Analysis: A very Israeli decision

It reflects some key characteristics of Israeli society.

Prisoners 224.88 (photo credit: AP)
Prisoners 224.88
(photo credit: AP)
Much will be said and written in the coming days about Sunday's cabinet decision approving the release of Samir Kuntar, four Hizbullah fighters, an undetermined number of Palestinian prisoners, dozens of Hizbullah and Palestinian bodies, and information on the disappearance of four Iranian diplomats in exchange for Ehud Goldwasser and Eldad Regev, both now presumed dead, and a Hizbullah report on the fate of Ron Arad. But one thing is clear. This decision reflects some key characteristics of Israeli society. Indeed, it is fair to say it was a typically Israeli decision - for better and for worse. Visitors from abroad are generally struck by three things about Israel: It is a country that feels vibrant and very much alive; it is a country that is superb at finding short-term solutions to problems; and it is a country where there is feeling of greater solidarity than elsewhere in the world, where people genuinely do feel a degree of responsibility for one another. To understand Israel it is necessary to understand how this is a land in which everything touches everyone, where the news is real and immediate and impacts everyone who lives here. The famous Israeli solidarity stems not only from an altruistic concern of all for their fellows, but also from a feeling of "there but for the grace of God go I," so I'd best be concerned abut the other guy, because at some point in time I might want the other guy to be concerned about me. There is almost no one in the country who doesn't know someone who was killed or wounded during the second intifada; the country supported the decision to go to war in Lebanon in July 2006 because of a feeling that after the kidnappings of Gilad Schalit and Regev and Goldwasser, anyone's kids could be next; and the country is worked up over the Iranian threat because the specter of a nuclear Iran is not a theoretical issue - it's something real and frightening. The country is small and feels vulnerable. The fact that the media has been dominated this last week by voices calling on the government to agree to the deal with Hizbullah came to some degree because people with opposing ideas were afraid to voice them, not only because of the negative public reaction that awaited former chief of General Staff Moshe Ya'alon for his recent comments about the prisoner swaps, but also because of self-censorship: a fear emanating from the critics' guts that one day it could be his kid on the line, and in that case he would turn every stone, and release every prisoner, to get him or her back. That's Israel. Everyone is near the firing line, and being near the firing line affects one's vision. The second national characteristic that the decision reflected was the country's aptitude for finding short-term solutions. Israel is great at short-term solutions. That's one of the beauties of the society. When there are problems, this country does not hang its head and say "there are no solutions," it looks for one. The way the country brought down terrorism casualties - from some 435 Israelis killed in 2002 to 13 killed last year - is proof of the nation's ability to find short-term solutions. Remember, there were those who said there was "no military solution to terrorism." Israel found one. That much of the world is looking to Israel to solve the Iranian nuclear issue reflects an appreciation of the country's ability to find solutions to problems. Likewise, Israel will find a technological solution to the Kassam rockets. It might take a couple of years, but a solution will be found. What's the problem? The problem is that when we do find a solution, the enemy will then look for a way around it, and around and around we will go. Israel's short-term problems are so daunting that we have little energy or patience to look for longer-term answers. Sunday's decision was a short-term solution. It brought to close a painful chapter in the country's history. It provided relief to the families. But what of the dangers, that the deal will encourage more kidnappings, that there will no longer be any incentive to keep kidnapped soldiers alive? Those are problems we will deal with when they prop up - and then we will find short-term solutions to them, as well. For now, the cabinet has said, let's deal with the immediate problem, and the immediate problem is Goldwasser and Regev. The final Israeli characteristic that was reflected loud and clear in the decision was that this is a society that lives for the moment, that lives in the here and now. This characteristic is what makes the country feel so vibrant, so alive. There is tremendous energy here in all kinds of different spheres, largely because we live for today, for the now, not knowing what the future may hold. Sunday's decision was a decision for the moment. It made us feel that we were doing our duty to the families of Regev and Goldwasser, who have suffered too long already. It made us feel good about ourselves, and how we - unlike our enemies - sanctify life, and are willing to give up a great deal on the off chance that the soldiers may indeed still be alive. It was a decision made very much with an eye on the now. As for tomorrow, and how the decision will impact tomorrow? Well, tomorrow we'll deal with tomorrow - that, after all, is the quintessential Israeli way.•