In the Jewish life cycle, the end of 2012 coincides this year with the conclusion of the weekly public readings in the book of Genesis. According to rabbinic tradition, the patriarch Jacob, when blessing his sons – and two of his grandsons – attempts to reveal prophetic visions of the future, but is prevented from doing so by God.

Predictions are, indeed, a complicated, unreliable business.

Nevertheless, looking back at 2012 with an eye toward the future, it is safe to assume that many of the challenges Israel faced in 2012 will figure prominently in 2013.

• The Iranian threat – Though consistently rejecting calls this year by Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu to set down a “red line,” US President Barack Obama has made it clear going into 2013 that the US and Israel share the common goal of preventing the Islamic Republic from obtaining nuclear weapons.

Still, in October the Obama administration and the Iranian regime reportedly agreed in principle to hold one-on-one talks. After elections, the White House has launched a new push for negotiations together with other major powers. The US and its partners – Russia, Britain, China, France and Germany – should be wary.

Iran might very well have no intention of halting its enrichment of uranium. Negotiations could be a ploy to buy time and to weaken the impact of sanctions.

Meanwhile, from an Israeli perspective, time is running out. Netanyahu said in his September 27 speech at the UN that the critical moment for preventing Iran from developing a weapon would most likely come this spring.

• Peace talks – Six years of security cooperation between Israel and the Palestinian Authority have resulted in an improved economic climate on the West Bank and low levels of terrorism. But the split Palestinian leadership and Hamas’s increasing popularity have made the prospects of a negotiated peace even more unlikely.

Not helping matters any was PA President Mahmoud Abbas’s stubborn insistence on pushing ahead with the unilateral move of winning sweeping UN recognition for “Palestine” as a non-member state along the 1949 Armistice Lines.

Judging from international condemnation of building in what most Israelis view as consensus locations such as east Jerusalem and in settlement blocs such as Ariel, Ma’aleh Adumim and Gush Etzion, diplomatic pressure on Israel to compromise will grow, while next to no mention will be made of Palestinian incitement against Israel, human rights abuses perpetrated by the PA against its own people and intransigence on issues such as the “right of return” for Palestinian “refugees.”

• Migrants and infiltrators – The brutal raping of a 83- year-old woman by a young Eritrean immigrant in south Tel Aviv has reignited debate over what to do with some 60,000 migrants – most of whom are from Eritrea (35,000) and Sudan (15,000). Though the security barrier erected along the southern border has nearly halted the flow of new migrants, steps need to be taken to integrate as best as possible those already here. The vast majority cannot be deported because Israel has no diplomatic ties with Khartoum’s autocratic regime and returning migrants to Eritrea would, according to humanitarian groups, put their lives in jeopardy.

• Gaps between rich and poor – Along with Mexico, Turkey, Portugal and the US, Israel is ranked among OECD countries with the highest income inequality.

Steps need to be made to ensure that our education system better prepares our children for an increasingly competitive, knowledge-based employment environment.

Finding a reasonable solution to drafting haredim into national service would go a long way toward reaching the goal of integrating these potentially productive young men into the labor market.

These are just a few of the most pressing problems facing Israel in the year 2013. Still, while the future is not rosy and the challenges are daunting, Israel has been blessed with a particularly talented and dedicated population that has confronted and overcome seemingly insurmountable obstacles in the past.

The story of Jacob’s foiled attempt to reveal the future can be seen as the rabbi’s lesson in the inadvisability of such an endeavor. Nevertheless, we Israelis should have faith in our ability to meet future challenges skillfully courageously and, ultimately, with success.

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