More of a Neighborhood Than a Country

Even after 60 years of sovereignty Israel behaves less like a country and more like a community.

There is certainly a connection between the fact that Israel was involved in two prolonged wars of choice within two years, each of which began with an outburst of anger and ended with government head-scratching - and the fact that it was headed during this period by a serial provocateur; a leader who has not missed a single opportunity for a fight in which he has the last word; a man who has managed to quarrel with almost all the members of his government and his party, and recently even with the United States secretary of state. If Ehud Olmert's term were not ending soon - who knows whether in a year from now we wouldn't be involved in a third war, in which the Israel Air Force would bomb Washington or Istanbul.

But if only we could dismiss those two years as a kind of historical traffic accident that was caused because of one nervous driver, if only because of the doubt as to whether even a prime minister with the temperament of Mother Theresa would have succeeded more than Olmert. But "the two years and two wars" term reflects failure and disappointment that go beyond a specific person: It is Israel's failure to switch to a "civilian agenda" in the profound sense of the term. And more than that is its inability to conduct itself effectively and with diplomatic wisdom even after 60 years of sovereignty, when it is headed by a post-charismatic civilian-leader, without a military halo and a belligerent agenda.

There has frequently been discussion of the paradox that in Israel it is the decision makers lacking a military background who tend to "compensate themselves" with an aggressive surfeit of activity (Pinhas Lavon and the "stinking affair," Shimon Peres and Grapes of Wrath, Olmert and former defense minister Amir Peretz in the Second Lebanon War, et al). And in fact, it is just those things which we are bragging about in the present war - "preparedness," "learning the lessons of the previous war," the fighting spirit, the call-up, the solidarity, the desire for combat - that with all their advantages combine with something very gloomy: acceptance. A perhaps-final acceptance of our fate as "a war with a country."

If during the first decades of the country it was hard to imagine a real future without at least a hope for peace, and if afterwards every war was accompanied by a hope that it would be the last one - today, in the face of an openly atavistic enemy, we have already lost any hope or illusions.

It is possible that this time a resounding defeat for Hamas would have pushed back the Islamic wave of the messianism of destruction to some extent; but along with hope the meaning of the concept "victory" has also been lost. We have simply come to terms with the fact that the next round of warfare, and the one following it, are only a question of time. And not only because of the enemy, but because of the Olmert in every one of us: If the next war is successful - we'll feel like having another one; if it fails - we'll want another one that will make amends for it and "learn its lessons," and so on until the end of days.

We simply have no other vision. And this acceptance of our fate as a martial-state is also evident in the conduct of the present campaign: instead of causing the collapse of the government of Hamas leaders using cunning and creativity, we deliberately embarked on a destructive all-out attack involving a huge cost in civilian lives and causing perhaps irreversible damage to Israel's image among the nations. That is the modus operandi of a country that has not only despaired already of the chance of reconciliation with the neighbors alongside whom it has lived for generations, but that no longer cares about how it looks from the outside, and about the way in which it is getting world Jewry into trouble along with it.

So it's not only Olmert. The increasingly frequent wars, and mainly the way in which we don't know how to end them, to translate them into political achievements and to speak the language of diplomacy - testify to Israel's failure to behave like a normal country, with the priorities, the reactions, and the judgment of a nation.

Even after 60 years of sovereignty Israel behaves less like a country and more like a community. It takes Israel years and years (mainly between wars) to climb up the slippery pole of international respect, recognition and sympathy - and somehow, in every round of warfare it slips all the way back down: from a country - to what is called a "neighborhood." Perhaps that too should be taken into account in the context of the "preparation" for the next inevitable war.