Independence Day twice a week
We can only hope that 60th-anniversary considerations will influence the attitude of Prime Minister Ehud Olmert and his colleagues every time they have to deal with Israeli-Palestinian fighting.
In a month, the communications satellite Amos 3 is scheduled to be launched into space adorned with the symbol of Israel's 60th anniversary celebrations; its name may even be changed to Amos 60.
Hallelujah. The move to connect this business initiative (by the space communications company, Spacecom) with official efforts to lend the state a festive, achievement-oriented and joyous look was led by Minister Ruhama Avraham-Balila. It is reasonable to assume that no security threat will cloud the satellite launching (unless the long arm of Imad Mughniyah's avengers reaches the launching base in Kazakhstan), but other events planned for Independence Day are definitely influenced by the security situation. One could even say that the diplomatic-security leadership is largely motivated by their desire to lend the country a calm facade for the 3rd of Iyar (the holiday has been moved up this year from its usual Hebrew date, the 5th of Iyar).
Officially they don't admit it: They credit Egyptian decisions in Cairo - not the quiet understanding in the works between Israel and Hamas - with the (relative) lull on the Gaza border. They also deny Israel's military stance vis-a-vis the Palestinians is at all connected to the 60th anniversary festivities. However, the defense establishment admits that the timing of any ground operation in the Gaza Stip will in fact take Independence Day into account. The government does not want the country to celebrate 60 years of independence while involved in large-scale fighting.
The government is interested in broadcasting an image of a stable, safe country with a normal lifestyle. It wants to welcome the foreign VIPs in an atmosphere of calm. An Israel under attack by rockets, full of wailing ambulances and deeply involved in wide-scale, bloody fighting is a nightmare that the leadership is understandably interested in avoiding. Therefore, one cannot condemn them for seeking a lull - even a temporary one - in the fighting with Hamas.
There is no way of knowing whether the current state of relative calm will last until Independence Day. Members of the defense establishment are even saying that the quiet of recent days is imagined; in other words, it is liable to be violated at any moment. And nevertheless, we may question the official version - that the lull is due solely to a one-way Egyptian effort. Israel has a clear interest in stabilizing this cease-fire, so it may continue for at least a month and a half, and it is probably exercising quite an array of persuasive means - both sticks and carrots - in order to achieve that.
The inevitable question is why we shouldn't celebrate Independence Day twice a week. Not only because of the large number of events Minister Avraham-Balila is preparing for us - the president's conference on the future of the Jewish people, a huge light show, a video presentation about the history of the state, a large independence party, a birthday party for those born on the 5th of Iyar 1948, and other wonders and miracles to relieve the tension with the Palestinians - but because the past days have proven that there is someone to talk to on the Palestinian side: Hamas is demonstrating very good control over the rocket launchers from the Gaza Strip and is functioning as a leadership for all intents and purposes.
Hamas leader Ismail Haniyeh and his colleagues are engaged in legitimate activities - negotiations with Fatah in Yemen, discussions with Egypt, diplomacy in the Arab countries - and are shedding (for the moment) their thuggish personas. They are exercising the means at their disposal, both belligerent and diplomatic, in order to achieve results. Israel is behaving like them: It also has a variety of tools, including the threat of the Israel Defense Forces, in order to achieve its goals.
Lowering the flames of the current conflict - and we can only hope that 60th-anniversary considerations will influence the attitude of Prime Minister Ehud Olmert and his colleagues every time they have to deal with Israeli-Palestinian fighting - is always a top priority, certainly at present.
"Every day is a holiday," sang national troubadour and Israel Prize laureate Naomi Shemer, referring to a day-to-day life where "the babies suddenly know how to walk, and the 6-year-olds suddenly know how to read, and the baker bakes bread for me, and that is the holiday in all its glory," expresses a wish for a little bit of routine. Ironically, in its 60th year, the country must pray that the fanfare of the festivals will not be silenced, so this can be achieved.