Israel has become a ship of fools

The price of cottage cheese may seem like an innocent lament but it is symptomatic of something far more dangerous. The government is cultivating a state of sleepy delusion and it is only a matter of time when the real threats re-emerge.

Cottage industry cartoon 521 (photo credit: Menachem Jerenberg)
Cottage industry cartoon 521
(photo credit: Menachem Jerenberg)
You just have to love the status-quo these days.  Like your favorite cologne, it's intoxicatingly reassuring. It’s 35 degrees outside, 90% humidity, dead-ends everywhere, but still you can’t but love it.
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Because everything has become normal.
The main issue is real estate, but not that of the West Bank. But we’re also arguing over other normal things, like affordable housing, the price of cottage cheese, doctors' paychecks and the over-burdened, over-taxed middle class. Finally, like Theodore Herzl said, we are a Vienna on the Hills of Judea.
A Vienna capable and gifted to "supertanker" itself out of any problem of course.
With the US debt-ceiling crisis engulfing Washington and placing America on the red-alert threshold of fiscal default; the Euro debt-crisis threatening Italy and Spain (Greece and Ireland being already confirmed fatalities) and in a matter of months perhaps endangering the very existence of the Euro-Zone currency itself; the Rupert Murdoch media empire News of The World/Scotland Yard/ David Cameron scandal already assuming epic proportions, it is tempting to view the Middle East—or at least our own humble slice of it—as a paragon of stability.
If you scan the world's current agendas/priorities/focus, you might be forgiven for thinking that no one seems to care about the Middle East anymore. Global media took a summer vacation and suspended the obsessive preoccupation with The Two-State Solution. Just look at the Israeli media - you'd be excused for thinking that Israel has become un-isolated and un-delegitimized.
Who remembers US President Barack Obama's May speech or Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu's antics at the White House? And gone is the concern and the hyper-exaggeration of the just-wait-watch-and-weep drama Israel and the Palestinians advertised for release in September at a UN near you.
Not to mention Iran. Has the nuclear threat mysteriously dissipated?
Finally, we got what we wanted from the world: Silence. No reaction, no interest, no pressure, no nothing. For 43 years we begged to be the headline of the front page of The New York Times. To explain our just cause. To make sure everyone gets it.
Then over the last 23 years we pleaded to be removed from the front page because it was no longer expedient. The world thought of us as defiant occupiers; they didn't get it and they still don't.
And in recent years a sense of resignation followed by a new infatuation with an improved status-quo settled in. The Palestinians are not serious or trustworthy interlocutors and therefore they are not real "partners for peace." Taking risks for a Palestinian state is simply not worth it.
After all, the economy is doing relatively well, there is no terror, unemployment is low, consumer goods of unprecedented quantity and quality flood the stores.
Palestinians and settlers are very far away (at least 20 kilometers) and they no longer feature on our local news or on CNN.  For most Israelis they are relics from some outdated National Geographic documentary on an arcane topic called the “Israeli-Palestinian Conflict."
Even the so-called Arab Spring is no longer perceived as an imminent threat to Israel. So much so that the Netanyahu government—which invented and then fomented the formidable scenario of “instability” that the shameless Arab protesters would no doubt precipitate—is no longer heard spreading the gospel of fear of a Muslim Brotherhood takeover in Tel Aviv.
Yes, Tahrir Square is blissfully far from our minds. And for most Israelis, denial is indeed just a river in Egypt.
Except that none of the above is real. It is a toxic, judgment-impairing delusion that is a poor substitute for policy. I hate to be the party pooper (not really, but it seemed appropriate to write) but we are in trouble.
The Israel of summer 2011 merits many platitudes. It is a wingless bird on a flight to nowhere. It is a ship of fools called the Titanic that is sailing in a fools' paradise.
To quote some memorable speech by some memorable African president, "We are on the verge of the abyss but we are determined to move forward."
We are drifting aimlessly because we lack a common vision. We conveniently assume that the fundamentals of the Zionist narrative are still adequate. Yes, housing, education, health-care, financial markets, ownership of the economy, secular-religious relations and a host of other civic issues should dominate our agenda and public discourse.
Yes, it is high time that a civilian agenda attracts more attention and resources than the diplomatic/security /peace agendas that have controlled our lives for far too long. And yes, these domestic issues are expressly and manifestly signs of normalcy and even maturity.
But they are overwhelming us at a time when no one but us actually thinks that the Palestinian problem has magically disappeared.
The issue here is not the feasibility of a peace process or the willingness of the Palestinian leadership to engage in one. I have many doubts regarding both. The issue is also not whether a Palestinian state is viable. I have my doubts there too.
The issue here is whether Israel's current leadership is intentionally creating the conditions that will enable us to become "normal." Simply admitting that things are "unacceptable but complex," or making grand declarations about supertankers is a display of clueless leadership.
While the government continues thinking that time stands and retains the country’s focus into inquiry commissions and such like, the world will rekindle its interest in the region and bite Israel in the proverbial rear.  And for that matter, so will the Palestinians. They aren’t going to wait until Mr. Netanyahu to finish setting up another housing-reform committee.
While I share Mr. Netanyahu's disdain for bureaucratic bottle-necks and red-tape strangulation, I also believe that what is expected from leadership is to forge a vision, set an agenda and devise policies accordingly.
Cottage cheese and importing dairy goods cannot conceivably be more important than a demography threatening a Jewish majority. VAT on vegetables and fruit is monumentally important to Jewish civilization but surely not as important to Israel's security as are relations with the US.
With regards to prioritization this has got to be one of the worst governments in Israel's history. Armed with zero vision or policy but with plenty of explanations as to why things can't be done, it seems this government has just one prime objective: staying in power for the hell of it.
The writer is a diplomat who recently served as consul-general in New York.