News Analysis: Israeli Public Largely Unruffled by Sweeping Moves in Peace Process

Developments in the Middle East peace process that only months ago would have been condemned as anathema, or dismissed as fantasy, are taking place in staggering succession.

And yet the Israeli public is going about its daily business largely undisturbed.

The government is considering full recognition of the Palestine Liberation Organization, an agreement with the Palestinians for interim self-rule and total withdrawal from the Golan Heights.

Yet many Israelis, especially of the younger generation, seem to be at least as preoccupied with news about pop singer Michael Jackson, due to perform here soon, as with Foreign Minister Shimon Peres’ secret meetings with PLO officials and U.S. Secretary of State Warren Christopher.

The one public manifestation of concern over the peace process is a nationwide rash of huge, hand-painted placards asserting, “The People are with the Golan.”

The slogans are everywhere — on billboards, balconies and trees. The Public Works Department labors to remove them, on the grounds that such advertising requires a license, but they go up more quickly than they can be taken down.

But the impact of these posters is largely unknown. While they assert the people’s solidarity with the Golan, they also raise the question — unthinkable until not long ago — that Israel may be able to do without the strategic plateau over-looking Galilee.

It would be simplistic to attribute the relative passivity of the public to the atmosphere of hedonism represented by the preoccupation with Michael Jackson.

For, as has been well documented in the past, these same young hedonists can quickly rise up to defend a cause — or the state itself — when moved to do so.

‘WEARINESS WITH WAR’

The societal forces that brought Labor to power after more than a decade of Likud primacy, and that have led to a widespread acceptance of Labor’s far-reaching peace moves, reach deeper than hedonism.

Some scholars have detected a “weariness with war” on both sides of the Middle East conflict.

Others link the current mood to the sense of relief that swept the world with the end of the Cold War.

But perhaps the leading influence on the present Israeli mood is the trauma caused by the Iraqi Scud missile attacks on Tel Aviv during the Persian Gulf War.

The fleeing citizenry felt in the most direct and personal way that neither the Golan nor the Gaza Strip served as any defense for their homes and lives.

The behavior of the Palestinians — who cheered as Scuds landed in Tel Aviv — further served to persuade many Israelis of the impossibility of coexisting with the Palestinians as members of the same country.

If many Israelis seem far from bowled over by the latest developments in the peace talks, it is perhaps because they have already made up their minds that these steps are necessary.

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