Obama Dazzles and Shakes

US President arriving in Israel, March 2013, courtesy Israel police web site

US president Barak Obama came for a visit. That’s not really news any more. Yet, the visit, has brought a new understanding of the shift in Israeli public opinion. The elections just over a month ago indicated a shift from international focus to domestic issues. Also, a strong shift in opinion from Benjamin Netanyahu and Avigdor Lieberman’s right wing issue to more domestic central stance. In general, that puts the Palestinian peace negotiations behind domestic economic concerns. To outsiders, like US president Barack Obama and secretary of state John Carey, there is some concern of missing an opportunity that will not be coming back for the next four years. But there is no denying how a shift in the Israeli public’s opinion is completely missed outside the country.

A few events the last few years have changed the Israeli landscape. First is the souring of relationship with Egypt and Turkey. That brought fear of attacks from Sinai and reduced trade and tourism with Turkey. Both events have blown away. The Egyptian fear brought a second event, the building of a fenced border between Israel and Egypt. Just as the fences with Lebanon and Syria, the border with Egypt along the Sinai is now sealed. Finally, the popular protest movement and the latest election have shown how Israelis simply don’t care as much about security issues as much as economic issues. And just today (Sunday, March 31, 2013) natural gas started flowing from the first Israeli drilling rig (platform) in the Mediterranean. This new gas source, replaces the gas bought from Egypt. The problem until now was the attacks by Gaza based groups on the pipeline running through the Sinai. The Egyptian security forces were not able to assure the free flow of gas, so for the last two years, gas was bought from other sources. In Egypt, there were rumors of a sweet deal made by then president Mubarak which was ousted by the popular revolution. There were claims of Mubarak selling Israel gas below market prices.

At this point, it seems like Israelis see no dependence or threat from any of the Arab neighbors. It also seems like Netanyahu’s unspoken policy of slowing, or virtually stopping negotiations with the Palestinians is accepted by Israelis. It may lead to more tension along the border. But as Israeli Defense Forces have shown recently by the introduction of an anti-rocket rocket system (Iron Dome), that essentially the effectiveness of attacks from Gaza are negligible. At least this is the perception in the Israeli street.

So back to Obama and his kissing / photo-op visit. While the world is still harping about the Palestinian and Arab Spring situation, Israeli popular opinion has moved to a different place. We are all waiting for a Time reporter to come and interview Israelis on Tel Aviv beaches and claim that he found a revolutionary new trend: “Israelis don’t care about the peace with Palestinians any more (or at least care less than their economy and this year’s bikini fashions)”. So, does street opinion matters in Israel? It does! sometimes it takes an election and a few real life events to change things. Israel is a state that somehow solves some big problems. Some are harder to solve and take longer or are simply a way of life. There is still some discrimination against minorities. Machismo is as open and strong as many Latin countries. And the crazy buzzing race for life will not be replaced by Yoga and meditation any time soon. Yet borders get secured, energy sources are found and extreme right wing governments are voted out. Like many places around the world, “if you don’t like the weather, wait an hour” (or two years when it comes to political elections) It just that when you lose your focus on this place, then come back two years later, things are different. Sometimes very different!

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