Fasten Your Seatbelt
The landscape was dominated by sand,
debris, barefoot children and defeated
adults. And this was the "capital" of the
Gaza Strip. We didn't even go into the
In Jericho, a couple of months after
the Oslo Accord was signed, I went into
the Akbat Jaber refugee camp. With its
medieval-looking hovels, Akbat Jaber
makes Gaza City look like a model of ur-
ban renewal. After hearing from one and
all that "peace" had failed to change their
lives one whit, I asked the opinion of a
bearded man in a white robe. A Hamas
supporter, he spoke good Hebrew, and
his response soon turned into a ha-
rangue. By the time he was miming how
he planned to slice open my belly, say-
ing, "I won't cut in small slices like Arafat
or Sadat, I'll cut in big slices," a lively
crowd had gathered. A young man on a
nearby rooftop was inspired to throw a
rock at my car, and my PLO escorts and
I knew it was time to get out of there.
Have things improved? Not at all.
Since the peace accord was signed, the
income of Gazans has gone down at least
25 percent, mainly because most of those
who used to work in Israel are now
barred from crossing the Green Line, due
to the frequent terrorist attacks. But
even if computers ever replace sub-
machine guns in the territories, even if
the Palestinians ever settle down and
get their economy on track, it will always
be dwarfed by Israel's. Living next to the
prosperous Jews, the Palestinians' re-
sentment will only become sharper.
The growing appeal of Islamic fun-
damentalism, the insolubility of the
Jerusalem issue, the unlikelihood of up-
rooting tens of thousands of Jewish set-
tlers, and the impossibility of safely
"separating" from the Palestinians or sup-
pressing them by force — all these are
obstacles to peace. Real bad ones. They
don't point to a continuation of the sta-
tus quo but to its further deterioration.
The Palestinian Authority's Bureau
of Statistics places the current Arab pop-
ulation in the West Bank and Gaza at
roughly 2.5 million, slightly higher than
most Israeli estimates. The bureau's
"low" projection for the year 2012 —
figuring on zero immigration from the
Palestinian Diaspora — is 4.3 million.
How we're going to deal with that is any-
body's guess, but it looks like we'll be
tangling with a hostile people, and con-
tending with terror, for a good long while.
Some might call all these predictions
a nightmare scenario. Personally, I don't
think they're particularly original. All
these observations — that the country
is growing frighteningly overcrowded
and that Israelis don't know how to cope
with it, that the individual's connection
to the land and people is dissipating, that
a lot of Israelis are getting further ahead
and a lot of others are falling further
behind, that peace is unlikely in our time
— these are not uncommon notions here
And I want to stress that economic
growth has brought all sorts of im-
provements to the society, and there will
be more. In some ways, Israel will be a
better country. An advancing economy
will make for better educated individuals
with greater scope, more worldly and
industrious, more varied, curious and
There may be wars ahead, but I don't
think there will be catastrophic wars,
because our weaponry is much more
catastrophic than our enemies', and the
military establishment, along with gov-
ernments of both right and left, are de-
termined to keep it that way. The chief
menace will be terror. But terror or no
terror, the Israeli people will still be
around. It won't be Zionist fervor that
keeps them here, but the same thing
that keeps Canadians in Canada and
Belgians in Belgium — it's home. In
sum, we'll be more and more "normal"
— self-absorbed, bourgeois, sophisti-
cated, harried — almost identical to
people in the West. Only we'll still be
in the Middle East. ❑
Predictions From Four Experts
A few years into the next millenium, Iran may have the
nuclear bomb. Iraq, under Saddam Hussein or an eq 211y
ambitious successor, will likely be free of international
sanctions and will have begun rebuilding its forces. Syria
will have upgraded its chemical weapons and advanced
toward nuclear capability, beyond its current basic
Even if there is peace with Syria, the Middle East will
not be an appreciably safer place for Israel, predicted
Ze'ev Eytan, an expert on regional military affairs at
Tel Aviv University's Jaffee Center for Middle Eastern
Israel, however, will still be stronger than all Arab
states combined, Mr. Eytan said. It is focusing now on
building up its intelligence — developing satellites and
warning systems to detect enemy movements. In
weaponry, the prime current project is the Arrow anti-
missile missile, a joint U.S.-Israeli development.
Any peace will be fragile, so Israel still will have to con-
tend with the possibility of a multinational, armed coali-
tion rising up against it, possibly under Syria's leadership,
possibly under Iran's.
"It's not enough to be able to look at the figures on paper
and say 'Israel is stronger, therefore nobody will attack
her,' " Mr. Eytan said. "Israel was stronger than all her
enemies in 1967, but we still had the Six-Day War. It was
the same in 1973, and we got the Yom Kippur War. Israel
didn't do anything to Iraq in 1991 and was much the
stronger, but still Saddam Hussein fired his missiles at
Tel Aviv." So pass the ammunition and hope for the best.
In another generation, the ultra-Orthodox, because of
their high birthrate, will constitute half the population
of Jerusalem. Israel's capital will be under their near-ab-
solute political control.
In national life, however, the Orthodox monopoly on
civil religion — marriage, divorce, burial and determin-
ing "Who Is A Jew" — will be broken. The Supreme Court,
not the Knesset, is already seeing to that, said Daniel
Tropper, director of Gesher (Bridge), an organization
that promotes religious-secular understanding.
But hold your applause. "Except for a few individual
rabbis in the Conservative and Reform movements, I
don't think these communities will have the spiritual
force to provide the religious alternative that Israel so
desperately needs," Mr. Tropper noted.
In the short run, the Israeli secular and religious com-
munities will grow even farther apart and more set in
their ways. But at some later point, he predicted, both
communities are going to start questioning their own
"We may begin seeing serious cracks in the haredi com-
munity, which now seems so solitary and impervious. In
order to protect themselves, they've become very extreme
and narrow, and some of their youth are finding that
hard to accept," said Mr. Tropper.
"The secular community, for its part, has a spiritual
void that it has not yet discovered. When they do, they
will become more and more open to some sort of spiritual
answer. This is a worldwide phenomenon that hasn't yet
hit Israel, but it will," he continued.
When these opposing camps find themselves in crisis,
brought on by extremes of piety and impiety, they may
begin to approach each other. "All religious, Zionist and
traditional communities should realize that their real
enemy is not one another," Mr. Tropper said, "but the
lowest common denominator brand of Western secu-
larism that, with its domination of the media, threatens
all of Israeli society."
Israel's first desalination plant was scheduled to go into
operation in 2010. Because of the rapid growth in pop-
ulation exhausting water resources, the plant is now slat-
ed for opening in 2005, probably in the port city of Ashdod.
"There's no other answer for Israel except desalina-
tion of Mediterranean Sea water. We're fast using up our
fresh-water supplies, and recycling can only do so much,"
said Arnon Sofer, Haifa University geography profes-
sor and one of Israel's premier water experts.
Water plays a tremendous role in Middle East politics.
Much of Israel's water comes from the Golan Heights
and the West Bank. Giving up these territories, and rights
to their water, would mean hastening Israel's need for
mass-scale desalination, said Mr. Sofer.
But as grievous as Israel's water shortage is, the neigh-
boring Arab countries' is far, far worse. Their economies
are undeveloped, so the extravagantly expensive desali-
nation option is unfeasible for them.
This is the case with the Palestinians, and with Syria,
but much more so for Egypt. "Egypt is a lost cause. It has
about 60 million people, and it just doesn't have the water
to provide for them. If America doesn't give Egypt water,
possibly in exchange for wheat or something else, then
there's going to be another Khomeini there," Mr. Sofer
Asked if he thought the competition for scarce water
would bring about a Middle East war in the next genera-
tion, he replied, "Water is never a reason for war, but it's
always a good excuse for one."
Israel's 900,000 Arab citizens are caught in a wedge. They
are not accepted as equals in Israeli society nor as
nationalistic Arabs by the Palestinians and Arab states.
Since the intifada began in 1987, they've become much
more politicized, strongly supporting the Palestinians'
drive for a state, and stepping up their own battle for
civic equality in Israel.
Believing that they cannot and should not try to inte-
grate fully into the Jewish state, some aspire to "cul-
tural autonomy," including Arab control of Arab-sector
Israeli schools, radio and television.
Azmi Bishara, a leading Israeli Arab intellectual and
professor of philosophy at Bir Zeit University in the West
Bank, is a chief proponent of cultural autonomy. He be-
lieves that the coming decades will see greater economic
and civic advancement for Israel's Arabs, but not full ac-
ceptance, because this is a Jewish state and they are not
"A Palestinian state will not necessarily make things
better for Israeli Arabs. It might be counterproductive,"
Mr. Bishara added. "Many Israeli Arabs might [envy] a
Palestinian state as a place where national aspirations
are expressed, while here in Israel they have nothing
to look for."
He believes the Islamic movement has a limited politi-
cal future here. "The movement does not have the illu-
sion that it can attain power in the Jewish state, so it is
more modest and pragmatic than Islamic movements in
Also, the process of modernization that Arabs are
undergoing in Israel should steer them away from poli-
tical Islam. "This is not an indigenous modernization,
but a forced, 'deformed' modernization, brought about by
Israel's expropriation of the local Arabs' farmland, which
turned them from farmers into workers," Mr. Bishara
said. "With modernization comes the Israelization' of
many Arabs, which is perverted as well, because they
are losing their Arab identity without truly gaining a