Opinion |

The Year the Israeli-Palestinian Conflict Went Out of Fashion

Much-hyped anniversaries and events sank into obscurity last year; the Jerusalem issue triggered only rote responses. This year will be the same: the world is watching more incendiary conflicts elsewhere. It's us and the Palestinians, home alone

Anshel Pfeffer
Anshel Pfeffer
FILE PHOTO: United Colors of Benetton ad showing a Israel's Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Palestinian President Abbas locking lips in a doctored photo.
FILE PHOTO: United Colors of Benetton ad showing a Israel's Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Palestinian President Abbas locking lips in a doctored photo.Credit: FABRICA
Anshel Pfeffer
Anshel Pfeffer

The Foreign Ministry in Jerusalem held a series of meetings in early 2017 to prepare for what they believed would be a troubling event. The fiftieth anniversary of the Six Day War was looming and, with it, the commemoration of half a century of Israeli occupation of East Jerusalem and the West Bank.

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The diplomats were worried that the international agenda would be dominated by an uncomfortable narrative portraying Israel as the heartless conqueror, rather than a tiny beleaguered nation that went to war in 1967 to save itself from destruction.

Palestinian protesters chant anti-British slogans on the 100th anniversary of the Balfour Declaration, in Ramallah. Nov. 2, 2017Credit: Nasser Nasser/AP

All manner of diplomatic contingency and media management plans were prepared, but as the anniversary drew near, and then passed, none were necessary.

The Palestinians held some sparsely-attended demonstrations, a few scholarly books were published and a handful of international news organizations produced elegant and well-balanced reports. And that was it.

"We were surprised, and relieved, to discover that the world just doesn’t care that much anymore," one senior diplomat admitted to me a few weeks after the anniversary.

The same proved true of the centenary of the Balfour Declaration in November. For a few days there was a flurry of events in London – Benjamin Netanyahu visited, Abu Mazen issued a grand demand that Britain apologize and revoke the declaration, and the supporters of the Palestinians held a march which disappointed in its turnout. And it was over. The world just doesn’t care that much anymore.

So since we’re still in the first week of 2018, I’ll risk my prediction for the coming year. We will celebrate in Israel the seventieth anniversary of the state, while the Palestinians mark seventy years to the Nakba, and the world won’t come to either party.

Furthermore, there won’t be any serious peace proposal coming from the ridiculous Trump administration and while there may be the occasional flurry of attention at nascent outbreaks of violence in Gaza and the West Bank, the world will be, for the main part, looking away.

U.S. President Donald Trump passes Jared Kushner during a Hanukkah Reception at the White House. December 7, 2017Credit: KEVIN LAMARQUE/REUTERS

Smart foreign policy think-tanks and magazines published in recent days their ten-hotspots-around-the-world to watch in 2018. Israel-Palestine, which was once a perennial fixture on these lists, was absent. For now at least, we’ve gone out of fashion.

As shrinking editorial budgets are forcing many news organizations to downsize their corps of foreign correspondents, most of them are realizing that precious resources need to be focused on larger, literally more incendiary conflicts, in the Middle East and beyond.

That doesn’t mean that Israel will not continue to receive a disproportionate amount of attention – there are many reasons that the Jewish state will remain a compelling story, and old journalistic habits die hard – but it will be less than in the past.

For the time being, there won’t be any major diplomatic initiatives here. Trump isn’t serious and anyway will be tied down by investigations. Europe has to deal with its own problems right now. And the more immediate region will be much more focused on the intensifying Saudi-Iranian showdown, to bother about the Palestinian sideshow.

The world is tired of us - and so are we.

You can already see the results of this lack in attention in the reactions to Trump’s recognition of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital. Sure, it got the United Nations vote of condemnation, but that was simply going through the diplomatic motions. On the ground, the “days of rage” quickly dissipated, with Palestinians leaders admitting themselves that a violent uprising would not help them now.

Israeli Border Police patrol the Arab quarter of the Old City in Jerusalem, Israel. Dec. 17, 2017Credit: Bloomberg

Indeed, 2017 was a year in which the casualty numbers on both sides remained relatively low, with the death-counts of Israelis and Palestinians declining for a third consecutive year.

And you could see it in the cautious Israeli response to the mortar and rocket firing from Gaza. Even Defense Minister Avigdor Lieberman said that it would be best to let the world focus on the protests in Iran, than to start another Gazan war.

For years, we predicted that the day would come when the "international community" would say enough is enough, and somehow force Israelis and Palestinians to iron out their differences. That the occupation was unsustainable and simply couldn’t last. That the two-state solution, or any sort of solution was inevitable, because the world would decide that the current situation was “apartheid” and intervene.

Well, whatever it is, the world just can’t be bothered any longer. After seventy years of conflict, Israelis and Palestinians are just two old siblings who hate each other and yet still can’t leave the family house they share, even after everyone else has gone. We’re home alone, together, and 2018 may finally be the year in which it starts to sink in.

A golden statue of Israeli PM Benjamin Netanyahu placed by an artist in front of City Hall prompted passersby to try and topple it. Tel Aviv, Dec. 6, 2016Credit: AP Photo/Oded Balilty

It will be a nasty realization, especially for many of those from abroad who would have loved to celebrate Israel’s achievements at 70, for Jews and other true friends, who deluded themselves that this thorn in the rosebush, this nasty occupation, could somehow be wished away and that the solution was just around the corner. Particularly, because one thing that is eminently clear today, is that for all their good will and actions and lobbying, Israelis have never been less disposed to heed the concerns of the Jewish Diaspora.

Perhaps I’m wrong, and in 2018 the Palestinians, in their hopelessness, forsaken by the world and their Arab brothers, will conclude they have nothing to lose and rise up in a third Intifada. But if 2017 is anything to go by, the overwhelming majority of them seem to have reached a different conclusion. At least for now.

Few Israelis will give much thought to their Palestinian neighbors this year. We are still riveted by what could be the last chapter of the Netanyahu saga and his attempts to tear apart our social fabric in his flailing battle to cling to power. It seems almost absurd that the political fate of one man, and his wife and son, can obscure the existential issues of an entire nation, but that is where we currently stand.

Perhaps only once Netanyahu departs, will Israelis grasp that their future is much more complex than the rise and fall of one politician. Hopefully that long overdue reckoning will begin in 2018.



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