Saturday, October 17, 2015

A free people under siege

I returned yesterday from a wonderful week in Israel where I participated in the fourth biannual Friedberg Economics Institute seminar (my second) at Neve Illan, just outside of Jerusalem.
My friend and colleague Richard Ebeling asked me the following questions. My answers appear below.  
Since you've been in Israel during part of this new series of violent acts, I was wondering about any thoughts, observations, interpretations you might have of these events.
·         How are Israelis you talked to or saw reacting to this? What do they think (or fear) this may or may not lead to?
·         Do they consider these types of events a never-ending and recurring nightmare,  or is there any  belief (hope) that there is any "light at the end of the tunnel"?
·         Are there any rational, reasonable Palestinians, or is this near unanimous collective madness?
·         Is this making Israelis "hardened" against any deals and compromises with the Palestinians, is there sentiment that negotiations need to be restarted sooner rather than later?
All good questions. My impressions, purely personal, based on my very limited interaction with a small number of people.

Israel is a country under siege without a siege mentality. Soldiers everywhere, but where the civilian ends and the soldier begins is barely discernable. The equivalent of the Pentagon is in downtown Tel Aviv. There is an ongoing conscious effort to try and 'normalize' the life of a soldier as much as is possible. Some people I know in the military wear their uniforms for work only and are critical of the settlements and wary of the threat of Haredi political domination.

As to the stabbings, Israelis try to live their lives unperturbed, watchful but determined. No, they are not at all hardened to the prospect of peace but do not believe in current circumstances that this is a real prospect. Except for the radicals [some of the Haredi and the settler-types] all Israelis desperately want peace. Yes, they see it as a part of a never-ending series of violent strategies to destabilize and ultimately destroy Israel - not a cycle of violence because they do not see these and similar acts as bona fide responses to provocation as suggested routinely in the world media. They are not responses, they are politically orchestrated acts of violence. It would not make any difference if Israel reformed the severity of the checkpoint procedures tomorrow.

They don't see it as a nightmare, horrible as it is, because they have seen worse before and Israel day-to-day is a vibrant incredibly free society. Take your pick of multiple, candid talk shows on any subject, vigorous business activity, construction everywhere, highways, night clubs, shopping malls, technology, art, music, literature, sports, …

Definitely there are many reasonable Palestinians. It is surprising there are not more - there are formidable cultural pressures pushing for uniformity. Polls show that most Palestinians and Israeli Arabs want peace to enable them to get on with their lives and build better futures. And there are forces making for internal tensions. For example, Israeli Arabs who live and work in east Jerusalem get four to five times the pay available on the West Bank, so they are secretly not in favor of unification with the West Bank, and they don't want West Bank Arabs coming into east Jerusalem for obvious reasons. Israeli Arabs are fully integrated into the economy, though sadly not into the broader society. And the Arab members of the Knesset are incredibly hostile to Israel – some moreso than others. None of them condemns the current violence. In this they part company with many of their constituents. It is something of a sad mystery as to why Israeli Arabs continue to elect representatives hostile to coexistence while themselves (many of them) hoping for it.

The on-going, endemic biggest problem is the current Palestinian leadership - status quo bias – directly descendant from Yasser Arafat. Any effective deviation is brutally squashed.

I would describe the current mood as a mixture of realism and hope for the unlikely.

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