Israelis will not be thinking very much about the West Bank, the settlements, the Palestinians, or the peace process in the near future. Short of major changes in conditions, none of these will occupy the attention of Israelis.
It is not a new or startling conclusion, but it is reinforced by the panels and discussions here at the Presidential Conference in Israel. This is all the more telling given this year’s theme of “Tomorrow”–a consideration of what the near future holds for Israel.
I attended a good panel on the future of the tent protests in Israel. Chaired by journalist Orly Vilnai, it was composed of Tamar Hermann (who writes on Israeli public opinion), Daphni Leef and Itzik Shmuli (two of the young leaders of the social protest movement), and Avi Simhon (who was on the Trajtenberg committee that examined the protests and made recommendations to the government on how to address its concerns).
It was a very passionate and exciting panel. But the emotions were focused on how to proceed from here, and how the government is and should be reacting. The Palestinians and the peace process weren’t mentioned until near the end, when Leef was asked about this issue’s place in the protests.
Her response was telling. She said she was the wrong person to ask about the issue, and that you couldn’t fault the protestors for coming out in support of the particular issues they did. In one of the more poignant statements of the conference, she said people came out thinking “only of their pain.” Given the demands of the protestors, it seems reasonable if not obvious to conclude that this refers to the rising cost of living, wealth disparity, and so on–the things that directly affect the average citizen. The settlements or Palestinians do not.
Hermann provided broader context. Despite the passion surrounding the tent protests, the majority of Israelis are satisfied and content. They see, she said, how bad things are in other countries. And they see what they have here. Moreover, the middle class simply isn’t ready to take up the cause of the social protests (or, it seems obvious, the peace process and the occupation). They are afraid to rock the boat, and without them, change isn’t going to happen.
Hermann also defended the importance of politicians being involved in thinking how to change socio-economic conditions, noting that it is a political issue that will have to be dealt with at that level. As has been said many times already, in the political arena the occupation is even less popular as an issue for action or holds less interest than the social protests.
Few of the other panels dealt with or are scheduled to deal with the Palestinians. There are sessions on the future of Israel’s borders, and of the Arab Spring’s impact on Israel, and general ones on how Israel should think about the future. But for a conference built around the issues of the future, there is remarkably little–apart from the by now seemingly obligatory statements on the importance of the peace process here and there–discussion focused on the peace process and its components.
For good or ill, it doesn’t bode well for any change in that sphere.