By DONNIEL HARTMAN
The political upheaval in Egypt has affected Israeli society very deeply, in many ways more than the Iranian nuclear program has. When it comes to the Iranians, most Israelis believe, correctly or not, that the core Israeli adage, "The IDF will know what to do," applies. The changes in Egypt and those threatening other Arab nations, and potentially Jordan and the Palestinian Authority, as well, are perceived by many to be a game-changer. A government run by the people in accordance with the will of the people potentially undermines the status quo to which we have become accustomed and threatens to expand the reach of radical Islamic and anti-Israeli forces. Our border with Lebanon, instead of being the exception, could become the rule.
It is not that the existence of the State of Israel itself will be brought into question. Our faith in our military is such that, here too we believe we will be able to overcome any existential threat. What is unsettling is the possibility of hostilities returning to our borders and that our children’s lives again will be in danger.
We have often complained about the so-called "Cold Peace" with Egypt and Jordan. A cold peace, however, is preferable to the heat of conflict. In a cold peace the dangers faced by our children in the military were of a more limited nature, and as such tolerable.
All this is now threatening to come to an end, and uncertainty, especially as it comes to the lives of our children and citizens, may again become a permanent feature of the Israeli reality. How does one respond to such uncertainty? How does one adapt when the rules of the game which are one’s life are changed so suddenly?
A classic response of the Jew throughout the centuries in the Diaspora was to weave a narrative of hope that often constituted a parallel reality within which we found solace and comfort. This narrative of hope looked reality in the face and branded it as transient, with a new day on the horizon. "This year we are here; next year we will be in the Land of Israel. Today we are slaves; next year we will be a free people." (Passover Haggadah) This hope was a messianic hope, a hope and a confidence that God would reenter history and bring us again on eagles’ wings to a life where pain, uncertainty, conflict, and death would be forever banished.
While the rebirth of Israel was in no small measure the outgrowth of this hope, Israel’s essence is a rejection of the need for messianic hope. The meaning of sovereignty and the consequences of power are that we no longer respond to pain and suffering with the plea to God to redeem us. Sovereignty and power create the possibility and in fact the opportunity to take responsibility for our destiny and to shape the world within which we live.
Over the last number of years peace has eluded us, but its absence has not meant existential danger and perennial war. What our power has bought us is a form of neutral status quo with periodic flare-ups and limited military operations matched with limited casualties. This is a status quo with which we felt we could live, and even be comfortable. The absence of catastrophe, however, has brought in its wake an absence of hope. Israeli politics since the unilateral withdrawal from Gaza has entered into an aspirational slumber, with its goal seemingly to be getting through the day and having another year pass by without having to do anything to rock and shake the status quo.
We need to bring hope back into our political horizon. If the changes taking place all around us teach us anything it is the transient nature of any status quo in the Middle East. We don’t, however, need to return to the old Diaspora model of messianic hope, but we need to create a new and authentically Israeli one. It is a hope grounded in our power and founded on our sovereignty. As such, it is a hope which is neither naive nor utopian, but one that challenges us to develop a realistic vision for a tomorrow which is better than today.
That tomorrow might involve small steps away from the reality of cessation of war to some form of coexistence. It might involve going beyond the management of terrorism to the cultivation of new friendships amongst some of our neighbors, even if they are only utilitarian. We might even surprise ourselves and find that as a people with a politics of hope we meet an other who has a similar politic.
What we can take away from the new reality we face is the understanding that we have nothing to lose. As long as hope is not messianic and is grounded in the realpolitik of sovereignty, and guided and protected by the power we have acquired, it will not lead us into reckless policies and unnecessary dangers, but rather into the possibility of finding new ways to overcome the reality of uncertainty. This ability to hope is the real dividend which our power and sovereignty can generate for us. This hope may produce "only" another 35 years of cold peace with one or more of our neighbors. The thing about a politics of hope is that it creates the possibility to be surprised. Dayenu.