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Peace talks yet to burst Tel Aviv `bubble`
Seth Freedman--August 27, 2010--
Tourism is booming in Tel Aviv. Photograph: Alamy Hot town, summer in the city – and Tel Aviv residents have far better things to worry about than peace negotiations. The party season is in full swing in the heart of the Bu`ah (Bubble), as Tel Aviv is condescendingly known. Tourists throng the beaches and bars, business is booming throughout the sun-drenched streets and all signs suggest that the good times are here to stay.
As far as I can tell, the perennial hostilities with the Palestinians barely register with the average Tel Avivian; a lull in terror attacks on major Israeli cities coupled with a sky-rocketing economy defying the global downturn reinforces the feelgood factor in the country`s de facto capital. Far from being on the lips of the chattering classes, the coming talks between Israeli and Palestinian leaders are attracting much less attention on the domestic front than the international media circus would imply.
While residents of Israel`s border towns have good reason to perpetually fear for their safety, the `chessboard effect` keeps the half million-strong population of Tel Aviv feeling vastly more confident about their own security. As in a game of chess, where the first aim of defence is to surround the king with several pawns and a rook, the security wall and the ring of troops around the Israeli heartland has helped to achieve the same thing. The conflict has been by and large pushed out to the edge of the board – down south in Sderot, up north in towns along the Lebanese border and in settlements throughout the occupied territories.
While violence is breaking out in the West Bank in protest at the resumption of talks and settlers fret about whether the construction freeze will finally end, the silence from within mainstream Israel is deafening.
The prime reason is the lack of contact they have with either Arabs residing in Israel or Palestinians living in the West Bank and Gaza. Having spent six years living in Jerusalem and Jaffa, where there is at least some degree of interaction – however frosty – between Jews and Arabs, moving to the heart of the bubble has been a shock.
With some rare exceptions, every face I pass is Jewish, every conversation I hear is in Hebrew and little to nothing penetrates the thick walls of homogeneity in which we are all safely ensconced. Speaking to Israeli neighbours and friends in central Tel Aviv, they have an almost uniform approach to the conflict: `they` want to destroy `us`; consequently Israel has no choice but to keep the fires of war forever burning.
Such an attitude is not necessarily born of malice, but is undeniably selfish; putting themselves in the shoes of either fellow Israelis on the country`s periphery or Palestinians languishing in Gaza and the West Bank seems either too painful or too abstract. Army service was the last contact many of my peers had with either Palestinian people or territory and they seemingly harbour little desire to go back to discover for themselves the truth behind the military propaganda.
In media circles, the prospects for the new round of peace talks are viewed as bleak by all but the most blindly optimistic observers: far too many hurdles stand in the way for serious headway to be made by either side and the region`s long history of missed opportunities seems doomed to repeat itself. At street level, however, there is not even a sense of positivity or negativity to be weighed – instead, indifference is the dominant emotion, and it`s somewhat understandable why that should be.
Unless residents of Israel`s cosseted centre seek urgent change from their leaders, it`s hard to see how momentum can develop that might bring an end to the status quo. Life will remain as comfortable as ever for a select minority, and as harsh and harrowing for an unfortunate majority on both sides of the divide.
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