Reflecting on Israel’s national mood and dilemmas

By Ira Sharkansky

Ira Sharkansky

JERUSALEM–National holidays are occasions for reflection. The linkage of Memorial Day and Independence Day was designed to focus on the miseries and hopes of being Jewish and Israeli, so there should be no surprise that they work on our emotions, this year as in the past.

Memorial Day is heart wrenching stories of husbands and sons who did not return from duty, and the struggle of survivors to keep going. Independence Day begins in the evening with boring speeches, music and dance that ranging from local amateurs to world class artists, and then fireworks. Daytime is an occasion for family picnics, cheek by jowl with other families and the smells of too much broiling meat. 
Analysts argue the merits of what was done at crucial points in the past, and what must be done at this year’s confluence of opportunity and danger.
Shlomo Avineri wrote about the prospects of a Palestinian declaration of independence, and Ethan Bronner described Israel’s “dark mood.”
Bronner is the New York Times correspondent who kept his Jerusalem assignment despite his son’s recruitment to the IDF. He reports on Israel’s prosperity–approaching Germany’s level of personal income–along with international isolation and an unsympathetic White House. 
Avineri has been a colleague and friend for three decades, served for a while as Director General of the Foreign Ministry, and is widely known for his insights. In this article he considers what might happen if Prime Minister Salam Fayyad actually does declare Palestine’s independence. 
A unilateral declaration  would free Israel from all of its agreements. Then a positive scenario would range to Palestinian maturity in controlling its extremists and positive Israeli actions, allowing meaningful negotiations about final borders and shared spaces. A negative scenario could involve  Israel sealing its border between with Gaza, and stopping the flow of  food, fuel, electricity, the closing of the West Bank except for Israeli troops concerned to protect Jewish settlements, and whatever would then come from Palestinians and others.  
Also in the air are questions about the Obama White House. Does the President’s musing about excess American commitments signal an exasperation with Israel, or simply an admission that he should minimize  involvements in Iraq, Afghanistan, Pakistan, and elsewhere? http://www.nytimes.com/2010/04/15/world/middleeast/15mideast.html
Perhaps enough prominent Jews and others have convinced the White House that coddling dangerous states while beating up a close ally is not the best kind of foreign policy. Or the White House may only be pausing for Israel’s holidays before renewing its pressures.
For good things to happen in the next year or so, people with major roles in Palestinian and Israeli politics will have to take risk leading their people away from fear and toward accommodation, rather than giving into the easy courses of staying with immediate self-interests. They will also need cooperation from outsiders.

This means Iranians, Syrians and  Hizbollah foregoing what they have been doing, and going along with moderate Palestinians. It would help if overseas Jews stopped fomenting and financing Israelis afraid of losing what they think is theirs, and demanding to live where they are not wanted. 

American and European officials could help by keeping out of the way, rather than stimulating the worst sentiments among Israeli and Palestinians by their awkward efforts to settle someone else’s problems.
In short, politicians and political activists in several places would have to stop acting like politicians and political activists. 
Those hopeful of this Messiah equivalent should not look to American politics for indications that salvation might be possible. 
If the reform of health is any indication of pursuing the public good, then we should all tear our clothes and cover ourselves with Icelandic ash. The self-interest pursued by insurance companies, HMOs, state governments, members of the House and Senate, and assorted ideologues has produced even more complexity, and perhaps greater expense in what was already a world leader in its capacity to frustrate the delivery of medical care.
Israel will go back to work after the holidays, but no one should expect an early resolution of the big questions. 
It will be a smaller issue that is attracts most attention. The police have identified former Prime Minister Ehud Olmert as the key suspect in Jerusalem’s real estate scandal. We are wondering if he will be ordered to house arrest, with or without access to telephones, e-mail and all the rest, or maybe even confinement in the house of the police. And what else will we learn about those bribes that allowed the construction of our city’s monstrosity?
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Sharkansky is professor emeritus of political science at Hebrew University.
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