‘There is a need to look the public in the eyes and tell the truth,” Kadima MK
Shaul Mofaz, the head of the Knesset’s Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee,
said on Israel Radio Tuesday morning. “There is a danger that September will
turn violent and painful, and the results are not clear. Now everything is
quiet, but it is a deceptive calm.”
The events surrounding the
Palestinians’ apparent intention to seek statehood recognition at the UN, warned
Mofaz, a former chief of General Staff, could even require the mobilization of
reserve units: “The IDF is preparing for a wide range of scenarios, including
preparing itself for a reality that will necessitate the support of reserve
What Mofaz has done is paint the following picture: Come
September, and the possibility of violence resulting from the Palestinian push
for statehood recognition, those same protesters sleeping in tents on Rothschild
Boulevard or demonstrating in the streets of Haifa, Afula, Jerusalem and
Beersheba will be asked to trade in their T-shirts and shorts for uniforms,
guitars for guns, and civilian sleeping bags for IDF-issued ones.
Mofaz didn’t say, but what is clear, is that the reservists – as they always do
in times of crisis – will show up.
Indeed, one of the slogans of the
three weeks of protests is that the demonstrators represent the silent majority
of the population that carries the country on its back – that works, does army
and reserve duty, and pays taxes. You can’t mouth the slogans, but not walk the
walk – at least not without sacrificing integrity. And no self-respecting
protest movement wants its integrity sacrificed.
Yet when September turns
into October, November and December, and when the reservists – if they are
indeed called – are released, it is also likely they will trade back in their
uniforms and return to the tents, or at least to the streets, for an occasional
Saturday night protest. Because the demonstrations of the last few weeks have
revealed issues on the nation’s agenda that are felt by all and are not going to
The cost of living here is extremely high. Period.
is not a statement from the Left or from the Right, from the religious or the
secular, from immigrants or native-born Israelis. It’s just a
Renting a two-bedroom, 70-square-meter apartment in Jerusalem’s
Kiryat Shmuel neighborhood should not cost NIS 4,000 a month ($1,156); a 2-
liter container of chocolate milk at the neighborhood grocer should not cost NIS
19.93 ($5.76); a liter of gas should not cost NIS 7.22 ($7.88 per US gallon);
and taking a family of four out for an average-sized burger at McDonalds should
not cost NIS 160 ($46.24).
Those prices will not be washed away by a
security or diplomatic crisis that may or may not push the protest movement off
the headlines for a few weeks. Protests are not new to the country’s landscape –
especially in the summer, when a lot of people (mostly students) have a lot of
time on their hands. Just think back a year, when thousands marched from Mitzpe
Hila in the Galilee to Jerusalem for kidnapped IDF soldier Gilad
But what makes this protest different – even from the Wadi Salib
riots in Haifa in 1959, or the Black Panthers in the early 1970s – is that it is
much broader in scope and contains a wider cross-section of the population:
doctors, teachers and students; Ashkenazi and Mizrahi; secular and,
As Ra’anan Gissin, former spokesman for Ariel
Sharon, quipped this week, it’s like a Roman slave ship. There are two levels on
the ship, the bottom deck and the upper deck. On the bottom deck are those
people chained to the oars, doing the hard work – toiling, sweating, crying,
propelling the ship forward. And on the upper deck are those eating grapes and
enjoying the fruits of the labors of those below. Now the rowers want to move up
The protesters/reservists – if they are called up in September –
will return home afterward with the same sense of wanting to move up a deck,
only this time buttressed by a heightened sense of righteousness: “See, we
showed up for duty when called, we did our part, we now want our share of the
No, the genuine grievances fueling this summer of protest will not
go away with a security crisis.
But the possibility of the protesters
laying down their signs to take up arms is not the only place the street
demonstrations and the country’s diplomatic and security challenges
There are cynics among us who say that for Prime Minister
Binyamin Netanyahu, September and all the dangers it contains is nothing less
than a blessing, as it will divert the nation’s attention from the domestic
Those voices even made it to the op-ed pages of
The New York Times
this week, in the form of a guest piece by Dimi Reider and
Aziz Abu Sarah, Israeli and Palestinian bloggers respectively, claiming that
Netanyahu held “two possible trump cards” in dealing with the protests: “a
sudden breakthrough in the negotiations to free the Israeli soldier Gilad
Schalit, held captive in Gaza, or a sudden escalation of armed
Some trump cards.
Indeed, that claim attributes a
remarkably high degree of malevolence to Netanyahu, as if he were not concerned
about Schalit until now, and would only bend to Hamas’s demands and free
hundreds of terrorists to save his political hide; or that he is willing to
spill blood – Palestinian and Israeli – merely to detract attention from protest
leader Daphne Leef.
There is, of course, another option, one that Reider
and Abu Sarah didn’t seem to consider: that he could come up with an
earthshattering, hurdle-breaking peace initiative, the type of initiative that
also would divert attention from Leef – the same type of initiative, for
instance, that Sharon carried out six years ago this month with the withdrawal
Then, too, there were cynics among us (though their words
appeared less often in the op-ed pages of elite US newspapers) who claimed
Sharon’s motive was a desire to deflect attention from his mounting legal
problems, and to keep his son Omri out of jail.
Those claims, too,
attributed a high degree of malice to an Israeli leader, insinuating – no,
actually coming out and saying – that he was willing to destroy living
communities, forever disrupt lives and place neighboring towns and cities in
constant rocket range, just to keep his son out of prison (something that didn’t
work in any event).
But so goes the discourse in, and about, this
country. Everyone is too smart by a half. Sharon can’t leave Gaza because he
believes it is the right thing to do, and Netanyahu can’t face down the
protesters without bringing about a regional war. There must be some other
wicked motivation involved.
Indeed, when two Palestinians were killed
during an IDF arrest operation in Kalandiya this week, and when there was a
firefight in the North between the IDF and the Lebanese army, there were those
who immediately saw Netanyahu orchestrating a crisis (never mind that the
Lebanese fired first).
Interestingly the prime minister’s comments the
same day that he would accept a return to negotiations with the Palestinians
based on the 1967 lines, with mutually agreed swaps, if the Palestinians agreed
to recognize Israel as a Jewish state – a sign of movement in his position – was
interpreted by absolutely no one as an effort to push the diplomatic process
forward to take the focus off the streets.
It’s August, the cucumber
season, but much is still percolating here.
Cost-of-living protests now,
security and diplomatic crisis lurking around the corner with the Palestinian
bid for statehood in September.
One is not dependent on the other, and
one won’t resolve the other.
Get the protests off the street, and you
don’t fix the Palestinian issue. Resolve the Palestinian issue (if you can; it’s
not only dependent on us), and you don’t narrow the largest economic gaps in the
developed world, despite wishful thinkers who blame all the country’s woes on
the settlement enterprise.
Both problems will be here well beyond
September. And Netanyahu, like the country, is on the cusp of a complicated
period during which he – and we – will artfully have to juggle more than one
ball at a time.