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How Israelis See It

M.J. Rosenberg

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 lives:

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 separate things.”

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 well.

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 same.

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.


MJ Rosenberg (email:mj847@aol.com), Director of Policy Analysis for Israel Policy Forum, is a long time Capitol Hill staffer and former editor of AIPAC’s Near East Report.
Source: Israel Policy Forum, April 30, 2004, israelpolicyforum.org

From the Common Ground News Service
hagalil.com 09-05-2004



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