Herzliya's Tidings of Job

Before the Herzliya Conference's dark images fill the country with fear, it's worth considering the topic of this year's conference, the ideology of its promoters, and who its participants are.

The world, as it has been depicted at the Herzliya Conference over the last few days, is a place that justifies crying out, "Stop the world, I want to get off." The Herzliya Interdisciplinary Center invited learned experts to tell the Israeli public about its role in the universe, and these experts painted a bleak picture: There is no chance for Israeli-Palestinian dialogue because this conflict is not national, but a derivative of Islam's struggle against world hegemony.

They say that it is impossible to resolve the dispute over the Land of Israel because it doesn't stem from the occupation, but from the Palestinians' negation of the Jews' right to a sovereign state, and that Israel must quickly prepare for war with Iran, whether as a U.S. ally or independently, because otherwise it is headed for destruction.

Before this dark image fills the country with fear, and before the country declares the extensive, perpetual emergency situation that such a diagnosis requires, it's worth considering the topic of this year's conference, the ideology of its promoters, and who its participants are.

The conference is organized by the IDC's Institute for Policy and Strategy, and Uzi Arad is its driving force. Arad has held several senior positions in the Israeli government, and he made his worldviews evident there. As an academic, he hasn't made his views secret. At the least, one can say Arad is part of the Israeli political discourse's right wing. In addition, he is one of Benjamin Netanyahu's close advisers. The Herzliya Conference - this year at least - is not, therefore, an impartial academic summit. It is an event with a clear ideological agenda.

The subject of this year's conference is the balance of power and national security, and words like "patriotism," "national strength," "renewal" and "strengthening" appear time after time in the titles of the sessions. A significant portion of the speakers (at least on political-security matters) are known right-wingers like Richard Perle, James Woolsey, Dore Gold, Zalman Shoval and researchers from the Shalem Center.

All this is completely legitimate. Research centers (like journalists) are not free of ideological leanings; people just need to be aware of the IDC's stance when listening to the Job-like news coming from the conference.

The conference has a conservative message: Israel must stand firm (unless it chooses to go to war, as some of the speakers seem to recommend) and make do with administering the conflict rather than aspiring to end it. To a certain degree, this is a convenient viewpoint, since it exempts its holders from having to extricate the country from the current situation. This approach views the situation in the Middle East as a divine decree, a predetermined existence shaped by forces outside of Israel's control.

Several of the speakers used the word "denial" to describe those who view things differently from them. This statement would seem to imply that only the fire-and-brimstone prophets of the conference dare to look the approaching storm in the eye. Such a perspective invites a discussion of denial. Is it not denial for the learned Herzliya Conference speakers to ignore the role the occupation plays in Palestinian hostility? Is ignoring the tangible peace with Egypt and Jordan not denying the national, secular nature of the Israeli-Arab conflict? Are not the solutions heralded by the key conference speakers (Arad, Effi Eitam, Moshe Ya'alon) - which are based on a circular real estate deal whereby a Palestinian state would be allocated land from neighboring countries - not an escape from reality? Is the recommendation to wage war on Iran a realistic prescription? And one final question: If the Herzliya experts are reading the situation correctly, wouldn't it have been preferable to resolve the conflict with the Palestinians long ago, and prevent it from becoming part of an all-embracing religious conflict?