The Discovery of No-tomorrow

This may be man's nature everywhere, but Israeli society evidently breaks world records in adapting to both good and bad.

Recent polls indicating that what bothers Israelis most today is street violence can be interpreted in two complementary ways. One, ostensibly positive, says that the relative quiet on the security front has redirected both our aggressive energies and media coverage to the criminal one, as in most normal countries. The second interpretation doesn't contradict the first, but gives it a painful twist. Other polls, which show increasing support for the right-wing camp, lead one to conclude that the Palestinian problem is not the public's chief worry nowadays simply because it's not being expressed violently right now. The moment the Palestinians revert to using violence, they'll also return to the top of the Israeli agenda. That's what we learn from bitter experience, and it's a lesson that unfortunately they too have not forgotten.

Furthermore, as past surveys have shown, Israeli public opinion and the Israeli leadership paradoxically tend to support far-reaching, even panicky, concessions precisely when violence rages on the various fronts, as happened at the height of the terror attacks in the Sharon era. We tend to toughen our stand and turn to the right when there is no urgent need or clear and present emergency demanding a change in the status quo.

This may be man's nature everywhere, but Israeli society evidently breaks world records in adapting to both good and bad. Just as it adapts rapidly - though more in panic and hysteria than in deftness - to the emergencies, terror attacks and wars that mostly take it completely by surprise, so does it loll backwards in what seems like everlasting tranquility when, for a moment, a month, or a year, things ease up. Then, on that very day, the day-trippers are back in the Galilee, the Tel Aviv Stock Exchange soars and the color returns to the cheeks of the military analysts speaking calmly about the next round. Very quickly forgotten are the panic and the helplessness, the mad rush to the bomb shelters that aren't there, the wartime TV programming, the existential terror, the IDF's doltishness, the confusion and scrambling in the political leadership, the frenzied attempts to grab hold of any diplomatic straw - from unilateral withdrawal to a cease-fire at terms that do nothing but help bring about the next round - just to scrape up a little peace and quiet.

It's only thanks to these wondrous talents for repression and forgetting reality that it's possible to understand the current public satisfaction with the Netanyahu government. And the same goes for understanding the behavior of the prime minister, who drinks up that satisfaction with all his might. How else can we comprehend his principled procrastination, his delaying and dithering at any price and in all spheres? Like many of his predecessors, Netanyahu also knows only too well that time is not on our side - but how nice it is when we seem to have managed to stop it! At that suspended moment, the public is happy, the polls are flattering, and the government can complacently busy itself with alcohol and influenza, as if it were Sweden.

But, perhaps more than any of his predecessors, Netanyahu knows what happens to the region, the country, the polls and mainly to himself when stopped time starts up again. The sky falls in, as do the rockets, the public gets angry and turns its back immediately. The right, the left, the army, the media, world diplomacy all pull in different directions and hubris gives way to pouring perspiration. So it's no wonder that Israel and its government, like Faust in his time, tell each moment of peace and quiet, even when - especially when - it lacks any foundation how beautiful it is, begging it not to pass.

A recently published book arousing much interest is philosopher Daniel Shabtai Milo's "The Discovery of Tomorrow," in which he discusses the secret of the success (and perhaps the misfortune) of the evolution of mankind over all other creatures in nature - namely, his ability to internalize an awareness of the existence of the future: To understand the inevitability of tomorrow, to prepare for it, to plan, to use it, or to be wary of it.

From this purely evolutionary point of view arises yet another reason to be worried about the future of Israel, a state which - at least in the past several decades - has split itself away from humankind, perhaps out of Zen enlightenment, perhaps merely out of a crippling fear and coalition considerations, and has seen its leaders seize upon the discovery of the notion of no-tomorrow.

Its essence: Despite all of the warnings and alarms, despite the logic - strategic, diplomatic, and simple demographic - the catastrophes at the gate can be foreseen only after they take our intelligence services by surprise.

Till then, in the words of the Hebrew prayer, has kategor, let the accusers be silent.