Israel has learned from more than 60 years in a difficult neighborhood not to solve problems.
In case you are wondering, that is a compliment. It is a sign of political maturity.
The most important lesson came in the Lebanon war that begin in 1982 and lasted until the troop removal in 2000. The final days were not as embarrassing as the American flight from Vietnam, but neither were they the parades of victory.
We''re hoping that big brother across the sea is learning the same lesson. Vietnam, Iraq, and Afghanistan have provided good opportunities to mature.
At times it may be necessary to be vicious with neighbors who didn''t learn the lesson last time. A spate of great destruction that does not entail occupation may be a sufficient deterrent that works, at least for a while. Nothing is likely to deal finally with intensive enemies driven by religion or ideology.
Managing is better than solving for the problems not likely to go away. The theme song is Coping. I''m still looking for appropriate words and music, but that will be the title.
Israel does it with its domestic problems as well as what threatens from over the borders. And if you haven''t noticed, the lack of clarity attached to some of the those borders is part of the demonstration.
It is clear to us, and should be getting clear to others that it will take a Messiah to solve the problem of Israel and the Palestinians.
That doesn''t look promising insofar as Jews have shown time and again that the idea is great but the reality is elusive. Almost all of the Palestinians are stuck with a Prophet from 1300 years ago who has been nothing but trouble. There remain a few who have not been chased out who adhere to that Jew from long ago, but he hasn''t brought the paradise his followers are still expecting.
Here and there are signs that an optimist can read as showing that even Americans can learn. Obama''s withdrawal from unsolved Iraq and his commitment to the same from Afghanistan are better than the youthful bombast of his Cairo speech, or the foolishness of telling Israelis that not building in a large part of Jerusalem will bring forth accommodations from Palestinians.
Israel''s government also copes with Jewish extremists. There is no solving our co-existence with the ultra-Orthodox. The most we can hope for is that economic incentives will penetrate the ghettos where they aspire to isolate themselves from everything beyond the Middle Ages. It doesn''t pay to be too aggressive against ultra-nationalists who claim land rights from the Almighty while Palestinians are at least as crazy.
No one has yet written the book that describes precise rules for coping.
Among the problems is knowing when to cope, as opposed to a stubborn insistence trying to solve a problem. Some problems only look insoluble, and might respond to an as yet unconceived solution. Some are so serious as to warrant efforts that will be costly, and might not work as hoped, but where concerted efforts may be better than ignoring what seems likely to become a catastrophe.
For Israel, one problem that may be too threatening for coping is the prospect of Iran having nuclear weapons. Along with repeated statements of ranking officials that Israel must be destroyed, a nuclear capacity in Iranian hands is unacceptable. (Unless the Iranian is a potential Prime Minister or Defense Minister by the name of Shaul Mofaz.)
For American and European governments, the Iranian problem is farther away geographically, and Iranians have not been explicit about destroying them.
We''ll be watching closely how Israel and other governments deal with the initial problem of deciding if Iran''s nuclear ambitions will allow coping, and the follow-up problems of how to cope, or alternately how they may increase sanctions to draconian levels, or go about destroying Iranian facilities and their willingness to rebuild them.
The other problem waiting treatment in a comprehensive text is how to cope.
Flexibility, and wisdom in handling nuances appear to be key features of the skills needed. Neither or those traits lend themselves to crisp prescription, as to what should be done under which conditions.
Coping involves learning to live with a problem that one does not know how to solve, or whose solution may be worse than continued uncertainty and manageable discomfort. Minimizing the extent of the problem, or inducing those creating the problem to modify their behavior are goals that may be achieved--at least in part--by trial and error. Getting ultra-Orthodox out of the academies and into jobs is one prominent aspiration on Israel''s agenda.
Coping may be no more than another way of describing political wisdom. When? and How? are the questions that should bother us as long as we have the capacity to ask.
And for those who may have noticed, it is appropriate to wish a Happy Holiday (שבועות).