My Word: Questions in time

Rather than sharing my guess of what will happen, I’m willing to share some of what’s keeping me guessing.

Youth does a handstand on the beach in Netanya 311 (photo credit: Reuters)
Youth does a handstand on the beach in Netanya 311
(photo credit: Reuters)
I’m neither foolhardy nor a prophet. And although pronouncing the occasional “told you so” is only human, I’d rather keep that private feeling of satisfaction than have readers writing in all year to tell me I got my predictions for 2012 wrong. Anyway, given the turbulent nature of 2011, as the year draws to a close I am left with more questions than answers. Some of the questions are substantive – who will be elected as US president, for example – others are more a matter of curiosity. Almost all the question marks follow from the events of the year now ending. History, as we all know, does not stop neatly while we change our calendars.
Rather than sharing my guess of what will happen, I’m willing to share some of what’s keeping me guessing.
Question No. 1 is how long will the “Arab Spring” be called the “Arab Spring”? Or more to the point, how many seasons will the uprising in the Arab world go on; when will Bashar Assad’s regime finally fall; and will the Persian Gulf States adapt their relations with Israel (and each other) as a result? Will Iran also succeed in overthrowing its leaders and opening up to the civilized world? Will other countries (such as Nigeria) follow the Sudanese precedent and split along Christian-Muslim lines?
There are other questions related to terminology. Take, for example, the name J14 for this summer’s protest movement in Israel. “Does it have something to do with J Street?” a Hebrew speaker asked me, voicing both bewilderment and the suspicion that it might have been a Left-led movement after all. While it might be fashionable to name it ostensibly after the day on which it was launched, July is pronounced Yuli in Hebrew and does not start with the letter “J.” And, with all due respect to this summer’s good-natured gatherings, the date July 14 – otherwise known as le quatorze juillet – has been associated with the French since Bastille Day in 1789. I hope that since then we’ve learned that the phrase “heads will roll” is better as a figure of speech.
Although elections are not scheduled in Israel in the coming year, there is no doubt that the political system is gearing up for them. Among the questions this raises are: Can we finally expect socio-economic issues to play a major role (along with the usual diplomatic-security ones); will Labor under Shelly Yacimovich trounce Kadima under Tzipi Livni; or will Livni be ousted? Since Livni will find it hard to compete with veteran women’s and social rights campaigner Yacimovich, it’s possible she’ll be replaced with either someone with more appeal on that ticket or someone like Shaul Mofaz who can run on the security platform.
Is this going to be the year when Israel Beiteinu leader Avigdor Lieberman is either indicted or cleared (predictions of his downfall have been around since the mid-1990s)? Ditto former prime minister Ehud Olmert. Will former prisoner Arye Deri bounce back on to the political scene?
Is there a chance that MKs will realize that while everything needs to be legal, there need not be a law controlling every aspect of our lives?
Will the “ethnic genie” come out of the bottle ahead of elections – along with the increasing secular vs ultra- Orthodox divide, which works wonders during election campaigns? Or will the country’s leaders and wouldbe leaders realize at last that the Sephardi-Ashkenazi split simply dates them? A whole generation of voters has grown up proud of their roots, whatever they are, and in many cases, they are the product of what’s known in Israel as “mixed marriages.”
I can’t help wondering, sadly, how long Israelis will continue to talk about “the periphery” when referring to a country smaller than New Jersey. Certainly location should not be justification for poorer health, education and social services in places like Beersheba, Afula or Kiryat Shmona.
Similarly, I wonder at what point people will stop talking about missile attacks on “the South” when the area under threat now borders Tel Aviv. I have given up wondering why anyone outside missile range considers the notso- occasional attack – in peacetime – is acceptable, but perhaps others might ponder the issue from the safety of wherever they are reading this.
The return of Gilad Schalit from Hamas captivity was this year’s good news. The price paid – the release of some 1,000 prisoners – might, like purchasing something in installments, be felt only next year. In any event, I’m compelled to ask the question why the country’s MIAs seem to have been forgotten. May this be the year when the families of Zachary Baumel, Zvi Feldman, Yehuda Katz, Ron Arad, Guy Hever and Majdi Halabi be granted at least closure.
The Palestinian issue raises so many questions that any list is more exhausting than exhaustive. Apart from the leadership issues – will Mahmoud Abbas make it through another election if he runs? – there are those perennial questions of boundaries. And one crucial unknown can be summed up as “1, 2, 3.” Just how many states are going to be expected to share this tiny dot on the map? If Hamas and Fatah actually do manage to reconcile their differences – and that’s a very big “if” – will they push for a two-state solution? If they don’t join forces, then already there are, de facto, two nascent Palestinian states with Israel sandwiched extremely uncomfortably in the middle. Lately, just as more Israelis on the Right are agreeing to a two-state solution, more Palestinians seem to be going back to the idea of all or nothing. If I were to draw up a wish list for 2012, asking that the Palestinians invest more effort into building up their own successful state than trying to destroy ours would be way up there.
Economic forces will, of course, continue to dominate 2012 – but to what effect? While Israel’s economy is still strong, certainly a prolonged crisis in Europe will take its toll. That’s why the policy of seeking markets elsewhere – China and India, for example – makes sense.
Israel’s unemployment rate at the end of 2011 stands at 5 percent – which is considered an incredible achievement, unless you happen to be one of that particular 5 percent.
Can Israel expect another Nobel Prize this year? Almost every year, Amos Oz’s name floats around as a candidate like a pretty bubble in the literature category only to burst as the laureates are announced.
Obviously the last few Israeli winners in the sciences have been a cause for national pride – and global hope for technological advance – but let’s not forget that if we raise only scientists, something will be lacking in our society.
Can we finally bring an Oscar home to Israel? Certainly Joseph Cedar has a chance for an Academy Award with Footnote, his drama dealing with the rivalry between father-and-son Talmud scholars at the Hebrew University.

Will environmentalists be successful at persuading the powers-that-be that not everything can be measured in economic terms – and that we have a duty to future generations to protect something of our unique landscape, flora and fauna?
And will we be able to look back on 2012 without anger? Your guess is as good as mine. I’ll content myself with looking back on 2011 largely with pride. And I’m willing to go on record predicting that, doomsday scenarios regarding Iran notwithstanding, the world will still be turning (or perhaps spinning) at the end of 2012.
The writer is editor of The International Jerusalem Post.