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For five years, Israel has been ruled by consensus, led by two men of the Hero generation in the genocidal 1948-49 war between Jews and Arabs -- conservative Ariel Sharon and liberal Shimon Perez. (Palestine President Mahmoud Abbas is in the same Hero generation on the Arab side, as was his predecessor, Yasser Arafat.)
Each of these men, each in his own way, has held back the tides of war in the Mideast. Each remembers the horrors of that war, as Jews and Arabs tried to exterminate each other, and each did what he had to do to keep anything like it from happening again.
In fact, Sharon and Peres have cooperated with each other during Sharon's term as Prime Minister, even though they're from different parties and have long been political enemies.
Sharon has done some remarkable things in the last five years -- and I'm not passing judgment here on whether his accomplishments were "good" or "evil" as others do -- I'm simply saying that it's remarkable that these things were accomplished at all. I'm referring particularly to the barrier surrounding Israel, and to the Israeli withdrawal from the Gaza strip.
Because in case you haven't noticed, other governments around the world, including our own, are incapable of accomplishing anything at all:
It's not a surprise that today, 60 years after the end of World War II, all the countries of the West are on "cruise control," unable to slow down or speed up. It's a consequence of generational changes taking place in one country after another.
Today, it's we in the Boomer and Generation X generations that are in charge. Unfortunately, we don't really know how to take care of ourselves, since we've always depended on our parents to take care of us. Our parents were in the Silent Generation that grew up during World War II and in the G.I. Generation, the Hero generation that actually beat the Depression and beat the Nazis before we were even born. Living through those horrors gave our parents the skills to navigate the country and the world without putting us in danger again. Our generations don't have the skills to do anything except argue with one another. To put it another way: We can't actually do anything except express outrage when something goes wrong.
My point in giving those examples is that now the same thing is about to happen in Israel. Israel is four years behind us in terms of a generational timeline -- WW II ended in 1945, while the genocidal war between Jews and Arabs ended in 1949. That means that, from a generational point of view, Israel and Palestine today are about where America was in 2001. That's why the Israeli and Palestinian public have been willing to compromise and contain problems, rather than confront potential enemies and demand retribution, with the risk that events will spiral out of control.
Sharon, Peres and others in the generations that lived through the horrors of the 1948-49 war have been willing to make compromises when necessary to prevent any such new war. Now they're being replaced by younger generations who didn't live through that war and - to put it bluntly - do not have the "life skills" or political skills necessary to keep it from happening again.
When I discuss this subject with people, very often they point out the 1967 "Six Day War" and the 1973 "Yom Kippur War" between Jews and Arabs, and wonder why that didn't have the same effect as the 1948-49 war. The 1967 and 1973 wars may have been very significant from a political point of view, but from the point of view of Generational Dynamics, they were but pale shadows of the 1948-49 war.
In my book, Generational Dynamics for Historians, I explain in detail the difference between crisis and non-crisis wars. The main difference is that crisis wars are supported by large masses of people, while non-crisis wars are pursued by politicians. That difference is clear in these cases. The 1948-49 war involved almost 100,000 troops from Jewish and five Arab armies in extended fighting that lasted over a year, and led to the uprooting and migration of three-quarters of a million Palestinians - from Palestine to neighboring Arab countries. The 1967 and 1973 wars lasted only a few days, and were fought mainly air forces, with relatively little troop involvement and almost no migration.
So whatever the political importance of the 1967 and 1973 wars, they had only a tiny fraction of the horrors of the 1948-49 war. And this was no accident. The commanders on both sides of these later wars had fought as soldiers in the 1948-49 war, and they made sure that the massive genocide and relocations of the 1948-49 war were not repeated. That's how the Generational Dynamics cycle works.
Moving ahead to today, there are few major Israeli leaders left who understand all this, and two of them, Ariel Sharon, 77, and Shimon Peres, 82.
It's fascinating to see how quickly both of them are being displaced by younger men -- and apparently by men who are almost two generations younger.
Earlier this month, on November 10, Shimon Peres was ousted as head of Israel's Labor Party by the unexpected victory of trade union head Amir Peretz, a man who in the past has expressed opposition to Israeli settlements in the West Bank. At age 53, Peretz is substantially younger than his aging opponent, and speaks for a new postwar generation who (like America's Boomer generation) contain arrogant, narcissistic people with little patience for the caution and diplomacy of those who lived through the last crisis war.
Peretz immediately rejected the unity government with Sharon, and said he would immediately start negotiations with the Palestinians. "A unity government is bad for democracy because there has to be an opposition that presents the public with an alternative," he said.
Peretz is emphasizing economic and social programs and social equality. In particular, since he was born as a Moroccan Jew, he gives hope to other North African Jews in Israel who believe that they're discriminated against, in favor of European and American Jews. Peretz' victory appears to have invigorated the Labor Party, which had 20,000 new members within a week, adding to the 100,000 existing members.
Ending the coalition means that a new election is required. Ariel Sharon's disengagement from Gaza had been possible only because it had the support of Peres, thanks to a coalition between Peres' Labor Party and Sharon's Likud Party on this issue. With Peres gone, the coalition dissolved, forcing a new election in March.
Last week it seemed far from clear that Sharon continue to win the leadership in his own party, let alone with the election in March. The reason is because of anger within the Likud party that Sharon had unilaterally ceded Gaza, including hundreds of established Jewish settlements, to the Palestinians. Giving up these homes was opposed by many young Israelis, many of who had joined Likud specifically for its support of the settlements in Gaza and the West Bank. Thus, Sharon has recently been given the nickname "Bulldozer" by his young political opponents in Likud.
So the net is that young, postwar generations are taking over both major political parties, destroying the consensus that allowed Israel actually to accomplish something -- the barrier and the Gaza disengagement. We can now expect Israel to go the way of the other Western countries and no longer be able to accomplish anything except to argue with one another.
Ariel Sharon is a brilliant politician, and last week announced what pundits are calling an Israeli earthquake: He announced that he would quit the Likud party and announced that he would form a new "centrist" party called Kadima -- Hebrew for "Forward."
Shimon Peres is currently deciding whether to leave the Labor Party and join Sharon. If this happens, the generational realignment will be complete:
In any event, the philosophical split in the Jewish population that has previously been papered over will now become intractably cemented into a new political structure.
The political movement known as Zionism (named after Mount Zion in Jerusalem) began in the late 1800s. The goal was always to create and secure a Jewish state around Jerusalem, but there were always disagreements as to the means to achieve those goals. There were political means (negotiating for Britain's support), practical means (immigration and building Jewish settlements in the Jerusalem suburbs), and "revisionist" means (demonstrations and terrorist acts).
There was always a range of views, with the "left" or liberal wing emphasizing pacifism and peaceful non-confrontation, and the "right" or conservative wing emphasizing riots and terrorist violence, all with the goal of achieving a Jewish state. All these tactics came into play including violence and including a large migration of Jews to Palestine in the 1930s, escaping persecution in Europe.
It's doubtful that there would have been a state of Israel except for the tremendous worldwide sympathy for Jews that followed the revelations after World War II of Hitler's concentration camps for Jews and the Jewish Holocaust.
After the partitioning of Palestine, the creation of Israel, and the 1948-49 war, Israel was led by a leftist coalition, which eventually became the Labor Party, dominating Israeli politics until the 1970s.
The rightist coalition coalesced into the Likud party, co-founded by Ariel Sharon in 1973. Likud's candidate, Menachem Begin, won in 1977, and Likud has dominated Israeli politics for most of the time since then.
During the 1970s, Sharon became a strong supporter of the settlement movement and was viewed as the patron of the messianic settlers' movement. Sharon used his political power to encourage the establish Israeli settlements, many of them illegal according to Israeli and international law, in the occupied territories (Gaza Strip and West Bank). The goal was to prevent the possibility of the return of these territories to Palestinian Arabs.
Although various Zionist groups and parties have generally taken well-defined positions on various issues from negotiation to terrorism, the use of settlements to establish "facts on the ground" can only be described as a source of schizophrenia for Jews. While supposedly the use of settlements has officially been a tactic of the right, the left has tolerated and closed a blind eye to the building of settlements during the 1930s, and again in the 1990s when the Liberal Party was in power. Settlements that were illegal in both Israeli and international law have always been tacitly accepted, and rarely challenged, much to the anger of the Palestinians and the frustration of Americans and Europeans.
Thus, in 2002 when Sharon proposed abandoning settlements in Gaza as an official Israeli policy, it shocked his supporters in Likud. One of Sharon's closest advisors, Deputy Prime Minister Ehud Olmert, recalls that he told Sharon at the time, "You have to get ready for a dramatic political change, because the Likud will not survive this." He added, "What matters is that for the first time in the history of the Zionist movement, the Jewish people decided to turn the tide and to make a U-turn, if you will, in the most sensitive point of the Zionist ethos, which is settlements."
Everyone agrees that this "earthquake" is moving Israel, but moving it where?
Almost all pundits imply that Ariel Sharon, in his dotage, is becoming more conciliatory and moderate, abandoning his old hard-core conservative ways.
Some pundits go further and see all of Israel as moving to the left. This is perhaps stated most explicity and succinctly in an opinion piece by Uri Avnery in al-Jazeera:
The Likud nucleus is stuck on the right, where it always was. But all the others have moved.
The Sharon-party, which has split from the Likud, has given up its main article of faith: [capturing the Biblical Land of Israel]. It advocates the partition of the country. Sharon himself has established the precedent of removing settlements. However bad his political program is: compared to the former position of himself and of the Likud, it is much less rightist. He has not turned into "Labor 2", as his Likud opponents assert, but he has moved leftward.
The election of Amir Peretz constitutes a major movement of the Labor party to the real left.
This is true for the solution of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict as well as for the social problem. Not only does Peretz bring with him a social-democratic agenda, he also compels all the other parties to turn in this direction, or at least to pretend to."
But this analysis is wrong, for both Sharon and the whole of Israel, for the same reason that most political pundits err today: It overlooks generational changes.
Ariel Sharon is not moving to the left, or changing his stripes at all. He hasn't even abandoned his program to expand Jewish settlements, though now the focus is the West Bank rather than Gaza.
Throughout his life, Ariel Sharon's public life has been motivated by two goals:
It's the second goal that sharply divides Ariel Sharon's from those in postwar generations, and really explains his changes in behavior.
Sharon's world view is shown by the above map of the Mideast. That map shows a tiny red dot, representing Israel and Palestine, in the middle of a vast sea of green, representing Islam.
Thirty years ago, after the 1973 war, a safe and secure state of Israel seemed within reach. At that time, it made sense to Sharon to encourage settlements that would "establish facts on the ground" with the objective of adding these territories to Israel.
Today, it's easy to see that the huge sea of green in the map above, representing hundreds of millions of Muslimes, could easily overrun the tiny red dot and obliterate Israel entirely. Most younger Israeli citizens can't imagine that, because they've never seen anything like that. But Sharon knows well what can happen, because he's seen it before.
That's why he directed the building of the barrier surrounding Israel -- not only to keep out suicide bombers, but also to slow the advance of huge Arab armies marching on Israel.
That's why he directed the disengagement from Gaza, even at the expense of the Jewish settlements that had been built there years before -- because he didn't see how Israel could defend Gaza in the event of all out war.
If Shimon Peres joins Sharon's party, it will be for the same reason; the two men may have different views on many different policies, but they share the same fear of a major war with Arabs in the region.
Think back, if you can, to the 1990s. Ethnic and religious tolerance were accepted everywhere. Europe could adopt the euro currency. Terrorism was a crime, not a cause for war.
Today, 60 years after the end of World War II, things have changed. Relations between Christians and Muslims have measurably worsened, especially in Europe and Mideast; anxiety and fear of new terrorism is enormous; and legislative bodies are locked in petty bickering, leaving nations on cruise control.
Nations on cruise control are very brittle since they're not flexible enough to react to change. With American public debt increasing exponentially and terrorism becoming increasing menacing and organized, Western nations on cruise control will snap rather than bend when the stress increases.
Now, four years behind the rest of the West, Israel is about to go in a new, uncharted direction. But at age 77 Sharon can't be expected to be active too much longer, and in fact it's hard to see what he has in mind with this new party. So it seems most likely that Israel's new direction is quite charted after all -- the same kind of "cruise control" that other Western nations are on.
And what about the Palestinians? Well, Yasser Arafat died almost exactly a year ago, and was replaced as Palestinian Authority (PA) President by Mahmoud Abbas, also known as Abu Mazen. By this time, Abbas was supposed to have brought Gaza and the West Bank under control of the PA, and close to agreement with Israel to have two-nation solution, with Israel and a Palestine nation side by side, as envisioned by the "Mideast Peace Roadmap," proposed by America 2 1/2 years ago.
Instead, the Gaza Strip seems to have gone on cruise control as well, descending into further chaos and lawlessness following the Israeli disengagement.
And just yesterday, Palestinian gunmen forced their way into Gaza polling stations and forced the postponement of primary elections, leaving the status of the January 25 legislative elections in doubt.
We're at a unique time in history, 60 years after the end of World War II, when all the countries that fought in that war are in generational crisis periods, because all the leaders and senior managers in these countries are from the generations born after WW II, and none of them have any personal memory of the horrors of that war.
In their groundbreaking research on generational patterns, William Strauss and Neil Howe studied contemporary histories and diaries written by Americans during generational crisis periods and found that those are periods of intense political conflict. At the time that this research was performed, in the 1980s and early 1990s, they didn't have the advantage of actually living through any such era.
Now we do. We can get a feeling what it's like to live during a generational crisis period -- at least the early part of the period, before a crisis war actually breaks out. What we see is not only political conflict, but also one nation after another stuck in place, not able to do anything except bicker. That also appears to be already true of Palestine, and we'll have to wait a couple of months to see whether Israel's political earthquake leads it to the same place.
There are good reasons why this happens time after time, and they're worth repeating.
In the Generational Dynamics model, crisis wars are the most genocidal kinds of wars, the wars where huge masses of people are killed, raped, starved or relocated.
America has had only two such wars since its founding. One was World War II, in which American soldiers committed mass suicide on the beaches of Normandy, and then America firebombed and destroyed entire cities like Dresden and Tokyo, and even dropped two nuclear weapons on Japanese cities. The other was the Civil War, in which northern General Sherman marched through Georgia with a brutal "scorched earth" policy that destroyed all homes and crops so that any survivors starved to death. None of America's other wars -- World War I, Vietnam, the Spanish-American war, etc. -- had this kind of genocidal explosion, and that's why the distinction is important. Generational Dynamics shows that every tribe, region and nation experiences such wars at regular intervals, usually around 70-90 years (the length of a maximum human lifespan).
The people who live during a crisis war, like World War II or like the 1948-49 genocidal war between Jews and Arabs are scarred for life -- whether they fight in the war, and even if they grow up during the war. Their entire lives are keyed to the concept that their should never have to suffer anything like that, and in fact nothing like that should ever happen again. They spend their lives using the skills that they learned during the war to guide the country through dangers, compromising and containing problems as necessary, to keep the country from going through that kind of war again. Smaller wars ("non-crisis wars") may be fought - but only with the purpose of preventing the worst kind of war.
Unfortunately, these people disappear (retire or die) all at once, around 50-60 years after the crisis war ends, and they leave behind their children, born after the war, and with no skills to guide the country in the same way. The result is a nation of bickering adult children who literally don't know how to take care of themselves.
That's where we are today, as we see all of the countries that fought in WW II steeped in bureacracy and politics, just waiting for something to happen, waiting for someone to lead.
|Conflict risk level for next 6-12 months as of: 30-May-2005|
|W. Europe||1||Arab Israeli||2|
Sooner or later something will happen. A terrorist act will force someone to declare war on someone, or a miscalculation in the East China Sea will cause a war between China and Japan. Or maybe there'll be a crash of the vastly overpriced stock market, or maybe we'll start out with a worldwide bird flu pandemic. Or maybe we'll start with that new war between Jews and Arabs in the Mideast.
Generational Dynamics predicts that all of these things are going to happen, and that we're heading for a "clash of civilizations" world war, and that it will begin sooner rather than later.