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August 31, 2014 A Weekend of Reflection

by Marc Schulman

The first weekend of – what everyone hopes, but does not necessarily believe is – a permanent ceasefire with Hamas is now behind Israel. This weekend all of the Israeli newspapers and weekend news magazines discussed the implications of the war. Prime Minister Netanyahu gave short interviews with each of the main television stations. If I had to sum up the mood, I would say that it is very similar to the mood at the beginning of the war. There is a pervasive feeling of quiet determination.

On Saturday I returned to my normal walk on a mostly deserted stretch of beach in North Tel Aviv – for the first time, without fear of a sudden missile appearing from the South. Part of my walk takes me along a popular section of the beachfront, so I took that opportunity to talk to survey people along the shore. Everyone I spoke with said almost the same thing – "What was, is what will be." Meaning, that things will remain the same, and there is little we can do. Every so often we will be forced to fight a war, because there is no choice. Nobody was satisfied with what the government did, but nobody really had a better strategy. One of the people I spoke to, named Jonathan, summed it up best, saying: “Today we have perfect symmetry between our government and the Palestinians. Our government, led by Netanyahu, is not interested in making the concessions to reach peace. The Palestinians, whether led by Hamas or Abu Mazen, are not willing to concede their right of return or 'end of conflict'". There are those who hope that this war will lead to an opportunity to reach a larger peace agreement, but the Israeli public at large is skeptical, at best, that this is at all possible.

Meanwhile, the news in Israel today was dominated by two stories – one was the downing of a Syrian drone flying over Israel by Israeli anti-aircraft missiles. The accepted wisdom (so far) is that the drone accidentally strayed over Israeli air space (although that has not been 100% confirmed). It is believed that the drone was under the control of the Syrian Army. It has been decades since Israel downed a Syrian aircraft. This event has added to the unease here after Syrian rebels seized the border crossing between Israel and Syria and captured a contingent of U.N. peacekeepers from Fiji. Israel's media has invested effort trying to explain to a wary Israeli public the difference between the rebels who captured the border (who are with the Islamic Al Nusra front) and ISIS. Both organizations are Islamist. However, Al Nusra is homegrown in Syria, and not made up of world wide Jihidasts. Thus, Al Nusra is considered slightly more moderate. This difference is not really a source of comfort to the average Israeli, especially after news reports suggest the ISIS has plans to try to take over Jordan, (seeing it, potentially, as an easier target than the heavily Shiite areas of Iraq that surround Baghdad.

The other major story today was Israel's economic situation – as a result of having to pay for the Gaza War. A fight has broken out between the Ministry of Defense and the Finance Ministry over the cost of the war. A second fight has developed between the Minister of Finance Yair Lapid and the Governor of the Bank of Israel Karnit Flug on whether to finance the new expenses with tax increases, by cutting back domestic spending, or by increasing the budget deficit. Flug supports the general need to raise taxes. Lapid has made repeated statements that he would not raise taxes. In the meantime, to finance the immediate needs of the Ministry of Defense, a 2% budget cut (across the board) was approved for all the government ministries – with the exception of the Defense budget. These budget reallocations include a 400 million cut in the education budget the day before school is scheduled to open here. Prime Minister Netanyahu opened the cabinet meeting today on the subject by saying: "We all have to sacrifice for defense." This is clearly part of Netanyahu's campaign slogan, when he runs in the next elections. Interestingly, in his interview with Israeli TV this weekend Netanyahu announced that he would run again.

The implications of Israel’s recent war with Gaza are yet to be fully understood, as is the very basic unknown will war resume in three weeks when the month allocated for reaching agreement on the difficult areas of disagreement between Israel, Egypt and Hamas runs out. Everyone has an opinion but nobody is taking bets.

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