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Tuesday, September 20, 2011

The Palestinian bid for statehood and the end of summer

How the Jewish New Year, the first rain and the Palestinian bid for statehood are connected
The long hot Israeli summer is finally coming to an end. Rain is now mostly a memory. The last heavy rain was six months ago, and the last light rain about four months ago. The temperature has dropped slightly at night, so we now need to cover ourselves with a sheet, though we still sleep with the window wide open.
After months without water, the Lantana bushes that surround my apartment block in Tel Aviv, look dusty and barely alive, yet they always revive once the rains come. The Bougainvillea continues to flower and looks fine and the trees seem to be flourishing.
Predictably, there are far more words to describe rain in English then there are in Hebrew, but Hebrew has two terms that are absent from English: Malkosh, meaning the last rain of the year (in Spring) and Yoreh, meaning the first rain of the year, usually due around October. Both are very ancient words, literally thousands of years old, and can be found in the Pentatuach (Deuteronomy 11).
The end of summer is an important time in the Middle East, it is a time for new beginnings and optimism. So it is a very appropriate time to celebrate the Jewish New Year, to fast in penance at our sins over the previous year (Yom Kippur is ten days later) and restart the annual read of the Pentatuach.
The Knesset is ending its long summer break, the children returning to school, the government committees examining lack of competition in the economy and the need for more social welfare are due to report back. The timing is no coincidence: October and November were also the months that the Intifidas started, the Yom Kippur War began and Sadat visited Jerusalem. Nobody wants to throw rocks in summer or run around the desert covered in a uniform carrying heavy gear in the August heat.
The Yoreh was on Friday, the same day the Palestinians submitted their request for UN sanctioned statehood. The Jewish New Year is next week. In the Middle-East the first rain indicates a blessing, so it would seem the Palestinian bid for statehood, successful or not, has divine sanction. 



Monday, September 19, 2011

Time Lag and the Palestine-Israel conflict

I believe that time lags play a significant role in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. This works in several ways, firstly  each side has a delayed response to the other's intransigence or peace offers. So when Israel withdrew from Gaza, providing an opportunity for progress in peace, the Palestinians responded by electing the Hamas. When Israel withdrew from South-Lebanon, the result was a growth in Hezbullah poiwer and intransigence. The Israelis responded to the Palestinian election and Hezbullah successes by moving to the right, by which time the West-Bank Palestinians - though not Hamas - were in Peace and co-operation mode.  So each side is constantly out of sequence with the other. One hopes that at some point we will all be in peace mode at the same time, though the latest opinion poll in Ha'Aretz suggests we're stuck with a right wing government in Israel for at least another election and in the long run we're more likely to both be in war mode.

Another aspect of the time-lag is overseas perceptions of Israel. A generation of European NGO managers (and Israeli leftists) grew up in the Eighties when Israel was invading Lebanon and aggressively settling the West-Bank. Those perceptions persisted when Israel changed tack in the Nineties, contributing to the failure of the Peace process (though many other reasons can also be seen).

Now a new generation of Europeans is emerging that grew up post-al-Qaeda and Hamas, and while the anti-Israelis will no doubt remain vocal, I suspect the new generation will be less willing to criticize Israel.

Time-lag also affects the way criticism of Israel interacts with anti-Semitism: what starts out as event-driven criticism gradually shifts towards an expression of prejudice, due to ignorance and a lack of judgement which in turn leads to a backlash. Perceptions of European prejudice also affect Israeli and Palestinian politics.

Basically people don't change their thinking overnight, there is a time lag, and that has an impact on how things play out. Single incidents/major outbreaks play a role in molding opinions, but I think that over time there is an accumulation of events which leads to subtle shifts in attitudes, rather like ripples going through a pond. Changes may not be total single side-taking shifts, but rather more delicate changes in the willingness to vocalize or support activities.