PA

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.

More than a thousand Palestinians who staged a day of rage in the West Bank city of Hebron last week were left with few illusions about how their struggle for liberation differs from that of Tunisians, Egyptians and Libyans. The protesters were confronted, on one side, by massed ranks of Israeli paramilitary police, while Palestinian security forces assisted by blocking the entry of demonstrators from the other side. Squeezed into their own little Tahrir Square, the protesters suffered tear gas and baton attacks from the Israeli police while the Palestinian forces mutely stood by.

Over the past four decades Israel has defrauded Palestinians working inside Israel of more than $2 billion by deducting from their salaries contributions for welfare benefits to which they were never entitled, Israeli economists revealed this week. A new report, “State Robbery”, says the “theft” continued even after the Palestinian Authority was established in 1994 and part of the money was supposed to be transferred to a special fund on behalf of the workers.

Israel celebrated at the weekend its success at the United Nations in forcing the Palestinians to defer demands that the International Criminal Court investigate allegations of war crimes committed by Israel during its winter assault on the Gaza Strip. The about-turn, following furious lobbying from Israel and the United States, appears to have buried the damning report of Judge Richard Goldstone into the fighting, which killed some 1,400 Palestinians, most of them civilians.

The accelerated pace of Gaza’s economic asphyxiation since January, when the Bank of Israel cut ties with the tiny enclave, has highlighted the degree to which Israel has engineered the Gaza Strip’s absolute financial dependency on its larger neighbour. The Harvard political economist Sara Roy has characterised Israel’s long-term policy towards Gaza as one of “de-development”, or “the systematic and progressive dismemberment of an indigenous economy by a dominant one”.

Ever since Hamas triumphed in the Palestinian elections nearly three years ago, the story in Israel has been that a full-scale ground invasion of the Gaza Strip was imminent. But even when public pressure mounted for a decisive blow against Hamas, the government backed off from a frontal assault. Now the world waits for Ehud Barak, the defence minister, to send in the tanks and troops as the logic of this operation is pushing inexorably towards a ground war.