Here’s a dramatic contrast for you: the real news about Israel is almost completely upbeat. Yet the subjective image of the situation, at least outside Israel, is rather gloomy. Let’s take a quick tour of the facts.
True, Israelis are known for being gloomy about the political situation. In fact, they generally enjoy criticizing things (themselves above all). As a result, Israel’s enemies often make the mistake of underestimating the country’s ability to endure, struggle, and prevail. Moreover, foreign media coverage of Israel, including especially its politics and security situation, is often ludicrous.
Start with economics. The numbers are really impressive: Israel’s economy did better than predicted in 2010 by a wide margin, growing by about 4.5 percent compared to only 2.7 percent for all of the other OECD (developed) nations. While living standards went down in most of the West, in Israel they rose by 2.7 percent. And let’s not forget Israel’s admission to the OECD, itself a monumental accomplishment.
Now let’s look at the strategic situation. According to the Israel Security Agency’s report for 2010:
- The number of rocket attacks on Israel from the Gaza Strip declined from 2,048 in 2008 to 569 in 2009, and to “only” 150 — about one every other day — in 2010. (This reflects a tactical shift from Hamas, reversible at any time.)
- The total of attacks on Israel — including rockets and mortars from Gaza — declined from 1,354 in 2009 to 798 in 2010.
Obviously, it would be better if these numbers were at zero, but the security situation is quite sustainable. True, Hamas is smuggling mortar shells, rockets, and anti-tank rockets into Gaza, but Israeli forces will handle this threat as necessary.
Equally, let’s keep in mind that for the first time in Israeli history the country does not face a potential attack on all of its borders by Arab armies. In fact, there is not a single credible threat of an Arab or neighboring state going to war with Israel.
Yes, there’s Hamas, Hezbollah, and, possibly, a nuclear Iran to come. Yet compare that to Israel’s strategic situation in 1950, 1960, 1970, 1980, 1990, or 2000. I bet you’d take 2011 over any of them, too.
To listen to the foreign media coverage and academic work — if piled up, they would challenge the Andes, Himalayas, and Alps in size — Israel faces catastrophe without a comprehensive Palestinian peace in a year or so. These analyses, however, never take into account two simple facts: the Palestinian Authority neither wants nor is capable of negotiating peace; and the most likely “peace” arrangements, given the Palestinian positions, would be more dangerous for Israel than the status quo.
For better or worse, there will be no breakthrough, no effective Palestinian unilateral declaration of independence, and no imposed solution. Israel is quite capable of coordinating a lot of things with the Palestinian Authority to maintain quiet and ensure that West Bank living standards rise.
No, this won’t last forever. But it isn’t going to fall apart that soon either.