Here we are, with at least 2,000 years of animosity from outsiders, along with quarrelsome Jews. Some believe with great intensity that God gave us everything between an Egyptian river and far to the east. Some believe that the Jews of Palestine then Israel have been responsible for their problems with the Muslims, and the problems that Muslims have among themselves. In their eyes, either greater accommodation or absolute surrender before 1948 or since 1967 would have avoided or solved the problems of the Middle East.
We have an American patron that many or most Israelis (Muslims as well as Jews) do not trust. Muslims see Obama as beholden to the Jews, and the Jews see him as waffling on Israel's prime needs even while he promises us everything.
No doubt America has a problem balancing all its aspirations, domestic as well as international. We may understand the ambivalences, but it is hard to avoid faulting this administration and its predecessor for naivete and clumsiness. So far more Muslims than Jews have died as a result of American misadventures, but that does not make us happy. We may be next.
Israelis live better than most. Measures of health place us (Israeli Arabs as well as Jews) in the top tier, along with the better European countries and above the Americans. The World Bank lists us among the wealthiest of nations, albeit closer to the bottom than the top of that elite.
With all our blessings, we worry about disaster. The Holocaust and persecution by Muslims figure in the family histories of virtually the entire Jewish population. Muslim rhetoric, along with the behavior of Syrians toward one another, threaten a mass slaughter if the hordes break through our defenses.
No solutions appear possible. We live with uncertainties, and work to lessen the costs.
Coping is built into the national culture. It's been there since ancient times, reinforced by the experiences of recent generations. It is no accident that Jewish psychologists have contributed to what is known about coping for personal problems.
Israeli prime ministers have been clumsy and brilliant in dealing with the country's domestic and international challenges. Perhaps that is inherent in coping, whether done by an individual or a polity in stress. It is closer to an art than a science.
It is reasonable to assume that coping skills improve with experience. A country is better off with leaders who are tested on the way up, rather than relying on a media-hyped popularity contest like US presidential primaries than can boost an attractive candidate from virtually nothing to the top office with responsibilities for the whole world.
Barack Obama has advisers aplenty, but the culture of Washington demands that the President rules--especially on foreign policy--once he has decided. Advisers who continue to express reservations risk their access.
Israel's struggle is perpetual, even for its experienced politicians. Jewish history assures chronic disputes about religion and a host of other things. Our heritage contributes to our failure to have ever given a majority to one party. We are fated to deal with restive coalitions, as well as activists who see themselves knowing what it will take to satisfy Arabs as well as Europeans and Americans, plus those insisting that we make maximum contributions to environmental protection and even out the disparities among us in income, access to education and medical care, and all the other good things.
At times the ultra-religious appear to be beyond accommodation. With many of them it is all or nothing. The rest of us may be protected only by theological and political rivalries. The saving irony is that those claiming to be most Jewish are also the most inclined to neutralize their influence by the Jewish proclivity to dispute, with each of several overaged rabbis and their followers insisting on their own greater piety.
It is not easy to judge a prime minister in such a context. Giving a score is like shooting at a moving target. Survival in office in a tough democracy is a fair, if inadequate test of success. Benyamiin Netanyahu has done about as well as any, choosing among difficult options, battered by criticism from all sides domestically and ridiculed internationally as being a caricature of excessive pomposity.
Coping with stress involves management, rather than solution of problems. Israel cannot act like a great power. its leader must recognize the limits, even while striving to push them for the sake of greater benefits or fewer pains. Netanyahu cannot please all his constituents. The wiser of competing party leaders and other activists recognize this, and play the same game as does Netanyahu. They all demand, hint at threats, and accept less than what they describe as essential.
The unnecessary and damaging revelation by the United States that it was Israel, once again, attacking an arms depot in Syria involved in the transfer of weapons to Hezbollah may have been in retaliation for the prime minister making a nuisance of himself on Iran. Yet Netanyahu and his Israeli constituents have good reason to distrust American promises about Iranian nuclear weapons. If the scenario of Syrian chemical weapons repeats itself, Obama will cave into pressure from Putin to go along with something that gives the Russians an upper hand.
The picture is no more pleasant when looking at American concern for Palestine. Decades of violence and rejection have soured Israelis. Public opinion surveys show a majority favoring the principle of two states, but a larger majority doubting that Palestinians can agree. Continued criticism by the American administration of building even in Jerusalem and the major settlement blocs reinforces Israelis who demand to go alone, both against Iran and the Palestinians, with Americans be damned.
Pity Netanyahu while cursing his latest decisions. Or praise his capacity to stay the course with the Americans--by all the signs an alliance is essential for Israel's future (even one that has never been ratified formally)--while keeping up the pressure about Iran and fending off the worse possibilities about Palestine.
It would be folly to predict the next few months for any of these issues. Recent history suggests that we bet on something close to what we have now, but not to bet more than we can afford to lose.
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