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

Recruitment Genius: Senior Web Designer / Front End Developer

£28000 - £32000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This fast expanding web managem...

Ashdown Group: Trainee Consultant - Surrey / South West London

£22000 per annum + pension,bonus,career progression: Ashdown Group: An establi...

Ashdown Group: Trainee Consultant - Surrey/ South West London

£22000 per annum + pension,bonus,career progression: Ashdown Group: An establi...

Ashdown Group: Recruitment Consultant / Account Manager - Surrey / SW London

£40000 per annum + realistic targets: Ashdown Group: A thriving recruitment co...

Day In a Page

Read Next
 

i Editor's Letter: Why it won’t be the i wot won it – our promise to you

Oliver Duff Oliver Duff
A relative of dead Bangladeshi blogger Washiqur Rahman reacts after seeing his body at Dhaka Medical College in Dhaka on March 30,  

Atheists are being hacked to death in Bangladesh, and soon there will be none left

Rory Fenton
No postcode? No vote

Floating voters

How living on a houseboat meant I didn't officially 'exist'
Louis Theroux's affable Englishman routine begins to wear thin

By Reason of Insanity

Louis Theroux's affable Englishman routine begins to wear thin
Power dressing is back – but no shoulderpads!

Power dressing is back

But banish all thoughts of Eighties shoulderpads
Spanish stone-age cave paintings 'under threat' after being re-opened to the public

Spanish stone-age cave paintings in Altamira 'under threat'

Caves were re-opened to the public
'I was the bookies’ favourite to be first to leave the Cabinet'

Vince Cable interview

'I was the bookies’ favourite to be first to leave the Cabinet'
Election 2015: How many of the Government's coalition agreement promises have been kept?

Promises, promises

But how many coalition agreement pledges have been kept?
The Gaza fisherman who built his own reef - and was shot dead there by an Israeli gunboat

The death of a Gaza fisherman

He built his own reef, and was fatally shot there by an Israeli gunboat
Saudi Arabia's airstrikes in Yemen are fuelling the Gulf's fire

Saudi airstrikes are fuelling the Gulf's fire

Arab intervention in Yemen risks entrenching Sunni-Shia divide and handing a victory to Isis, says Patrick Cockburn
Zayn Malik's departure from One Direction shows the perils of fame in the age of social media

The only direction Zayn could go

We wince at the anguish of One Direction's fans, but Malik's departure shows the perils of fame in the age of social media
Young Magician of the Year 2015: Meet the schoolgirl from Newcastle who has her heart set on being the competition's first female winner

Spells like teen spirit

A 16-year-old from Newcastle has set her heart on being the first female to win Young Magician of the Year. Jonathan Owen meets her
Jonathan Anderson: If fashion is a cycle, this young man knows just how to ride it

If fashion is a cycle, this young man knows just how to ride it

British designer Jonathan Anderson is putting his stamp on venerable house Loewe
Number plates scheme could provide a licence to offend in the land of the free

Licence to offend in the land of the free

Cash-strapped states have hit on a way of making money out of drivers that may be in collision with the First Amendment, says Rupert Cornwell
From farm to fork: Meet the Cornish fishermen, vegetable-growers and butchers causing a stir in London's top restaurants

From farm to fork in Cornwall

One man is bringing together Cornwall's most accomplished growers, fishermen and butchers with London's best chefs to put the finest, freshest produce on the plates of some of the country’s best restaurants
Robert Parker interview: The world's top wine critic on tasting 10,000 bottles a year, absurd drinking notes and New World wannabes

Robert Parker interview

The world's top wine critic on tasting 10,000 bottles a year, absurd drinking notes and New World wannabes
Don't believe the stereotype - or should you?

Don't believe the stereotype - or should you?

We exaggerate regional traits and turn them into jokes - and those on the receiving end are in on it too, says DJ Taylor