How Israelis See It
One of this column’s recurring themes is that current conditions in
Israel are bad and that working to sustain the status quo (rather than to
advance an agreement with the Palestinians) is no favour to Israel.
But today, with Israel’s 56th anniversary of independence in
mind, it is useful to focus on how Israelis themselves see their situation.
From here their situation looks very precarious. But more relevant is how
they see it.
A special Independence Day poll, conducted by the Dahaf Polling Institute
for Yedioth Ahronoth, reveals a striking dichotomy between how Israelis view
their personal situations and how they view the country's.
Take a look at the poll findings, first, on how Israelis view their personal
Q: How would you define your economic situation at present?
A: Good: 63%; Not good: 36%.
Q: Are you satisfied with your social situation?
A: Satisfied: 76%; Dissatisfied: 24%.
Now take a look at how Israelis view Israel.
Q: Is the State of Israel taking the right course?
A: Yes: 37%; No: 50%.
Q: Is the younger generation assured a good future in Israel?
A: Yes: 22%; No: 70%.
Q: How would you describe the economic situation in Israel?
A: Good: 18%; Not good: 82%.
Q: How would you describe the social situation in Israel?
A: Good: 20%; Not good: 80%.
Analyzing the poll, Yediot Achronoth’s Sever Plotzker writes that the main
findings of the poll “can be construed as testimony to Israelis' sense of
alienation from Israel. Within the confines of their homes, their families,
and groups of friends, Israelis do not complain about their bitter fate.
They're quite content. It is only when they come into contact with the
state…and look at themselves in their capacity as citizens of the state,
that Israelis become angry, concerned, hurt and pessimistic.”
Plotzker notes that, compared to the previous few years, the past year was
“not a bad year.” But then he says that perhaps “we need to change the
definition of "not a bad year. How can a year be not bad when 185 security
personnel and 137 civilians were killed in a terrorist war? How can it be
not bad when unemployment reached a record high? When poverty is record
high? How can a year be okay when a heavy cloud of suspicion of corruption
and bribery hovers over the Prime Minister?"
No wonder Israelis are so anxious about the future. “Anxiety…here does not
stem from fear of personal setbacks but rather from fear that the State of
Israel will collapse. People believe their children will not have a
successful future here because of the direction the country is taking, and
not because of the way their private lives are being run. There is no
certainty that the State of Israel will manage to survive.”
He calls this dichotomy “the paradox of Israel in its 56th year of
independence.” It is a “country whose citizens are crazy about it, but where
every second citizen believes it is heading in the wrong direction, where 70
out of every 100 people say it holds no future for their children…. It is as
if they were saying that the state and its citizens are two distinct and
Plotzker says that Israel – approaching 60 – remains trapped in adolescence.
“Despite its age, Israel still lacks basic features of maturity. It still
does not have final and recognized borders. It still does not have a capital
city that is recognized by the world. It still does not have a constitution.
And mainly: its residents do not have peace and quiet. Israel at 56 is a
country whose sons and daughters love it despite what it is, not because of
what it is.”
In short, the Zionist dream is doing just fine. The Zionist reality is
decidedly not. So what is to be done?
Plotzker says, “The time has come for demarcating borders. The time has come
to reconcile ourselves with our limitations. The time has come to insist
that public life be conducted in keeping with legal, moral and ethical
codes. The time has come for us to become a civilian society. The time has
come to end the conflict with our neighbours. The time has come to eradicate
poverty, unemployment, the lacks in education. To be a normal country.”
It is hard to argue with any of that although most of these goals remain
unrealized in any country.
The two items on Plotzker’s wish list that would most improve Israel’s
situation are the ones that are easiest to achieve. “The time has come,”
he writes, “for demarcating borders. The time has come to end the conflict
with our neighbours.”
Prime Minister Sharon’s proposed Gaza withdrawal is a good first step in
that direction. But real peace can only be achieved through successful
negotiations with the Palestinians over the West Bank. And that would
revolutionize the way Israelis feel about Israel.
In fact, it won’t even take the completion of negotiations to improve the
way Israelis feel about their country. During the Oslo process, Israelis
were more optimistic than ever before about their national future. The late
1990’s was a time in which Israelis felt not only good in terms of their
personal lives but also about the country. It was a time when Israelis not
only had more money in their pockets but felt it was safe to go to the mall
and spend it.
Not coincidentally, polls of Palestinians during that period showed that,
just as Israelis were feeling increased hope about the future, they were as
Today the downward spiral continues for both peoples. There is only one way
out and both sides know what it is. They have for 37 years. Whether it is
called UN Resolutions 242 and 338, Camp David, the Reagan plan, Oslo, the
Roadmap, or the Bush vision does not matter. The end result would be the
Israelis and Palestinians were approaching that result in the last three
years of the 1990’s – the years in which Israeli-Palestinian cooperation had
virtually eradicated terrorism, when the Israeli economy was booming and
when Palestinians were moving toward self-determination.
Ask any Israeli what 1999 and 2000 felt like? Ask any Palestinian?
There was hope. And every poll showed it, on Independence Day and on any
other day. Today, it’s the opposite.
It’s time to go back to the future.