Israelis have entered the second full week of what everyone hopes will be a permanent ceasefire. Very rapidly, Tel Aviv has seemingly returned to normalcy. However, on an external basis, my fragile calm was ruptured one recent night at midnight. I was so startled by a certain screeching sound that I went out on my balcony to see if everything was ok. Happily, I quickly realized that the discordant blaring wail (which I had not heard for a month) was merely a return of aircraft to their normal flight path – (i.e. over Tel Aviv, when landing at Ben-Gurion Airport – a flight path that planes did not take during the nearly two months of warfare.)
The streets of Tel Aviv are once again full at night. People have gone back to the restaurants and bars they avoided during the war. Every restaurateur who I spoke with in Tel Aviv reported the same thing (a 50% drop in business during the war.) People just stopped going out. They preferred to remain as close to home as possible. Now that business has returned. However, that is not the case in the areas that rely on tourism. I spent some time in the tourist area of Jaffa a few days ago. The one question I heard repeatedly from every store owner was: "When do you think the tourists will come back? Israelis rebound quickly. Tourists, on the other hand, take a much longer time to decide whether to not to visit.
Today, Israelis are asking themselves three questions: 1) Will the war resume? 2) What impact has this recent war had on Hamas and the Palestinians? 3) What impact has this war had on Israelis and Israel's domestic politics?
Most Israelis are doing their best to ignore the first question. No one wants to imagine that the war could potentially resume in a month – just in time for the Jewish holidays. Despite Israelis' overall attempts to ignore the question, informed observers comprehend that the possibility of the war resuming is very real. As of now, Hamas has received nothing from the Gaza War – not even their most minimum demands to receive money to pay there workers and soldiers. The Egyptians, who had promised to open the Rafah border have conditioned fulfilling that request on the return of the Palestinian Authority to Gaza. Hamas and Gaza are exactly back to where they started – except without most of their tunnels, most of their missiles and with 200,000 people homeless. It does not seem like much is going to change in the short term. Palestinian Authority's President Abbas has been livid with Hamas, ever since he was shown proof that Hamas planned a coup against him. President Abbas seems totally unwilling to make any concessions, and neither are the Egyptians. Israel is a bystander to these events. Yet, Hamas is not going to declare war on Egypt. If the fighting resumes, Hamas is going to fire missiles at Israel, in one last desperate attempt to reshuffle the deck. I fear that this is a very real scenario.
The second question seems both straightforward, and at the same time complicated. In the short-term it is clear (by every opinion poll taken) that the war has strengthened support for Hamas. The Palestinian public supports the idea of resistance, and thus supports the actions of Hamas at the moment. What will happen to that support when it becomes clear that nothing at all was accomplished by this recent war is a different question entirely.
As to Israeli public opinion, initially polling showed a strengthening of support for the parties of the right – though that is usually the case after a war. This war has taught most Israelis two contradictory lessons: withdrawing from territory is dangerous, and the status quo is unsustainable. Israelis can only wonder what it would be like if Israel withdrew from the West Bank, and the salvos of mortars that were hitting the settlements around Gaza were instead hitting the populated Israelis cities of K'far Saba and Ra'anana (both of which are located no farther from the old border as the Israeli settlements around Gaza are located from the Gaza Strip.) On the other hand, the sense that time was working to our advantage and there were no immediate dangers was also proven to be false. Israelis are now faced with trying to reconcile these two contradictory data points. Of course, all of this reality must be understood against the rising tide of extreme Islam that is now growing close to Israel’s borders.
Finally, a story that has gained prominence in Israel today is the report that Palestinian President Abbas has turned down a suggestion by the Egyptians that a large area of the Sinai be given to the Palestinians to create a state and settle their refugees. This afternoon, both Abbas and the Egyptian government are denying the story and source of the original story is in doubt. That does not take away fro the fact that the one thing should be clear to everyone involved in trying to solve the Israeli Palestinian dispute – only by finding an innovative approach to solving the refugee problem will there ever be peace.