Imagine you have to go to the supermarket to pick up a few things for your home. Seriously, take a moment and think: how would you get there? What do you need to bring with you? What sort of obstacles might you find in your path? Each of us makes a few dozen such calculations every day as we plan to go to the supermarket, or to get some lunch, or to go to work. And I bet that few of us obsess about the projected strengths or weaknesses of the vehicle we’ll use, or count out the steps and the seconds it will take to get to our final destination. Instead, most of us know where we want to go, have a general sense of how we intend to get there (taking into general account all the strengths and weaknesses of our vehicles and our bodies), and prepare broadly for what we need to bring to make sure we’re ready to do what we need to do once we get to our final destination. Most importantly we know what we want to find once we’ve reached our destination.
That, in a nutshell, is what strategic planning is all about: knowing who you are, what you want to accomplish, and how, in general, you intend to achieve your goals. And that, in a short metaphor, is what is unfortunately missing from the Israeli political process, from discussions about the future of the Jewish People and the Jewish State, and from the reasoning and logic behind deliberations on the next government that our elected members of Knesset are conducting on our behalf.
To be more explicit: what sort of State would we or our representatives in government like to see, say, twenty years in the future? What is our goal, our ideal version of the Jewish State and its ideal relationship with the region, with the Jewish People, and with the world as a whole? Not having even a basic answer to these questions is like setting out of the house with no purpose in mind, no money in your wallet and no sense of what the weather is like outside. Sure, it can be fun for a while to wander – but it is deeply irresponsible when you have pressing issues at stake.
The current debate in Israel revolves around either the means (who will sit in the coalition), or the past (who did what to who) instead of what future we would like to have. For example, the debate about whether and how the Ultra-Orthodox and the Palestinian/Arab-Israelis will serve the country is certainly important because it can give us important information about the capacity of our vehicle of State to address the challenges it is facing, but rarely if ever in the discussion does a public leader or intellectual bring up how this vehicle upgrade might be required for us to arrive safely in a better future and why. For all of the talk of ‘Yesh Atid’ (that there is a future) that future is no more than a parve version of utopia: an Israel good for the middle class, with equal opportunity for all.
We can do much better than that. The Zionist movement had its shares of visionaries and futurists, and it is time we return to their tradition of developing science fiction visions of the State we aspire to be, and make decisions about our present based upon whether or not we believe that such steps will help us get to our future. (Because as anyone who has to go to the supermarket knows, sometimes when one road is blocked, you have to double back before you can move forward).
I attempted to sketch out one such future in my amateur scifi techno-thriller novel, Do No Evil, but that future relates to Israel tangentially as opposed to directly. So here I would like to share with you five possible scenarios I believe our Ship of State could be steered towards, depending on our actions done today. Remember, twenty years ago was 1993, a reality not so far off from today’s present reality. Apologies for the length of these – if you’re short on time, feel free to skim to the bolded points, below:
1. Status Quo: Israel in 2033 could remain in a status quo State, a basic continuation of our current reality, with a few adjustments due to demographic shifts and economic realities. This Status Quo Israel will have more Ultra-Orthodox and Arab citizens, leading to either a greater tax burden on the productive classes or a reduction in financial subsidies to the underprivileged, leading to a leveling off of their population growth, but a voting public that is, majority, either Ultra-Orthodox or Arab. Israel’s relationship with its neighbors would remain cold if not outwardly hostile, buffered due to a more-religious and more-rightwing military. The State’s relationship with the Palestinians in the now-State of Palestine could remain stuck or “Bennetized,’ as the State of Palestine practices practical autonomy over Areas A and B of the West Bank, and suffers through the daily hassles of the bridges and tunnels that such an arrangement would require. Gaza will have moved closer to Egypt, but remain independent and a periodic nuisance. As for Israel’s place vis-a-vis regional powers, with twenty years of deadlock in negotiations between Israel and its neighbors for a mutually agreeable solution to the Arab-Jewish conflict in the region, despair will settle into outright enmity and on-going tension, such as exists between India and Pakistan. In short, a Status Quo Israel would be like today, only a bit less well-educated, a bit more rightwing and Orthodox, and a bit less hopeful about a future in which Defense could not be the main role of the State. This Israel would have a hard time fulfilling a meaningful role in world politics, not to mention a meaningful example or ‘light’ unto the nations.
2 . Two States in the Cold: Israel in 2033 could also take another route, following a completed peace process with the Palestinians separating the two states along demographic lines. In the Two States in the Cold scenario, a peace process between Israel and Palestine would be concluded either under threat of action by the United States, or due to Israeli internal pressures that lead the government to make hard concessions – and then swing to the right to make sure that once the border is drawn, no relationship would exist between Israel and its neighbor. An Israel that does not rule over another People, whose border is drawn along demographic lines and whose population is therefore grand majority Jewish, would still see a growing base of Orthodox Jews enter into its ranks – leading government to determine whether to continue to subsidize the growing demographic or cut subsidies and integrate the Ultra-Orthodox into the workforce. Thanks to the Two State Solution Israel would probably have warmer ties with the West, and the possible reduction of security risk (this is just one scenario – Two States in the Heat is a more Gaza-like outcome) would increase stability, increase foreign investment and tourism, and raise the Israeli economy to a higher rung on the OECD scale. Israel’s regional trade would be little to none, and it will continue to face the West and Far East. In short, a Two States in the Cold Israel could increase Israel’s stature in the world, but might maintain Israel’s alien nature in the region, providing fodder for regional governments to wage a cold war against Israel’s existence in the hope that internal pressures on Israel may cause it to fail. This Israel would be able to focus on exporting its culture and internal innovations to the nations with less resistance from the international community, but would have to do so contending that it is not a colonial entity in a foreign environment – leading to a lot of noise through which Israel would have to communicate its signal.
3. Mediterranean Beaches of the Union: Just as the United States recently warned the United Kingdom that it would prefer the UK stay in the European Union, so too Israel could be find itself incentivized to join the European Block, or at least the European Community, in a bid for stronger relations with Israel’s main trading partners. To do so, Israel would have to end its occupation of Palestinian demographic zones and enable the creation of a viable State of Palestine, following which the EU and NATO might be willing to cast their security and economic umbrella over the country as part of the EU’s Mediterranean Zone. This Mediterranean Beach Israel would become by 2033 a center for innovation and creativity for Europe, providing European countries with much-needed entrepreneurial spirit, as Israelis will be given the opportunity to move to any country in the Union and start a business. To keep these Israelis connected to Israel, the Government of Israel would have to work harder to expand Israel’s Tel Aviv appeal to the rest of the country – leading to a greater influx of Europeans into Israel as non-Jewish residents of the State, providing much needed engineers, managers and analysts for Israeli companies starved for talent, possibly helping to grow the medium sized business sector in Israel. In short, a Mediterranean Beach of the Union Israel would give up some of its sovereignty to gain free and unfettered access to European markets and talent, trading some of Israel’s unique Jewish identity for a more regional, interconnected identity, possibly causing friction with the growing Orthodox demographic (or, if one would take the Brussels example, possibly solving it). This Israel would find itself with more access to the nations, but less of an understanding of what it’s unique light is – leading to a possible assimilation of Israel into the Western culture, and possibly inviting another Hannukah-like scenario down the line.
4. Outpost of Resistance: The Arab Spring and Islamic Winter has highlighted that this region is anything but the Arab-Muslim Middle East. As Kurdish rebellions rock Syria, Iraq, and Turkey, and as the Copts circle their wagons in Egypt — and as the Azeri in Iran strengthen their resistance against the Persians — its becoming more and more apparent that the Middle East is a mosaic of minorities and tribes, and not an ‘Arab-Muslim’ Region. An Israel that sees itself as an Outpost of Resistance could ally itself with these other minorities who are fighting off Arab imperialism since the 700s C.E., and by 2033 serve as the leading supplier of goods, know-how and training for minorities in the region who would seek national determination. To do so, Israel would withdraw from Palestinian areas that are demographically Palestinian, and strengthen its hold on areas with Jewish demographic presence. It would focus its public profile on the Jewish immigrants from Middle Eastern lands who make up almost half of the country’s demographic, and use its Middle Eastern culture as proof that Israel is indigenous to the region and committed to the transformation of the region of a whole. This Israel would break out of its traditional Left-Right dichotomy, and increase its focus on security with an extra focus on taking initiative when it comes to strategic shifts in regional power. Israel could become a regional center for self-determination, opening up new relationships with a re-drawn Middle East, developing a foundation for Israel’s long-term acceptance in the region (as accepted as any other non-Arab or non-Muslim peoples would be), and transforming the way the Jewish State would be framed as a party in the region, worldwide. In short, Israel as an Outpost of Resistance would put Israel on war-footing for a while as it supports the struggle of minorities such as the Kurds and Copts, but in the long run would ensure that Israel is a legitimate State in the region, and a leader of the non-Arab States in the region. This Israel would redefine the narrative of the Jewish State to be that of a Hebrew People returning to their native land, joining with the other tribes in the region to fight of imperialism and establish a new, more pluralistic Middle East.
5. Abrahamic Republic: In a bid to fulfill the prophetic vision for the Jewish State, Israel could set out to become an Abrahamic Republic by 2033. An Abrahamic Republic would transform Israel into the center for the Abrahamic faiths, internationalizing Jerusalem and making it the capital for the spiritual Children of Abraham, worldwide, enabling the nations of the world to trek to give thanks and praises at the foot of Mount Zion. Israel would remain a democracy with a Jewish majority, and adopt a constitution that put its Jewish values at the core of the State, after which it would make citizenship available to anyone of the Abrahamic Tradition. Israel would invite the Hashemite, the House of Saud, and the representatives of the Christian traditions to build embassies in Jerusalem, and to participate in an Abrahamic Council that would govern the affairs of the holy city. Through that council, Israel would develop stronger trade ties with its neighbors, seeking to create a Middle Eastern Economic Zone, offering the Middle East a grand bargain: Israel would provide the technological sophistication, the countries of the Middle East and North Africa would provide the labor and the energy. Together, this Abrahamic Confederation would rival the United States and China in its economic potential. In short, Israel as an Abrahamic Republic would build the foundations for a regional economic and spiritual union, enabling Israel to live in security and prosperity – at the cost of exclusive control over its holiest sites. This Israel would aspire to achieve its place in the world prophesied millennia ago, building deep ties with its neighbors and using the combined potential of the countries of the region to build a regional block that could lead the world.
These five futures are only a set of an infinite number of futures that our State could aspire to — and that our politicians should be discussing as the Ends for which they will form a coalition. Without knowing where they want to steer the ship of State, they do no better than spin us aimlessly towards a Status Quo future that I would believe no reader here would prefer. To ensure our future generations live in a world better than our own, we need more science fiction, more vision. Now is your time, dear reader: use the comments to tell us what future you’d like to see for our People, for our State, for our region, for our World.