Does Israel have a terminal disease?

One of the strange things about a terminal disease is that people often receive a diagnosis that amounts to a death sentence at a time when — as far as they can tell — they are in perfect health. To be told that death is lurking just over the horizon might lead one person to reflect on the meaning of mortality, while another presses forward and lives like there is no tomorrow.

In a strongly secular and death-denying culture, the latter response is less likely to be seen as an expression of denial and more as a life-affirming form of optimism.

You just discovered you have cancer and now you’re about to do a triathlon. Good for you!

Ethan Bronner writes: Israel today offers a set of paradoxes: Jewish Israelis seem in some ways happier and more united than in the past, as if choosing not to solve their most difficult challenge has opened up a space for shalom bayit — peace at home. Yes, all those internal tensions still exist, but the shared belief that there is no solution to their biggest problem has forged an odd kind of solidarity.

Indeed, Israel has never been richer, safer, more culturally productive or more dynamic. Terrorism is on the wane. Yet the occupation grinds on next door with little attention to its consequences. Moreover, as the power balance has shifted from the European elite, Israel has never felt more Middle Eastern in its popular culture, music and public displays of religion. Yet it is increasingly cut off from its region, which despises it perhaps more than ever. Finally, while the secular bourgeoisie, represented by Yair Lapid’s Yesh Atid Party, has forged an unexpected alliance with West Bank settlers, represented by Naftali Bennett’s Habayit Hayehudi Party, aimed at reducing the political power of the ultra-Orthodox, alarm over the failure to address the Palestinian problem has grown in a surprising place — among some of the former princes of the Zionist right wing.

At a Jerusalem cafe one noon, Dan Meridor, the former Likud minister and son of right-wing Zionist aristocracy, could not stop talking about the Palestinians.

“It is a sword of Damocles hanging over our heads,” he said. “We are living on illusions. We must do everything we can on the ground to increase the separation between us and the Palestinians so that the idea of one state will go away. But we are doing nothing.”

Mr. Meridor, nursing an American coffee at the cafe near the house his parents bought many decades ago in the upscale Rehavia neighborhood, sounded like two other public figures from famous right-wing families — Ehud Olmert, the former prime minister, and Tzipi Livni, the justice minister and chief peace negotiator. Both have made a series of emotional speeches begging Israelis to take the Palestinian issue seriously. They are getting little traction.

The Israeli left is still there, of course, but in increasingly insignificant knots. Two Israeli friends in Jaffa, from which tens of thousands of Palestinians left or were driven out in 1948, have beautifully renovated a house, even preserving a pre-state lemon tree in the courtyard. They are friendly with the Arabs who live nearby. Their children refused military service in protest over the West Bank occupation. And on the outside of their house they have put up a plaque noting that until 1948 the structure was the home of the Khader family, a tiny homage to a destroyed world.

But the family is rare. Mr. Lapid, the rising star of Israeli politics, is a former television host who agrees that something must be done about the Palestinians. But in an interview he offers no specifics other than hoping Mr. Kerry will pressure them to return to the negotiating table under conditions they have long rejected. Mr. Lapid, who spoke in the outdoor section of his neighborhood cafe in north Tel Aviv on a fragrant spring afternoon, was relaxed and buff in his long-sleeved black T-shirt and black jeans. Well-off Tel Avivians at nearby tables argued into their iPhones. Mr. Lapid said Israel should not change its settlement policy to lure the Palestinians to negotiations, nor should any part of Jerusalem become the capital of the Palestinian state he says he longs for. He has not reached out to any Palestinian politicians nor spoken publicly on the issue. As finance minister, he is focused on closing the government’s deficit.

Mr. Lapid may be a political novice but he knows the public mood. A former senior aide to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu agreed, over a Jerusalem lunch of toasted bagels and salad, that most Israelis considered the peace process irrelevant because they believed that the Palestinians had no interest in a deal, especially in the current Middle Eastern context of rising Islamism. “Debating the peace process to most Israelis is the equivalent of debating the color of the shirt you will wear when landing on Mars,” he said.

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1 thought on “Does Israel have a terminal disease?

  1. Norman

    What to make of the title of this piece? It seems the only way for survival, is change. But, from this, the elites aren’t interested, or I’m missing something. Hoping that “Mr Kerry” can get the Palestinians back to the negotiating table, begs the question: “what’s in that American coffee”. Indeed, Israel may be about to face that time they refuse to acknowledge as to their very survival, at least for the common citizen[s], who will, as always, take the brunt of any destructive action against the state.

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