The virtual reality of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict

Apparently, “terror is terror” is true everywhere except for in Israel.

Memorial at the Sarona Market (photo credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM)
Memorial at the Sarona Market
(photo credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM)
Back in the mid-’90s, virtual reality technology seemed to be “the next big thing.” So did the idea of resolving the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
Back then, the main problem with VR technology was the undeniable difference between what could be seen through VR goggles and what actually happened in the very physical reality.
They used to call this phenomenon “lagging,” when instead of the display moving at the same pace as the head in real-time, the image was slow to follow, felt unreal and occasionally stomach- churning.
The same thing happened with the so-called peace process. While leaders were signing agreements and shaking hands in the past, suicide bombers were blowing themselves up in the streets of Tel Aviv and Jerusalem. For the Israeli public, the contrast between lofty speeches on reconciliation and the deaths of innocent citizens was a “lag” too disturbing to ignore. The celebrations in Palestinian cities after every terrorist attack made Israelis question the intentions of their neighbors and the chances of the anticipated “peace”.
It took several years, thousands of terrorist acts and the murder of more than a thousand Israeli men, women and children for the Israeli public to perceive the process as a runway to anything but peace.
Recently, VR is making a comeback.
Most problems were fixed, including the infamous lags, images are more accurate and realistic. At the same time, the efforts to resolve the Israeli-Palestinian conflict are also making a comeback, but in this case without solving any of the glitches that failed the process so many times before.
Just a few days ago, an Israeli-Palestinian peace summit was held in Paris. The closing statement sounded like a broken record repeating the same over-used clichés about ending the occupation and creating a Palestinian state – as if nothing had changed in the past 20 years.
Through the VR goggles of international diplomacy, establishing a Palestinian state will work like hi-tech magic and end the conflict. It is the same naïve thinking that makes Western diplomats believe that Syrian President Bashar Assad’s promise to stop using chemical weapons on his own people is worth the paper it was written on.
Media coverage and analyses constantly try to evaluate leaders and their decision-making processes. Dozens of pieces were written on Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, trying to assess how committed he is to a two-state solution and how far he is willing to go to reach it. What is mostly overlooked is the importance of Israeli public opinion.
Israel is a democracy, therefore if you want to make Israel believe peace is within reach, it is the Israelis that need convincing, not their leaders.
It is a common belief that Israel is just one leap of faith away from reaching long and sustainable peace with the Palestinians.
It is easy to forget that Israel already took this “leap of faith” 11 years ago. Israel withdrew from the Gaza Strip unconditionally, including the deportation of every last Jewish citizen. Israel fulfilled the Palestinian wish of a “Jewfree” land behind the 1967 lines, only to see the Palestinians dig tunnels under it and use their autonomous land to launch missile attacks on Israeli cities.
It was a pilot, and it failed miserably.
Reality on the ground proved that territorial disputes were never the real issue, but virtual reality perceptions of the conflict still seem to be lagging behind.
Last week, in the middle of a restaurant in Tel Aviv, two Palestinian terrorists took the lives of four Israelis and wounded many others. The horrible images from the scene resembled those we saw just a few months ago in Paris but are unlikely to initiate the same worldwide condemnation. Apparently, “terror is terror” is true everywhere except for in Israel. From a liberal Western perspective, Israelis suffering from endless terrorist attacks is a natural product of the regional context. Leaders will show sympathy, condolences will be offered, but nothing will ever dim the deceivingly bright picture in the dysfunctional VR goggles.
The author is a double major in law and government at IDC Herzliya and a fellow of the Argov Fellowship Program in Leadership and Diplomacy.