Uncertainty is chronic.
Aside from uncertainty about personal matters (job, health, pension) are uncertainties about the public sphere. Will the leaders of my country succeed in achieving X or preventing Y?
The authors of the Hebrew Bible described uncertainty in a setting where the Jews were fewer and poorer than the people of nearby empires. It was usually a problem of which empire would prevail.
Until not so long ago, Jewish uncertainty, like that of others, concerned how many children would survive poverty and disese to reach adulthood. Occasionally, there was concern for the neighbors, and the prospect of unrest.
At the present time, things have never been better. Pessimists would remind me that my late father-in-law thought the same in Germany during the Weimar period.
Uncertainty is universal, but Israelis may be more uncertain than the average. Until recently, we felt uncertain whenever we climbed aboard a bus or entered a restaurant. Currently the style of Palestinian hatred makes us uncertain whenever we see a piece of heavy equipment being driven by someone who might be an Arab. Some may feel uncertain whenever they are alongside a road, concerned that a car may swerve intentionally onto the sidewalk.
The president of Iran is scheduled to speak at the United Nations Conference on Racism. No one should expect him to embrace Zionism and renounce his nuclear program. In anticipation of what is expected, the governments of numerous civilized countries have decided not to send delegations, or not to send ranking politicians.
With so many boycotting, a bad conference may be nothing more than an event that once again to divides the world into those who are acceptable and those who are not.
More troubling is the concern that the American administration and the Israeli prime minister have not been reading from the same page about the future of the Palestinian people.
We depend in large part on our own wisdom. When young, it is wise to prepare for a career, and then to move or change jobs when conditions warrant. As citizens young or old, we should vote for politicians not likely to make things worse.
For Israelis, that means leaders who will stay on the same page as the leaders of the United States, Western Europe, and a few other worthy places.
In the last week we have seen the flexibility of Benyamin Netanyahu. Some will see him holding to what is important, and praise him. Some will see him bending to accommodate the person he has most recently met, ridicule his bombast, and worry about relying on a leader who is so fluid.
He began by indicating that the idea of a Palestinian state was not on his table. It would be much better to aid the Palestinian economy and demand that the Palestinians learn governance. After meeting with George Mitchell, his posture was that Palestinians' recognition of Israel as a Jewish state would be a precondition for re-starting negotiations. After meeting with Ehud Barak, he would be willing negotiate without preconditions, but condition progress on the Palestinians' willingness to recognize Israel as a Jewish state.
The issue of Israel as a Jewish state resonates. Until now the Palestinians have demanded that Israel recognize Palestine as a state and remove Jewish settlements, while Palestinians recognize Israel as a state. One suspects that the vast majority of Jews living in what might become Palestine would not want to remain there, just as the vast majority of Arabs living in Israel would not want to move there. Nonetheless, the demand that Palestine be Judenrein has weight. In this time of commemorating the Holocaust, we read that there are a quarter million survivors living among us.
Defining Israel as a Jewish state has symbolic importance. No one here expects a significant number of Jews to remain in Palestine if it attains statehood, or expects Israel to expel its Arab citizens, to prevent them from calling themselves Palestinians, or to curtail their political and civil rights. There is a fringe who demands drawing the borders of Israel in a way to exclude many Palestinians, or to take citizenship from Arabs who do not conform to their standards of loyalty. Occasionally the man who is now the foreign minister has given voice to such sentiments, but the prospect is about as realistic as "back to Africa" or "back to Latin America" movements in the United States.
In recent days Palestinian officials have argued that the United States recognition of Israel in 1948 did not define it as a Jewish state. My distinguish colleague, Professor Shlomo Avineiri, has noted that the draft of the brief statement of recognition, written before the Jewish leadership of Palestine had decided on a name for their state, was of a "Jewish state," and was changed to a recognition of "Israel" only when the Jews chose that name. George Mitchell may have been articulating the United States government's sensititivity for the issue with his statement that referred to Israel as a Jewish state.
Netanyahu's flexibility, whether an appropriate topic for praise or ridicule, may have gotten him over this hiccup in relations between Israel and the United States over the subject of Palestine. Now we are reading that he will visit the White House in the middle of May.
Skeptics may wonder if all this is significant. A "two state solution" seems nothing more than a fig leaf for politicians to remain politically correct. They are not likely to demand great progress in negotiations as long as Gaza remains firmly in the hands of Hamas, Hamas remains firm in articulating the line of Iran, and the West Bank leadership remains out of the hands of Hamas only due to the work of Israeli security forces.
Fig leaves are important in politics, or at the least they are prominent. Perhaps they will postpone the time when Palestinian frustration turns into Palestinian extremism, the start of another intifada, and however Israel chooses to respond.
If Jews feel more uncertain than others, we also have learned how to deal with it. Israelis study that Bible, as well as other writings that come disproportionately from Jewish hands, in homes and universities that our neighbors envy.
Posted by Ira Sharkansky at April 20, 2009 12:39 AM
Ira Sharkansky (Emeritus)
Department of Political Science