As Obama flies in, this feels like a Berlin Wall moment for Israel

There is now a majority here in favour of a two-state solution

Share

Herzliya, Israel

Viewed in the crystalline light of this mid-March day, Israel could reasonably be expected to betray some alarm. Instability stalks its borders, from Lebanon in the north to Egypt in the south. Civil war rages in next-door Syria, with the fighting – it is said – visible from the Golan. And for six weeks, until yesterday, it was without a government after an election that was unusually fragmented even by its own fractious standards.

Despite all this, the country that Barack Obama will visit next week for the first time as US President exudes an air of calm. Perhaps for the first time in the history of modern Israel, an election was fought on domestic economic and social issues, rather than national security or the Palestinians. That hitherto pervasive question – the future of the peace process – was relegated to the sidelines.

The official word is that Obama’s visit will change nothing. Both sides have spent weeks playing down expectations: the President will come to listen, he will bring no new initiative; at best, he will restore Israeli trust in Washington’s continued engagement.

Impressions and official indications, though, may be deceptive, as – more certainly – is the air of calm. Israeli voters might have turned their gaze inward; they might be cynical, after all these years, about the prospects for peace. But a case can be made that this election result, with its quite unexpected turn to the political centre, coupled with the huge and historic shifts sweeping the region, just might offer a now-or-never opportunity.

Yesterday, none other than Israel’s head of military intelligence, Major-General Aviv Kochavi, spelt out themes which others would discuss only off the record. What had begun, he said, was “a very deep and fundamental change” that was social, economic, religious and ethnic, and would have a real and long-term impact on the region as a whole. “The reaction and counter-reaction,” he said, “have only just begun.”

Another senior military man had spoken of “being in the middle of a storm whose outcome we cannot know”, of “Turkey, Iran and Egypt still playing out their ancient contest for control of the region”, of being caught up in changes that could last many, many years.

For me, it was reminiscent of nothing so much as the profound sense of accountability shown by many of those in power in the late 1980s and early 1990s as communism collapsed across Europe, the Berlin Wall fell, and the Soviet Union imploded. The depth of the uncertainty was similar, as was the apprehension, and the awareness that one rash step could spark a conflagration. The arrogance of power was replaced by a modesty rare in politicians and a genuine desire, if at all possible, to do the right thing.

There are many reasons why the Middle East is already less fortunate than Europe in the scale of the death and destruction that has been caused – and the mayhem that probably still lies ahead. But the understanding of the risk that one incautious move could entail at such a perilous time was a small positive after all the rhetorical threat and bombast of the past year.

Which is also why it is just possible that the next few months – but probably no longer – may offer a tiny opportunity for an advance in that concept that already sounds obsolete: the Middle East peace process. Amid all the big-picture uncertainty, here is something already well-rehearsed, which seems to have a solution that seems relatively feasible and contained.

As the surprising election result shows, there is a majority in Israel in favour of what is known as the “two-state solution” – Israeli and Palestinian states existing side by side in peace. There is also a belief in some quarters that the way the Egyptian, Tunisian and Libyan revolutions have turned sour may encourage Palestinians to look at their prospects in a new light. Above all, though, there is a sense that the changes in train will so alter the region that if the moment is not grasped, it will be gone.

It can be argued that Israel will never accept a fully sovereign Palestinian state as its neighbour, that the likely borders of a new Palestine will make it unviable, and that it might be preferable to abandon the whole outdated concept and see what cards the Palestinians are dealt in a new Middle East. To conjure with those arguments, however, is not to deny that – for reasons largely out of his control – Obama may have the narrowest of opportunities to achieve what has eluded at least five American presidents. He has been a fortunate politician. He can afford to try his luck one more time.

m.dejevsky@independent.co.uk

React Now

  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

SThree: Trainee Recruitment Consultant - Dublin

£13676.46 - £16411.61 per annum + OTE: SThree: SThree Trainee Recruitment Cons...

Ashdown Group: Marketing or Business Graduate Opportunity - Norwich - £22,000

£18000 - £22000 per annum + training: Ashdown Group: Business and Marketing Gr...

SThree: Trainee Recruitment Consultant

£20000 - £25000 per annum + Commission: SThree: Are you great at building rela...

Ashdown Group: Database Analyst - Birmingham - £22,000 plus benefits

£20000 - £22000 per annum + excellent benefits: Ashdown Group: Application Sup...

Day In a Page

Read Next
Labour leader Ed Miliband unveils Labour's pledges carved into a stone plinth in Hastings  

Election 2015: Smash the two-party system! Smash the voting system!

Armando Iannucci
Tactical voting is a necessary evil of the current first-past-the-post system, where voters vote against what they do not want rather than in favour of what they do  

Election 2015: Voting tactically has become more fraught in new political order

Michael Ashcroft
Fishing for votes with Nigel Farage: The Ukip leader shows how he can work an audience as he casts his line to the disaffected of Grimsby

Fishing is on Nigel Farage's mind

Ukip leader casts a line to the disaffected
Who is bombing whom in the Middle East? It's amazing they don't all hit each other

Who is bombing whom in the Middle East?

Robert Fisk untangles the countries and factions
China's influence on fashion: At the top of the game both creatively and commercially

China's influence on fashion

At the top of the game both creatively and commercially
Lord O’Donnell: Former cabinet secretary on the election and life away from the levers of power

The man known as GOD has a reputation for getting the job done

Lord O'Donnell's three principles of rule
Rainbow shades: It's all bright on the night

Rainbow shades

It's all bright on the night
'It was first time I had ever tasted chocolate. I kept a piece, and when Amsterdam was liberated, I gave it to the first Allied soldier I saw'

Bread from heaven

Dutch survivors thank RAF for World War II drop that saved millions
Britain will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power - Labour

How 'the Axe' helped Labour

UK will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power
Rare and exclusive video shows the horrific price paid by activists for challenging the rule of jihadist extremists in Syria

The price to be paid for challenging the rule of extremists

A revolution now 'consuming its own children'
Welcome to the world of Megagames

Welcome to the world of Megagames

300 players take part in Watch the Skies! board game in London
'Nymphomaniac' actress reveals what it was really like to star in one of the most explicit films ever

Charlotte Gainsbourg on 'Nymphomaniac'

Starring in one of the most explicit films ever
Robert Fisk in Abu Dhabi: The Emirates' out-of-sight migrant workers helping to build the dream projects of its rulers

Robert Fisk in Abu Dhabi

The Emirates' out-of-sight migrant workers helping to build the dream projects of its rulers
Vince Cable interview: Charging fees for employment tribunals was 'a very bad move'

Vince Cable exclusive interview

Charging fees for employment tribunals was 'a very bad move'
Iwan Rheon interview: Game of Thrones star returns to his Welsh roots to record debut album

Iwan Rheon is returning to his Welsh roots

Rheon is best known for his role as the Bastard of Bolton. It's gruelling playing a sadistic torturer, he tells Craig McLean, but it hasn't stopped him recording an album of Welsh psychedelia
Morne Hardenberg interview: Cameraman for BBC's upcoming show Shark on filming the ocean's most dangerous predator

It's time for my close-up

Meet the man who films great whites for a living
Increasing numbers of homeless people in America keep their mobile phones on the streets

Homeless people keep mobile phones

A homeless person with a smartphone is a common sight in the US. And that's creating a network where the 'hobo' community can share information - and fight stigma - like never before