Israel's goals have become clearer over the past decade, and our leaders more united around them. But that does not make their attainment more straightforward.
In the pages of The Jerusalem Post 10 years ago, as we began the new millennium, hopes were high.
Tony Blair, then the British prime minister, penned a special new millennium editorial which, he recorded, he sent simultaneously to the Post, the Palestinian newspaper Al-Quds and an unnamed Syrian daily. Headlined "Look on the bright side," it asserted that "thanks to the courage of Prime Minister Ehud Barak, Chairman Yasser Arafat and President Hafez Assad, a comprehensive and lasting peace is a real prospect."
Blair also promised British, European and international support for Middle East peace. In an accompanying news article, his ambassador to Israel, Francis Cornish, noted how much Blair admired Barak's "determination to grasp the opportunity."
Determined indeed. On the second day of the new millennium, Barak flew off to Shepherdstown, West Virginia, for tantalizing talks with Assad's foreign minister Farouk Shara. The Post's January 3 splash headline promised "Clinton to play active role in negotiations" and quoted the president's secretary of state Madeleine Albright vowing to "roll up my sleeves" in the cause of a deal. "More importantly," Albright exalted, the two sides themselves "are prepared to roll up their sleeves."
Oh, well. A decade on, those globe-striding titans of 2000 have been cut down to size... or cut down altogether.
Blair was ousted by his own governing Labor party for a variety of sins, real and perceived, but in large part for the crime, in a willfully blind Britain, of having internalized the danger to the West posed by Islamic fundamentalism and having sought to counter that danger. Unloved, even reviled by many back home, and recently spurned as EU president, he has worked indefatigably as the Quartet's peace envoy, seeking to construct a state from the bottom up for a Palestinian public that, when given the opportunity to vote for a state-building leadership, opted instead for a group that holds to vicious religious "values" guaranteed to perpetuate their suffering.
Bill Clinton, too, is gone from high power and, though still peerlessly articulate and charismatic, deeply circumscribed. Until last year, he was at least able to quip that there was an advantage and a disadvantage to being the former president: on the plus side, he could say whatever he wanted; on the minus side, nobody much cared. Nowadays, he's even lost the advantage: he can't say whatever he wants, because his wife, Madame Secretary, would have to deal with the fallout.
Barak is still around, of course, though no longer prime minister. Respected as minister of defense but unloved as Labor's leader, he has precious little chance of returning to the top job - even in an Israel that, as Binyamin Netanyahu can testify, is uniquely forgiving of unsuccessful first-term premiers.
Arafat is entirely gone, to the relief of, well, just about everyone. And Assad, too, is now doubtless lecturing his maker about Syria's proud history at inordinate length in some hellish presidential palace.
Meanwhile, the prospect of real peace looks more distant than ever, and few world leaders would be so naÃ¯ve as to urge any of us to "look on the bright side."
WHAT HAS changed for the better, however, is that the inescapable contours of our long-sought Middle East normalcy have become clearer to most Israelis.
We may still have more political parties than universities, hospitals or decent sports stadia, but an awful lot of them essentially advocate for much the same Israel. So much so that our would-be center party, Kadima, is currently being ripped apart from within by critics who chorus that it has lost its direction but who can't actually agree on what that direction is or should have been.
Kadima has become the party of the discredited Left, lament those MKs, concerned for good reason that they may not be reelected, who now seek to join the Likud.
Kadima has become no different from the obdurate Likud, lament those others, fewer in number, who, however improbably, now seek a safer haven in Labor.
Kadima is just plain bad and its leader is bad and I was supposed to be No. 6 on its Knesset list and then they put me at No. 14 and that's not fair, and I'm not going to say that this is a case of ethnic discrimination but this is a case of ethnic discrimination, laments the risible Eli Aflalo, whose ascent to relative national political prominence constitutes reason alone to remake the entire pitiful Israeli electoral system.
But I digress.
The fact is that, broadly speaking, some two-thirds of our parliament, presumably representing some two-thirds of our public, wants to realize that vain hope Blair expressed a decade ago. Israel wants an accord with Syria and the rest of the Arab world if, but only if, that means lasting peace and does not expose Israel to heightened security risk. We want the regime in Iran that relentlessly seeks Israel's destruction to be prevented from achieving a nuclear weapons capability and, preferably, to be removed from power altogether by its oppressed and betrayed populace. Internally, we want to maintain the near-miraculous status quo which somehow reconciles the modern State of Israel with the religious code that has sustained our people's very existence through the generations.
And with far more clarity than a decade ago, we recognize that we want to be a Jewish, democratic state, which necessitates a separation from the Palestinians. We don't want to be forced back to the pre-1967 lines - from where we were attacked relentlessly in the preceding 19 years and which rendered us untenably vulnerable. But we also know, most of us, that we cannot expand Jewish sovereign rule deep into Judea and Samaria, however legitimate our historical claim.
OUR GOAL has become clearer, and our leadership more united around it. But that does not make its attainment more straightforward.
Arafat's departure did not pave the way for dramatic progress. Neither did Assad's replacement by his unexpectedly tenacious son. And Iran has spent the past decade radicalizing the entire region and beyond.
Protecting the relative security we enjoy today, furthermore, has become ever more complicated, as our enemies impose confrontations in civilian theaters of conflict where the nature of the consequent battle challenges our morality. And even as we strive to disarm our attackers in wars that quite plainly erupt because of their aggression, we are misrepresented and unfairly judged - with that promised international support slipping ever further away.
Yet while the delegitimization of Israel intensifies, the rapacious, bloodthirsty ambition of the Islamists calls into ever more unavoidable question the spurious assertion that Israel lies at the root of Middle East friction and Islamic grievance.
In 2001, America saw 9/11 for the fundamentalist declaration of war and challenge to Western freedoms that it so clearly was. By contrast, Britain, in 2005, refused to believe that the July 7 bombings of the London public transport system represented the smaller scale equivalent. And many nations around the world are still similarly intent on ignoring their Islamist threats within, ducking the obvious, seeking to place blame elsewhere, anywhere, including on Israel.
But sooner or later, even the likes of Britain - many of whose academics and union activists and clergymen and politicians and teachers and reporters apparently consider Islamic extremism an understandable response to the very fact of Israel's existence - will no longer be able to maintain the myopia. They will no longer be able to talk away the obvious fact that murderous young zealots such as Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab, former president of the Islamic Society at University College London, did not become the would-be Christmas Day bomber of Northwest Airlines Flight 523 from Amsterdam to Detroit because the Middle East peace process stands unfinished.
SOONER OR later? It had better be sooner.
"Some things in life are bad. They can really make you mad," a certain Eric Idle once observed, cheerfully if none-too profoundly, in a song that repeatedly urged us, a la Blair, to "always look on the bright side of life."
This is a fine and jaunty sentiment, indeed, when coming to terms with the fact of imminent, unavoidable death, and thus perfect for the pre-crucifixion finale of what is almost certainly the finest satirical movie ever made about the life of Jesus. But, as Eric himself would doubtless agree, "face the curtain with a bow... it's your last chance anyhow" is not much of a philosophy for those who want to go on living.
Merely looking on the bright side just isn't going to do it. What we need to do, all of us who recognize the true nature of the challenges facing Israel and the free world in the coming years, is strive to advance genuine efforts at reconciliation. And we had better, in our respective fields, also work, hard, to expose the threat posed by those for whom reconciliation is a dirty word, to ensure that they not prevail.
That means concerted, unified action - in the legal and economic spheres, in conventional and public diplomacy, in the areas of defense and security - without the debilitating luxury of petty bickerings and rivalries. There's no more vital imperative in this fresh, critical decade.