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The gated country

I’ve just returned from Israel. The sense of gloom about the chances of resolving the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is so widespread and predictable that even mentioning it –or noticing it– seems naive. It is hardly new. But lately something different and probably dangerous has also seeped into the air, a kind of lethargic refusal to care very much.

Dahlia Scheindlin, one of Israel’s most perceptive pollsters, told me that apathy about the conflict was growing apace, based on a number of surveys. Her article in the latest Jerusalem Report (shamefully unavailable on-line) is entitled “Two States? Yawn.”

She notes the apathetic reaction to Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas’ recent threat to resign. Abbas’ message was: “Act fast if you want a two-state solution or you may find yourself without a partner.” If that message is accurate, it means that a bi-national state, and the end of a democracy with a Jewish majority, is becoming “increasingly realistic,” Scheindlin writes. “Faced with this…scenario, Israelis should have been alarmed by Abbas’ message. They should be clamoring for progress in the peace process. And yet they’re not.”

She probed this phenomenon in a survey conducted with New Wave Research. To set the context, the pollsters told 500 Israelis that Abbas had threatened to resign because Israel was not advancing the peace process, and that people from his government might resign with him. They were also told that Kadima MK Shaul Mofaz has said the Israeli government is delaying the process and will lose the opportunity for two states. Then they were asked if they agreed with the following: “The Israeli government is moving too slowly on the process, further weakening moderate Palestinian leaders and therefore should move faster toward a two state solution.”

50 percent of the respondents disagreed and only 37 percent agreed.

In other words, half of them felt no need to rush and only one out of three felt any urgency about salvaging the possibility of an enduring peace settlement. One of the main reasons for this “torpor,” Scheindlin opines, is the perception that Israelis have no partner, and there’s no point in speeding up the process because the “Palestinians won’t or can’t go for it, and wouldn’t be able to enforce it even if they did.”

That makes sense, but I think there is more to this lack of urgency than Israelis’ perceptions of the bleak diplomatic landscape. Right now, it is possible and tempting to live a pleasant life in much of the Jewish state, and to not think or care very much about the plight of Palestinians and even Israel’s longterm future.

An acquaintance told me about his recent breakfast with an Israeli academic from a foreign policy think tank. At a hotel in Jerusalem, they discussed why Netanyahu’s cautious, diplomatic half-measures seem to reflect a new, center-right consensus among Israeli Jews. The academic pointed to a lavish spread, the plates overflowing with fixings for an Israeli breakfast, and said “You see all of this? Why the f___ should I care?”

The physical setting, especially the elaborate system of security barriers, checkpoints and segregated access roads, makes it increasingly easy not to dwell on a messy, seemingly intractable conflict. “The entire state of Israel is a gated community,” said Ron Nachman, the Mayor of Ariel, in an NPR segment. He was trying to justify the electric, barbed-wire fence that surrounds his own community deep inside the West Bank

“We build around them, we build over them, we build under them,” my stepbrother Jonatan told me a few years ago, describing the highway system that now exists in Jerusalem and its outskirts, as we drove through the Gush tunnels on the Jerusalem-Hebron road. Much has been written about the impact of this separation on Israeli security and on the everyday lives of Palestinians. I am also interested in the psychological impact of living in a large, fortified and generally pleasant ghetto. It is hard to believe it has no impact on people’s willingness to concern themselves with those beyond the walls.

People are closing themselves off even further within Israel proper, where the spirit of “they live there, we live here,” applies to more than Israeli-Palestinian relations. Gated communities are springing up. “Homeowner associations, `private’ neighborhoods and `exclusive’ residential complexes are mushrooming all over Israel, furthering its national, ethnic, religious and class fragmentation,” according to one study.

Go to any metropolitan area in the U.S. and you will find the same residential isolationism. But, pointing to the high walls of one of the more well-known neighborhood fortresses, Andromeda Hill in Jaffa, my friend J said, “they don’t want to keep out only the street people, the crime. That’s what you do [in America].” Here, she said, “they want to keep out reality.” According to Haaretz: “The main argument of Andromeda’s planners to justify the stringent security and closed gates is that Jaffa is crime-ridden. Yet, another city-village was erected in Hamashtela, a neighborhood of Tel Aviv peopled by the well-to-do, which has never been called a hotbed of crime. Nobody’s allowed into that one unless they’ve been invited.”

But reality has a way of intruding, whether or not it is invited. There is no way to stave it off. Unless something dramatic happens soon on the diplomatic front, unless something shakes up the status quo, the democratic Jewish state will slide inexorably towards its own destruction. It is going to end, with either a whimper or a bang. And no amount of gates, guards and checkpoints will be able to protect Israelis from that.

32 thoughts on “The gated country

  1. The gated communities are just another sign that Israel is becoming more like South Africa, where gated communities, estates, and homes predominate among the white minority.

  2. The same happens in Arab states, and everywhere where class and status separate one from the other.

    Its a new feature among formerly liberal Jews though.

    Is Israel that internally contentious that individuals seek isolation from others?

  3. I wonder what percentage of Israelis live in gated communities. I’ve never met anyone who lives in one, unless you count the ones in the territories.

    I believe what they say about crime being the real reason. Burglary is extremely common in Israel, and that includes well-to-do communities that aren’t located in otherwise high-crime areas. Some reporting might be in order here. It seems the Haaretz article quotes some architects talking about design philosophy, and includes some speculation about why one might want a gated community, but apparently not a single resident was interviewed.

    That said, it’s possible that crime isn’t always the reason. My second guess – and again, all we can do is guess because no one ever talked to any of these people – is not “keep[ing] out reality”, but rather, old fashioned snobbishness. Of all the parvenus in the world, Israeli parvenus are the parvenu-est. Israeli arrivistes want to show that they live in “prestigious” residences. At least that’s the impression I get from advertisements; like the reporters, I’ve never talked to one of these residents either.

    On the Israel-as-gated-community metaphor, well, duh. Israel (before that, the yishuv) has been a gated community from the time it was founded a century ago. That’s what happens when you move into a neighborhood where you’re not welcome. Starting a century ago, Zionists “gentrified” – colonized, to use a less polite word – a predominantly Muslim neighborhood of the Ottoman Empire. What would you expect?

    On another topic of this post, Israelis supposedly ought to be quaking in their Crocs over the threat of a demand for a single binational state. That may be a serious threat in the future, but Israelis are smarter and better informed than most of those who give Israelis advice. Israelis are right not to worry too much about it at this time. If it’s a realistic threat, then why don’t the Palestinians demand it now, today? Why are they demanding half of Palestine when they could get all of Palestine, which is what would happen soon after a single binational state is established? And why would the US support such a destabilizing plan, anyway? Why would foreign pressure (from Europeans? from Palestinians?) for a single state in all of Palestine be so much harder to withstand than current pressure for a Palestinian state in half of Palestine?

    There’s another thing that Israelis know which non-Israelis don’t. Israelis know that the “settlers” can be evacuated from the territories any time the Israeli public decides that a true peace agreement is achievable. Israelis know that, contrary to popular myth, the minority of settlers is not “in the drivers seat”. It’s the Israeli majority, which still believes in principle in land for peace, that calls the shots. The two-state plan can be implemented politically the moment the Israelis and Palestinians decide to do so, the “settlers” be damned.

  4. I just saw that Netanyahu announced a 10 month freeze on new construction in the settlements. Dan this is your moment, what you’ve been pushing for, congratulations. But I predict that the Arabs will treat this has a sign of weakness and nothing will be forthcoming from them. Absolutely nothing. less then nothing What say you?

  5. And when that happens, you and your boys, ( not Phil “Hitler should have finished the job” Weiss of course ) But APN and J-street, might possibly exhibit a slight concern over Iran, just a thought.

  6. He announced a freeze except for construction in “East Jerusalem”, and except for 28 units announced today, and except for construction of religious and community institutions.

    A grand compromise?

  7. Rich, It depends how you look at it. If you think that Hamas and Hezbollah should operate in Jerusalem, and that Iran should be there, and that Jews can’t go to the western wall, then I can see where your upset. Personally I like it when Jewish religious sites aren’t trashed.

    On another note, the fact that Dubai is screwing the world up just goes to the fact that if the Arabs, through pure dumb luck, weren’t sitting on the worlds oil reserves. They would be back racing camels and wiping their you know what with their left hands.

  8. Aaron,

    I agree with you, the logic of the two-state solution is such that it can be implemented twenty or thirty years from now if necessary. What changes is that with more settlers the price goes up in order to compel the settlers to be evacuated, which means that the Pals will need to kill more Israelis–mainly civilians–and Israel will need to kill many more Pals before the situation becomes ripe for such a solution. The settlers don’t control the country in the sense that they are such a small minority. But if the Center-Left recovers to the way it was before 2000, they all that will be needed to control the country will be the small minority that will hold the balance of power.

  9. That gated community description reminds me of the way Columbia sounds. A way for the wealthy to separate themselves from the impoverished (including theft prevention)

    I’ve never heard of this before about Israel. hmmmmm….

  10. Rich, I saw the Iranians are building TEN new uranium enrichment plants. I think this is a cause for let us say concern. I know what your boy Phil ( Hitler should have finished the job ) Weiss thinks. What say you though?

  11. I think that Israel should call Iran’s bluff, work towards mutually consented borders and reconciliation with the PA on all tangible issues, establish those boundaries, normalize relations with all of the Islamic world, then deal with Iran.

  12. It’s not idiocy Rich, if Hitler had won the war, and that includes Rommel winning at El Alemain then every Jew in Europe and what was then the British mandate would have been dead. Ergo no Israel, You can’t tell me that in Weiss world that wouldn’t have been the optimum scenario. He endorsed Pat Buchanans book. Where Churchill was the evil figure and Hitler was just a jolly fellow. He uses the term “ZOG” and has a fan base the loves him and is very much into holocaust denial. Can you deny any of what I just said?

  13. I am curious though, you know his parents, are they proud of what he is. Are they happy with what he has become. I really am curious.

  14. Bill and Richard,

    Phil Weiss is not the subject of this blog or anything to do with it. If you want to argue about him go to another forum.

  15. Tom,
    Its an effort of Bill to define what Israel should do or be, but ONLY by external defensiveness.

    Not a discussion of what are we/they creating, but only seeking justification for anticipatory harms to others.

  16. Iran’s announcement yesterday is significant.

    It occurred immediately following El-Barradei’s announcement that Iran is fundamentally NOT cooperating with the AIEAC.

    It was really the first such dramatic announcement by El-Barradei, and represented a qualitative change in their statement “we seek peace”.

    It was parallel to Netanyahu’s announcement that “we seek peace, we will stop settlement construction (except where we construct)”.

    Its like a failing dieter’s “I’m eating moderately now” after a binge, and antipating a binge.

    Construction of nukes is objectively a significantly more dangerous event than construction of houses.

    The announcement by Iran is intentionally provocative, and likely will result in an another war that Iranian civilians are subjected to.

  17. Amnon Lord, editor-in-chief of the “right-wing” Makor Rishon newspaper suprised everyone by writing this week about what a “brilliant move” Netanyahu made in doing the settlement “freeze”, and also how he needs to “clear the decks” in capitulating to HAMAS with the Gilad Shalit deal. These were justified as being important for “dealing with Iran”. Does anyone believe that Obama is going to give Israel a green light to attack Iran now that the settlements are frozen, whereas he would have opposed it without the freeze? It is too late for military action? What the heck is going on?
    It seems Netanyahu is doing what Rahm Emanuel advocates: “One should never let a good crisis go to waste”, meaning that one can justify all sorts of nefarious actions by a government by referring to the need to take this actions because of the need to confront the supposedly “bigger crisis” or threat, even if there is no real connection. Michael Chrichton, in his book “State of Fear” which attacks the hysteria over the supposed “global warming crisis” points out how governments, both democratic and autocratic try to keep their populations mobilized against supposed external threats in order to manipulate them (e.g. In the US, the Communist threat during the Cold War, the current economic and global warming fears, in the old USSR the fear of “capitalist encirclement”, Castro using the fear of an American invasion, etc, etc.)

  18. Global warming is real. I promise you that it will affect Israel severely. Mostly in the inavailability of fresh water.

  19. YBD,

    As per usual, your post is a mixture of correct, but banal, observations and just silly conjectures. If Netanyahu makes a prisoner deal with Shalit it will probably be very one-sided and foolish as have all such deals been since the Ahmed Jibril deal of 1985. Netanyahu’s freeze is temporary and partial, enough to satisfy Obama on a temporary basis while he bargains again for more. If Israel attacks Iran–with or without American permission–it will be bad for both Israel and the U.S. It will unite Iran against Israel and the U.S. when it is now deeply divided. It will at best temporarily slow down the Iranian nuclear effort for creating highly-enriched uranium. And it will likely destroy any desire by both China and Russia to employ any serious sanctions against Iran.

    Obama has a different plan: build support for wide economic sanctions against Iran. This requires broad international support in both Europe and the Middle East, not to mention China. This means pressure on Israel to make sacrifices but halting its construction on foreign land. And Richard is right, global climate change is real–more real than the threat from Iran. If we defined Makor Rishon as national religious would that strike you as more accurate?

  20. I think the threat from Iran is real.

    When Hezbollah announces that armed struggle is THE legitimate mode of relationship with Israel on the same day that Iran announces the initiation of 10 new uranium enrichment facilities, it is a big deal.

    Iran is not benign, but it is ignorable.

  21. Dan, I can confirm the indifference to ‘2-states’ you found as well as the pervading sense of fatalism that seems to have taken hold of most israelis – especially among the secular (I don’t know the orthodox so well). It’s a “live today for tomorrow we die” outlook which bolsters still more inertia. Why try a difficult compromise if things can be left well enough alone? I call this the “maniana’ attitude – a form of extreme laziness, where will itself- political, spiritual, communal – has been sapped to the bone. The statement one hears most often in israel – a common refrain to almost every complaint or criticism – from inside or outside – is: “Ani kvar ayef mizeh” – freely translated as “I’m too tired for this’ which naturally leads to ‘the hell with it all”. That’s the mentality quagmire where all issues – and proposed solutions – go to die. It’s a sink or swim attitude with sink the likely result. Be it the environment, the water scarcity, the palestinians, the arabs, the americans, the government, taxes, traffic, crime, russians, ethioians, soccer, europeans. Mostly – Obama. They are all so very tired of Obama.

    So you talk about gated community as a metaphor as well as reality. Aaron above says that when the will for “peace’ will be there, it’ll happen. Aaron says he knows israelis. I’ll take his word for it – even granted that israelis are not all made or think alike. Aaron believes that the “good times’ for those who have them in israel (as many do) have another 20 years in them. He thinks that if and when the time comes, the settlers will be “dealt with”. But Aaron doesn’t know the Americans I think, Jewish and part-jewish and not Jewish. And America is not a patient country and there’s a growing perception that it’s losing it’s grip on the empire. That the good times for us are changing fast. And when empires decline the hunt for scapegoats begins, alliances are revisited and enemies revised.

    Israel – for better or for worse – is not an island, no matter how many gates it builds or how high. The longer the country persists in their lassez-faire inertia, the worse it’s going to be when reality finally comes bursting in.

    Dan – you are right in seeing danger in the deep apathy that seems to be taking hold in israeli society. And apathy of thought leads to paralysis in action, paucity of vision and eventually, corruption of the soul. This may sound abstract because it is – for now. But there are real threats out there that are far greater and more imminent than Aaron is willing to acknowledge.

  22. Dana, I certainly don’t think that I “know” Israelis. I will never “know” Israelis, at least not as well as I “know” Americans. Much of what I do know about Israelis comes from the news we’ve all seen: the Oslo Agreement and the Gaza withdrawal, for instance, both of which had strong support among Israeli Jews and went through despite resistance by the “settlers” (who could “spin like propellers”). And then the election of Kadima, which was basically a referendum on further large-scale withdrawals from Judea and Samaria.

    On the American empire and Israel, I’m pretty much with Pat Buchanan. If or when America comes to its senses and stops supporting Israel, I see a “to hell with them all” withdrawal as a more likely scenario than America’s imposing – and enforcing on the ground – a two-state “solution” against the will of Israelis and possibly even of the Palestinians.

    The US’s only true interest in the Middle East is that the countries keep exporting oil to America and stop exporting terrorists. Both are achievable by taking a noninterventionist, neutral or even anti-Israel position in the Middle East, a region where America has no natural enemies. (Michael Neumann wrote a good column once on what America could achieve internationally by being anti-Israel.) But an externally imposed two-state program in Israel/Palestine would be just a continuation of US imperial intervention in the Middle East. It would be the act of a confident, aggressive empire, not a weakened one.

  23. Aaron-
    The US is hated in the Arab/Muslim Middle because it is a largely Christian country with an aggressive secularist-materialist-consumerist ideology that is at odds with the Muslim religion and culture of the region. Even if Israel didn’t exist, the US would still be hated as much as it is now. American movies and culture celebrating homosexuality, atheism, feminism and disrespect for elders are anathema to the people of this region and this culture infiltrates to every place that has a television or the internet. America’s economic success as compared to the failures of the Arab states also is a great cause of jealousy. Muslims believe they have the true religion and this religion is supposed to be dominant in the world, as it was in the Middle Ages. If it is not, as is the case today, it is an abberation that must be fought and the main impediment to this potential dominance of the world must be identified and struggled against. (Islam is not like Christianity with its emphasis on individual salvation-Islam is a communalist religion with a belief in the existence of a Muslim “umma”-people–a collective body of believers which ideally should be led by a Caliph).

    Obviously, not all Muslims have the same degree of committment to their faith , but enough do as to make it a formidable force. Recall the poll I posted in which 30% of Muslims world wide view attacks on civilians in America as a legitimate form of struggle against US influence in the Middle East. This is 300 MILLION people. Note also that a majority supports Al-Qaida’s goals, if not its methods (this is sort of a modern of version of “we do have to admit that Hitler did build the autobahns in addition to the other things he did”).

    Regarding the “global warming” hysteria-There is NO proof that man-induced increases in CO2 concentrations have had ANY effect on global temperatures. The earth-ocean system is an extremely complex feedback system and to focus on a small factor such as CO2 and to claim that recent temperature increases are primarily due to that is unwarranted.

  24. The EU announcement (which didn’t make the New York Times), that they would likely RECOGNIZE the state of Palestine at the green line at their next administrative session, is the end game.

    At some point soon, the question relative to the two-state with specific boundaries will be “when”, not “if”.

    And, at that point, it will be in Israel’s interest to not repeat its politically negligent approach that it applied in Gaza, which was to boycott assisting in the orderly transfer of power and responsibility, instead just leaving to chaos.

    Instead, it should acknowledge the wishes of its largest market and accept that Israel is large enough, and coordinate with the PA to establish borders in an orderly and convivial way, in its own interests (economic, security, future relations).

    You are wrong on global warming. The levels of CO2 in the atmosphere is at historical all time highs, measurable and comparable over 1000’s of centuries.

    In EVERY physic assessment there is uncertainty and complexity if you look at the trees. For example, by the definition of “the data is too complex” it would be impossible to describe the relationship of heat to a solid, as the specific interactions of molecules within the solid is FAR FAR more complex than can be modeled or proven as causitive.

    But, we still acknowledge that the introduction of heat conforms to physical laws, with predictable outcomes.

    The proof of historical atmospheric temperature patterns (measurable, if complex), CO2 and other greenhouse gases (measurable), observational proof of rate of glaciar melting, are convincing.

    There are DISASTROUS tipping points associated with the large global glaciars, particularly considering the 100,000 year +/- glacial cycles, that it is possible that the glaciation that occured in a high proportion of the last 40 glaciation cycles, won’t occur this time due to the slightest increment from human expedited introduction of CO2. The consequences of that are the absence of restoration of the glaciars (over 40,000 years) that feed the world’s large minority of population.

    Fresh water is the concern, over the lives of the species.

  25. Living in Jerusalem, I very much see the phenomenon Dan describes. It is very easy to ignore the political situation in favor of just trying to get by. The analogy to gated communities is pretty good, but I think the analogy to any urban area in the U.S. is better.

    How often do you (the generic “you”) go into the “bad” part of town? Other than reading newspaper stories and shaking your head, what are you prepared to do about the problems in that other neighborhood?

    I also believe that while most people want peace, very few–Israeli or Palestinian–want the peace that is available, namely one that would include compromises in land and in aspirations.

  26. Thanks Gayle. You’re right. A comparison to urban America is also appropriate. I did not mean to come across as self-righteous. We live in an apartment building high on a hill in Northern Manhattan. There is a large Dominican neighborhood down below, some of which is very poor. I have almost nothing to do with my neighbors or their problems.

  27. Gayle,
    I agree with you–the majority of Israelis and Palestinians want peace on their own terms. The real question though, is will they settle for a compromise peace that fulfills their basic minimum demands: A Palestinian state within the 1967 borders with minor territorial swaps with East Jerusalem as its capital and no major return of Pal refugees? I don’t know the answer to that and I guess that neither do you. I do know that as long as Hamas remains powerful Fatah will be unwilling to make a compromise on the refugee question.

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