It's a Jungle Out There

If the latest events have shown anything, it's the Palestinians' talent for turning their lives - if left to their own devices - into a kind of blood-soaked hell.

Ehud Barak's description of Israel as a "villa in the jungle" never sounded so apt as this week, when the man himself made a nearly miraculous return to the leadership of the Labor Party, and apparently to the post of defense minister.

And indeed, this week more than ever, the events on both sides of the Green Line seemed to be occurring in two different worlds. In Israel, there were important political processes such as the election of a president and a party's deposing of its chairman according to rules and tradition - and not without a bit of charm, humor and a sporting spirit. If we needed it, Israel's political maturity and the sturdiness of its democracy were demonstrated once again, as was its ability to function during crises like a well-oiled and well-honed machine.

Meanwhile, on the other side of the line, the Palestinians were settling their political disputes in their usual style, whose savageness still never fails to surprise: violence for violence's sake, indiscriminate killings, shooting into a crowd of peace demonstrators, the killing of wounded people in hospitals, the tossing of adversaries out of windows, and all sorts of other cruelties among brothers that almost overshadows a record of bloody terror against Israelis.

This time it's hard to blame "the occupation." Not directly at least. Perhaps it's even the opposite: If the latest events have shown anything, it's the Palestinians' talent for turning their lives - if left to their own devices - into a kind of blood-soaked hell, and precisely in the territories which Israel has let go of.

Yes, Israel can be blamed, too, particularly all those brains behind our "consciousness-searing" tactics: We suffocated the territories, caused the people there to despair completely and systematically weakened all the relatively moderate Palestinian elements. But we should recall that even the "strengthening" of those "moderate elements" was essentially based on the expectation that they would employ the same brutal methods against their opponents, "without the High Court and without B'tselem," as Yitzhak Rabin once put it.

In other words, Palestinian brutality also figured into our rosy and dovish expectations (with the usual surprise at the fact that in the "Palestinian season," the extremists come out the winners). But the Palestinians earned their violent, chaotic and thuggish reputations honestly, and along with that came the despair of the many peace-seekers in Israel: If this is "the state in the making," one can only shudder at the thought of what the actual Palestinian state will be like.

This, at least, is the hopeless, fatalistic mood that bets blindly on any shred of hope that was hovering in the background of Barak's reelection as Labor Party chairman. The new-old "Mr. Security" is a man without a plan, without a promise and without a vision, who was elected after hardly saying a word to deal with a situation he excels at describing: Israel in the region is "a villa in a jungle."

But what does this really mean? What can we conclude from this or hope for regarding the country's future and its means of survival? This premise, that we are surrounded by a chaotic jungle, is not new, and the conclusions deriving from it have also been exhausted: We armed ourselves with machetes and tried to tame the creatures of the forest, we tried to deforest swaths of territory until we reached the Suez Canal and the Jordan River, we tried to understand the laws of the jungle, and we gave up. Afterward, when the jungle grew beneath our feet and clutched at us with its roots, we unilaterally withdrew to the yard of the villa and tried to surround it with a mighty wall. Without proper upkeep, day in and day out, the stalks of chaos might also sprout up from under the floor and into the living room.

Do Barak or Benjamin Netanyahu, the two presumed and recycled candidates for prime minister, have another plan of action, or any plan whatsoever? What do they actually propose? What do they say? As both are known more for their real-estate background - whether a villa or a luxury high-rise apartment - than as heralds of any great message, perhaps they embody a kind of national ideal: Living well is the best revenge, and if we're already living in a jungle, then you might as well try to live in a villa. Whoever can, that is.