Here in Israel, where I have spent this past week, life goes on. One would never know, outside the communities of the south that are still under threat, that just ten days ago Israel had absorbed 1500 Arab missiles and rockets on its towns and cities, its men, women and children. That the “south” is located about 35 minutes’ drive from the “center,” where I am, adds to both the relief at the (temporary) end to the bombardment and to the quality of the ordinary citizen who is able to resume his daily life unimpeded.
These skirmishes, including wars, are perceived as temporary glitches from which people are expected to rebound quickly and quietly. Indeed, many people seemed more concerned with the effects of Hurricane Sandy in New Jersey and New York than on the effects of Hurricane Hamas here, even though the former is long gone and the latter retains its potency.
But resilience comes at a price. The strength of character is remarkable to behold – it is almost natural, except for the children in the southern communities who have grown up under the fear of rocket attacks. Many of them suffer from post-traumatic stress disorder, the inevitable result of years of daily rocket attacks that allows roughly 15 seconds to decide where to take cover.
The price is complacency, an acceptance of a state of affairs that in normal countries would be intolerable and would lead to a swift and thorough rejection of the politicians who permitted this situation to occur and fester. Instead, the opposite happens. Failed politicians are routinely recycled, and accountability is non-existent. The election season here, mercifully just three months short (as compared to the interminable American process), finds the same faces, personalities and policies seeking public for the future failures that will buttress their resume of past failures. There is always a new face promising the world (this year it is TV journalist Yair Lapid, who at least is presenting more thoughtful clichés than others), but also more of the same. Tsippi Livni announced to mild fanfare her return and creation of a new party. Ehud Barak has retired from politics “forever;” wait, that “forever” retirement occurred in 2001. “Forever,” apparently, is not as long as it used to be. He, too, will be back, his “retirement” an admission that he could not win election in his own right. Ehud Olmert hems and haws about running (he won’t), freshly convicted of corruption related offenses, but no matter. All three have the stain of Lebanon on their records – Barak presiding over the night retreat in 2000 that eventually allowed Hezbollah to take power, and Olmert/Livni over the failed war of 2006.
Memories are short. Contempt breeds familiarity, and familiarity wins elections. And of course, Olmert, Livni and so many others in government bear responsibility for the retreat from Gaza and the expulsion of its Jews in 2006. How many others? Even PM Netanyahu voted for the expulsion before he was against it. So did Limor Livnat, Yuval Steinitz, Tzachi Hanegbi and assorted others who still shape the Likud and assert strong right-wing credentials. Not many seem to remember or care, until you consider that the ruling party will only garner roughly 25% of the popular vote in this parliamentary democracy. And the president himself, Shimon Peres, escapes responsibility for Oslo, Lebanon, Gaza and other debacles – either compassion to an elder statesmen or the traditional lack of accountability that governs political life here.
The week’s entertainment is provided by the Palestinian Authority, which is abrogating the Oslo Accords (again) by seeking UN General Assembly recognition of its statehood. It is bizarre for several reasons. Israel is unlikely to void the agreements, which in any event has only required its unilateral adherence but has always exempted the Arabs from compliance. Abbas, the “president,” has seen his role and power eclipsed and needs to show something, anything, for his eight years in office. His “term” expired four years ago, but since he cannot win re-election, he simply does not allow elections. His tenure in office is protected by the Israelis, for whom he displays nothing but derision.
For its part, both Israel (and its current government) and the American government are on record as supporting a Palestinian state, so why the objections? That the “state” is supposed to emerge through negotiations seems like a technicality. Another technicality – that a state should have defined borders and sovereignty over those borders – also does not apply here because the traditional rules and definitions are often waived for those given to wanton violence against innocents and opponents alike. Contributing to the farce is that the vote took place in the UN General Assembly, infamous for its passage of numerous, non-binding anti-Israel resolutions, including the “Zionism is Racism” bit of moral splendor in 1975. The vote of 138-9, with 41 abstentions, is about what the world of decent people could expect. Once again, Micronesia and the Solomon Islands stand with the Jewish people. G-d bless them.
It should not be overlooked that the foundation for this vote was laid by the Israelis many years ago. The Oslo Accords, whatever the technical language, was obviously designed to create a Palestinian state. That agreement was an explicit admission by the Jewish state that the Jewish people are not the exclusive sovereigns in the land of Israel, despite G-d’s eternal promises set forth in the Bible. Governments of the left and the right embraced that outcome in one form or another. Menachem Begin himself recognized (in 1978) the “legitimate rights of the Palestinian people,” a phrase that stuck in his craw but that he accepted based on his lawyerly interpretation that the words “legitimate rights” could be interpreted to mean anything he wanted it to mean and not what the other signatories understood it to mean. So the chickens of Oslo, Lebanon, and Gush Katif have indeed come home to roost.
And yet, whatever the psychological value (and most Arabs will assume that the vote means something that it does not, and fire their weapons in the air in celebration), the vote has no effect in the real world. Nothing changes here, today, anymore that Arafat’s declaration of statehood amounted to anything in 1988. A General Assembly vote has no legal status at all. Abba Eban said it eloquently: “If Algeria introduced a General Assembly resolution that the world is flat and that Israel had flattened it, it would find overwhelming support in the Arab world” and elsewhere. And he said it almost forty years ago. Nothing has changed there, either.
Abbas still needs to be propped up by Israel. There is no Palestinian state. The PA and Hamas are still bitter rivals, and Abbas knows that his political career ends the moment the people are given the right to vote him out, whenever that is. The UN carnival, typically, just distracts the world from the real crises in the region – Iran’s nuclear bomb, Syria’s civil war and Egypt’s ongoing unrest. Anyone who still needs proof of the mendacity and hypocrisy rampant in the Arab world needs to consider only the howls of protest when 150 Arabs were killed and several hundred wounded in the clashes in Gaza – squeals that were intended to awaken the world to the horrors of a nation (Israel) exercising its right of self-defense – while the Arab world is dormant at the massacres in Syria of more than 35,000 people, and the turmoil in Egypt where already more than 500 people have been injured.
It’s not the civilian deaths or injury that seem to disturb the Arab world and its malevolent allies across the world; it’s that the cursed Jews are doing it, and in defense of their right to exist.
There are two obvious conclusions to this vote. One, that Oslo is officially dead, and this declaration vitiates its very premises of negotiations over final status issues, and, two, that the United States is now bound by law to cut its funding of the Palestinian Authority. But neither will happen and the blatant violations will be finessed, because neither the US nor Israel has any real interest in changing the dynamic of the struggle. That complicity is emblematic of the failures of Israeli politicians for decades that have seen Israel’s strategic position deteriorate slowly but inexorably.
Nonetheless, in the beleaguered town of Sderot, barely two miles from Gaza and the recipient of thousands of missiles and rockets in the last ten years, one encounters today personal strength and courage, a desire to rebuild, lifelong residents who have no interest in moving to safer zones. Their resilience is an inspiration to all Jews, and their heroic story will yet be told. In the new communities built to house the Jewish refugees driven out of Gaza in 2005, one encounters the same determination, along with sadness about what was lost and the unshakeable (and usually unmentioned) feeling of “I told you so,” the unheeded warnings of what would befall Israel if they retreated under pressure from Gaza.
All these brave souls have been betrayed by governments with convoluted miscalculations, wishful thinking and illusions disguised as policies, unkept promises repeated in every election cycle, or statecraft that is often illogical and self-destructive.
The people of Israel deserve better; if only they would realize it and act upon it.