The second Intifada hardened Israel in the face of terror attacks and boosted Hamas, but did not take away the basic willingness of the majority of Israelis to withdraw from most of the territories in exchange for a diplomatic-security agreement.
There is no doubt that US President Barack Obama referred to the lessons of the second Intifada last week when he addressed the Palestinians in his clearly Zionistic speech (“Israel is the historical homeland of the Jewish people”) at the UN General Assembly, telling them that their rights can only be realized in peaceful ways, via genuine reconciliation with a secure Israel.
In that same speech, Obama designated the attainment of Israeli-Arab peace as his top global objective. An urgent, burning mission. This means that Israel is approaching fateful decisions; among the most fateful in its history.
How ready are we for these decisions? Are we even interested in them? Karl Vick, the Israel correspondent for Time Magazine, captured the current Israeli mood in a cover story published two weeks ago under the headline “Why Israel doesn’t care about peace.” His answer: Israelis don’t care because they live well, surrounded by happiness and wealth, within a growing economy, with a rising standard of living, a strong currency, and lively culture.
For Israelis, the occupation, the Palestinians, and the settlers have remained beyond the fence. If Israelis are losing sleep, it’s not because of some statement issued by Mahmoud Abbas, but rather, because of the deteriorating state of education and rising crime rate.
End to repressionRegardless of whether Time’s insights are fully or partly accurate, they properly reflect the Israeli street as of the end of the summer of 2010. It is so similar to the Israeli street a decade ago, at the end of the summer of 2000.
Back then, we were intoxicated by the calm on the security front, the fastest economic growth in the West – at 9% annually – and a wave of tourism. Back then, just like today, we put our trust in the flourishing Palestinian economy, which was supposed to uproot the notion of armed struggle from the Palestinian psyche once and for all.
Unbelievably so, 10 years ago we saw buses packed with Israelis leaving Tel Aviv en route to the casino in Jericho, under full Palestinian control, fearing no terror. Tens of thousands of Israelis shopped at the markets of Ramallah and Tulkarem. Investors from the Gulf planned to build malls for Israelis-only over there.
A little before Rosh Hashana, on September 21, 2000, I had dinner with then-Finance Minister Avraham Shochat, during an International Monetary Fund convention in Prague. We spoke about everything (and mostly about monetary policy, anti-globalization protests, the crashing euro, and the achievements of the Treasury, which finished the year with no deficit) except for the possibility of a second Intifada. No hint of a Palestinian uprising could be seen on the horizon; Ariel Sharon entered Temple Mount a week later, on September 28, 2000.
A decade after the second Intifada broke out, Israel’s public opinion is frustrated by the continuum of talks, meetings, and conventions dubbed “peace process” and ending with failures and explosions. In order to avoid another disappointment to begin with, Israelis have repressed the issue of peace deep into their unconsciousness. However, the repression is nearing its end. The wake-up call is at our doorstep.
You can ask Bibi Netanyahu about it. The prime minister, who has managed to build rare chemistry with the US president, has grown serious and grim, and stopped dealing with nonsense such as bureaucratic renovation laws which he focused on earlier; his face conveys immense responsibility and intense deliberation. The horror of the great national test has taken hold of Netanyahu. Soon, it shall take hold of all of us.
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