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October 02, 1992 - Image 33

Resource type:
The Detroit Jewish News, 1992-10-02

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The New,
Improved Israel

Israel has moved from being
"stuck" to taking risks.


Israel Correspondent


s a natural spinoff of
Jewish tradition,
taking stock between
Rosh Hashanah and Yom
Kippur, is a custom on the
national as well as the in-
dividual plane. What has
made this Rosh Hashanah
different from its immediate
predecessors is that, for the
first time in a while, it's
possible to say that the past
year, 5752, was extraordin-
ary. Beginning with the
Madrid Conference, the
peace talks, electoral upset,
reordering of national
priorities, and first signs of
progress toward reaching a
settlement with Syria all
gave 5752 a distinct sense of
movement, if not yet of
Yet, in many ways, move-
ment alone was signal de-
velopment, for what had
preceded it was a long period
of feeling "stuck." The New
York Times journalist,
Thomas L. Friedman,
summed up that sensation in
an anecdote in his bestseller,

From Beirut to Jerusalem.

On a visit to Israel in 1986,
A. M. Rosenthal, then the
Times' executive editor,
asked Prime Minister
Shamir what he would like
people to say about him once
his term of office was over.
"Shamir leaned forward,"
Mr. Friedman relates,
"clasped his hands together,
looked Abe in the eye, and
said, 'I want them to say
that I kept things quiet.' "
It was a strange statement
for the leader of a country
that had always prided itself
on its dynamism. At any
rate, Mr. Shamir failed at
the mission he laid out for
himself. Over a year later,
the intifada broke out, vex-
ing the country, draining its
energy, and essentially
becoming a national preoc-
cupation. After the turn of
the decade, that spasm of
violence was superseded by a
happier development: The

influx of over 400,000 Jews
from the Soviet Union. Yet
here, too, a great impetus
toward change seemed to get
sucked into a black hole of
national inertia.
Rather than be galvanized
by the opportunity to
revamp the economy and re-
juvenate the arts by drawing
on eager new talent, Israel,
by the start of 5752, seemed
to be drained by its commit-
ment to an ideology and
mind set that had been forg-
ed over a century ago. All
around it, the world was in
the throes of change. The
Cold War had ended. Com-
munism had collapsed.
Europe was edging toward
its vision of unity. And
perceptions of interests and
loyalties were changing in
the Arab world, too. After
all, Egypt, Saudi Arabia —
and, even, Syria — had join-
ed an American-led alliance
against a sister Arab state.
The Age of Ideology was long
over, and "isms" of every
sort had been or were active-
ly being discredited. But in
Jerusalem, the shibboleth
remained "Eretz Yisrael,"
at all costs, as though Jew-
ish sovereignty were still a
distant dream.
Commentators are divided
on precisely what, in last
June's election, helped
Labor win or made Likud
lose. But one thing seems
pretty clear: Yitzhak
Shamir's bottom-line mes-
sage — "Eretz Yisrael is ac-
quired through suffering" —
did not resonate with the
majority of his countrymen,
while Mr. Rabin's message
that Labor was going to alter
national priorities and place
greater emphasis on the
security and welfare of
Israel's citizens did.
For the first time, perhaps,
Israelis were thinking less of
their votes' impact on
"posterity" than how to
eliminate the colossal traffic
jam that chokes the center of
the country each morning
and how to ensure that their
children would not languish
on unemployment lines and

Artwork hom the Los Angeles Tents by Barbers Cummings. Copynght. 1992. Barbara Cummings. Distributed by Los Angeles Taros 9yndiate.

sink into lives of waste and
despair. Essentially, at a
time when many of Israel's
metaphors suggested a static
nation, Israelis were think-
ing about how to get their
country energized and mov-
ing again.
It is too early to speak of
solid changes brought by the
elections. But few will deny

Israelis were
thinking less of
their vote's impact
on "posterity" than
how to eliminate
the traffic jam that
chokes the center
of the country each

that the new government
has introduced a sense of
movement. On the domestic
front, for example, energetic
ministers of finance, hous-
ing, health, and education
have created the feeling that
old systems and assumptions
are being reviewed and
modified or reversed. Some
ministers are even being
faulted for their zeal.
Mr. Rabin expressed
displeasure with the inten-
tion of his justice minister,
Professor David Liba'i, to
rescind the controversial
clause in the Anti-Terrorism
Law that forbids contacts
with the PLO. Labor
Knesset member Avraham
Burg got his wrist slapped

for tabling draft laws meant
to reform the relationship
between religion and poli-
tics. And last week, the
prime minister described
himself as a "fireman" who
had to address statements by
Education Minister
Shulamit Aloni that so
angered the Orthodox Shas
Party that they threatened
the integrity of the govern-
ment's coalition.
Still, less attention is be-
ing paid to Mr. Rabin's
efforts to keep the instincts
of his dovish cabinet in
check than to the movement
he has inspired or permitted
to take place. First and
foremost is the change in the
ground rules for the negotia-
tions with Syria. How much
progress has actually been
made in these talks is
debatable, yet it was the
breaking of the deadlock and
a sense of "getting
somewhere" that strongly
impressed Israel. Even For-
eign Minister Farouk a-
Shara's statement that
Syria would be prepared for
a total peace in return for a
total Israeli withdrawal
from occupied Arab land —
which could be interpreted
as meaning a full
withdrawal not only from
the Golan Heights, but also
from the West Bank and
Gaza Strip as well — was
read in a positive light, with
the emphasis placed on the
peace rather than the price
being asked for it.
By the same token, lack of
progress in the Israeli-
Palestinian talks has been

the chief disappointment
with the Rabin government.
The press has said that Mr.
Rabin has offered Palestin-
ians no more than did his
predecessor. And, as might
be expected, it is the Pales-
tinians who have been send-
ing out the strongest signals
of impatience. The week
before Rosh Hashanah was
marked by a sharp upsurge
in attacks by armed Palesti-
nians. Even more telling
than the renewal of in-
dividual violence was the
overwhelming response to a
strike called by the Palestin-
ian opposition to protest the
continuation of the
autonomy talks. Yassir
Arafat's Fatah faction
opposed the action and
defended the efforts of the
negotiators in Washington.
But whether out of convic-
tion or fear, the people in the
West Bank and Gaza
honored the strike, which is
as good a barometer of their
mood as any.
The new year of 5753
thus began on something of
an ambiguous note. The
markets were jammed with
shoppers, the roads with
vacationers, and except for
the unpleasant job of having
to reign in Mrs. Aloni, all
would seem pretty right
with Mr. Rabin's new
government — if not for the
menacing signs coming out
of the territories. What 5753
holds we do not know, except
to say that expectations are
high for the coming year,
and that it's got a tough act
to follow. ❑

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