The future is not clear. Yet it is common to frighten or encourage with predictions that appear to be certain. Those who know that things will get worse have no more claim on our time than those who are certain that everything will work out fine.
Bibi''s rejection of Obama''s latest proposal, or the Saudi peace initiative first heard in 2002, is widely viewed to be disastrous.
But take your pick. The refusal of Mahmoud Abbas to recognize Israel as a Jewish state will doom Palestinians to statelessness. Or assure that there will be a "one state solution," sooner or later taken over by an Arab majority.
President Shimon Peres is front and center on page one of Ha''aretz’s Friday edition (usually the most widely read of the week). "We are rushing at full speed to a condition where we will lose the existence of Israel as a Jewish and democratic state." (June 17)
One can argue that Peres went beyond the bounds of his largely ceremonial office, and provided post-hoc justification of those Knesset members who chose Moshe Katzav over him in the presidential election of 2000. The slogan at the time: "Anybody but Peres."
More important for this note is the folly of a blatant and certain projection (whether it be dismal or optimistic), especially at a time when there appears to be a multiplication of the variables that may affect the future of Israel and other countries in the region.
The same is true of those who insist that if Israel does not act against Iran''s nuclear program there is certain to be a catastrophe equivalent to the Holocaust. Or if Israel does not wipe out the nest of Hamas in Gaza, or the leadership of Hizbollah in Lebanon, Iranians and others will continue on a course that will be the end of Israel.
My collection of future-oriented e-mail is impressive.
Several of my correspondents are certain that God will determine (or has determined) our future. However, they differ in their reading of the Almighty''s intentions.
I''ve stopped trying to figure out if more of it comes from the left or the right, and have given up trying to persuade the sources that their verbal blast is nothing more than hot air.
I doubt that I will be any more successful with those reading this, but here is one more effort.
Think of everything that can influence the nearest future. If we are talking about Israel, those include Israelis close enough to the various arms of government to influence their actions. Notice the plural. "Government" in this country and elsewhere is a flowing together of numerous institutions, which may be summarized by the terms "separation of powers" or "checks and balances." The condition exists in all democracies, although in different formats. Separation and checks differ from one country to the next, but they are meant to complicate anyone''s effort to exercise control.
Remember that the language of politics is ambiguity. An official concerned about continuing influence in a setting that is always fluid is more likely to speak in shades of gray, rather than clear threats or commitments.
Political competition adds to the plurality of government. Parties simplify politics, and lessen the likelihood of chaos. However, intra-party competition complicates any projection of who will be on top next week, or the lines followed by any branch of government influenced by elected officials.
Then there are other countries. There are 192 members of the United Nations, but only a dozen or so are likely to have a significant impact on Israel. My list begins with the United States, along with Britain, France, and Germany in Europe, Egypt, Jordan, Syria, Saudi Arabia, and Iran. And maybe the United Nations itself. As an independent actor, however, the United Nations is not much without taking account of what the United States and the major European countries do in it.
Also important are various non-state movements, such as Fatah, Hamas, and Hizbollah. A problem with these non-state movements is that they lack institutional ways to resolve internal conflicts. One can reach a deal with one faction, and see another faction act against it.
One might also add Russia and China. They impact Israel via what they sell to other countries. China and Japan influence us all by their weight in the world economy.
Syria and Egypt are unsettled at present, to say the least. Their capacity to affect Israel depends on who currently has the upper hand in their inner circles, and if they have the capacity to do anything significant toward Israel while they are heavily engaged in keeping their heads above the domestic waters. Governments of just about every other Muslim country are worried about the spread of Arab Spring, or the Middle East Flu. Reports are that Saudi Arabia is spending $ 300 billion on increased salaries and social services to ward off protests. Turkey has backed off from its leadership of the next flotilla toward Gaza, and seems less worried about Palestinians than the actions of its friend Bashar al-Assad, the refugees crossing its border with Syria, and the prospect that Syrian fighters will attack those refugees on Turkish soil.
So far I have drawn a still picture. The problem with projections into the future is that the present moves. Everything mentioned to this point responds to a large number of influences upon it, which continue to alter what each is likely to do with respect to any particular irritant on its horizon. Among the changes affecting any one of us are the political relations between countries, and the economics that affects international and domestic politics.
None of this should dissuade people from thinking about trends, planning, and avoiding impulsive actions. However, one must never take one''s plans too seriously. "Forward planning" means forever reconsidering one''s plans in light of the changes likely to affect them.
Force yourselves to think about multiple scenarios, insofar as there is a slim probability that any one of them will come true.
Continue to look both ways before crossing the street.
And be prepared to cope with the moving present while thinking about the future.
For those who spend many waking hours worrying about Israel, they should know that there is an issue that currently seems to excite us more than Shimon Peres'' latest fears, or ambiguous statements from Washington suggesting an Administration upset with Prime Minister Netanyahu.
What is described as popular fury about the price of cottage cheese suggests that the average Israel is not at wits end worrying about the great powers, or about the latest Muslim plot meant to bring about our downfall.
An unwarranted increase in the price of cottage cheese was the dominant story on page one of Ha''aretz'' economic supplement (The Marker) on June 17, and a prominent subject of a discussion on a prominent Friday evening news show that turned into an shouting match. Everyone talking at once, each certain about the forces responsible for the price of cottage cheese, rendered their comments unintelligible.
And tomorrow''s headline will be . . .