber defenses. Israeli cooperation with NATO members is expanding significantly these days, due to the deterioration of the global security situation.
Germany, for example, is increasing its defense budget exponentially, and there is a good chance that some of that budget will go to Israeli military technology. This strategically binds Europe to Israel.
Another important consideration is US-China competition. When the Americans speak of pivoting to the East to contain China with a ring of pro-American alliances, there is a significant concern among pro-US Arab states that they will do so at the expense of Washington’s Middle Eastern presence.
But the US feels it can conduct this pivot because it knows that Israel is its most reliable ally, which has the capabilities that can reassure Abraham Accord states regarding the Iranian threat. Even though America’s main focus is now on China and on Ukraine, Arab states and the US find it convenient to have Israel around to back-up American capabilities in the Middle East.
In this context, it almost doesn’t matter which government is in power in Israel. There is sufficient international agreement on core issues like Iran among the Abraham Accords states, and on Ukraine, Russia, and China by the EU states and the US, to make it clear that Israel’s assets are essential in the new regional and global orders taking shape.
However, from here on, much will depend on Israeli policy. Israel is currently suffering a murderous wave of Palestinian terrorism. Instead of dishing out collective punishment, Israel’s response has been expanding settlements and recognizing nine settlement outposts, something that has never been acceptable to the international community, including Jerusalem’s great friend the United States. However, the Americans did not go into crisis mode over this decision. Instead, Israel and the US agreed to disagree.
With the exception of the Obama administration in 2016, the US has always vetoed Palestinian attempts to generate UN Security Council condemnations against Israel.
This shield was recently tested once again, and found to be solid, due to the genuine friendship and shared interests and values between Israel and the US. It is not in America’s best interests to break with Israel over the Palestinians, since Washington has enough pressing issues around the world to tend to, and it does not want to change the dynamics of this relationships.
It is also in America’s interest not to internationalize the Israeli-Palestinian conflict because that will ensure there will be no progress on it. However, a new black swan has arrived, and it is the Israeli government’s push for judicial reform. This will undoubtedly harm Israel’s international standing, including relations with the US, even if not immediately. If a perception takes hold that the reform will make Israel less democratic, the country’s democratic image — one of its major strengths — will be seriously harmed.
It is impossible to overstate how important Israel’s ability to maintain its special ties with the world’s most powerful superpower is. For Washington, the rule of law, separation of powers, and human rights are not just values in and of themselves; they are empirically proven ingredients that create democratic states that are economically stronger and more peaceful.
As a result, American officials are watching events in Israel, and sending very sharp messages, not just through quiet channels, but also in press conferences. This creates a shadow over the future of Israel’s international standing, which will only be lifted if Israel preserves its democratic character.
Danny Ayalon is a publishing expert with The MirYam Institute. He served as Israel’s Ambassador to the United States from July 2002 to November 2006, during which time, relations between the two countries reached an all-time high.
The MirYam Institute is the leading international forum for Israel focused discussion, dialogue, and debate, focused on campus presentations, engagement with international legislators, and gold-standard trips to the State of Israel. Follow their work at www.MirYamInstitute.org.