Area C

Israeli investors had reason to celebrate last month with the news that Israel may soon be joining the club of oil-producing states. Only one cloud looms on the horizon. It is unclear how much of this new-found oil wealth actually belongs to Israel. The Meged 5 oil field extends over a very large area, possibly 250 sq km, with much of the reserves believed to lie under Palestinian territory in the West Bank. PA officials refer to it as part of Israel’s “theft of Palestinian national resources”.

Is Israel preparing to annex Area C, as a growing number of analysts have recently been speculating? This week, on a visit to the Israel’s tourism bureau in Nazareth, I came across an official brochure, “Your Next Vacation: Israel”, that suggests the answer. The brochure is supplied to travel agents around the world as well as to hundreds of thousands of tourists who arrive in Israel each year.

In poll after poll Israel ranks as one of the countries with the most negative influence on international affairs. And yet, the lower Israel sinks in public estimation, the more generous western leaders are in handing out aid and special favours to their wayward ally. The past few days have been particularly shameless. It was revealed last week that the European Union had approved a massive upgrade in Israel’s special trading status, strengthening economic ties in dozens of different fields. The decision was a reversal of a freeze imposed in the wake of the Gaza attack of winter 2008.

The recently published report by an Israeli judge concluding that Israel is not in fact occupying the Palestinian territories – despite a well-established international consensus to the contrary – has provoked mostly incredulity or mirth in Israel and abroad. Even Binyamin Netanyahu, Israel’s prime minister, seemed a little discomfited by the coverage. Downplaying the Levy report’s significance may prove unwise, however. If Netanyahu is embarrassed, it is only because of the timing of the report’s publication rather than its substance.

Little more than a decade ago, in a brief interlude of heady optimism about the prospects of regional peace, the Israeli Supreme Court issued two landmark rulings that, it was widely assumed, heralded the advent of a new, post-Zionist era for Israel. But with two more watershed judgments handed down over the winter of 2011-2012 the same court has decisively reversed the tide.

Already-strained relations between Israel and Europe hit an all-time low this week after a leaked internal European report on the so-called peace process criticised Israel in unprecedented terms. The document, which warned that the chances of a two-state solution were rapidly fading, appeared to reflect mounting exasperation among the 27 European member states at Israel’s refusal to revive talks with the Palestinians.

Thousands of pilgrims flocked this week to Israel’s latest tourist attraction, touted as the place where Jesus was baptised in the River Jordan. Visitors to Qasr al Yahud, in the Jordan Valley, received an unusual welcome, however. They had to pass through a fenced-off corridor warning that landmines surrounded them on all sides. At the river’s edge, they were watched over by armed Israeli soldiers in watchtowers with orders to stop anyone trying to cross the short stretch of water that marks the border with Jordan.