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Celebrating Israel at 59

As Israel approaches its 59th anniversary of independence, marked this coming Monday according to the traditional calendar, there’s a distinct mood of solemnity — bordering on gloom — that’s taken root among those who hold Jewish statehood most dear. There’s a fear afoot, rising almost monthly, that Israel faces threats of ever-growing deadliness, that the early Zionist dreams of peace, safe haven and normalcy are slipping hopelessly beyond reach. It’s a fear that this newspaper has echoed on this occasion in years past, even as we’ve sought the silver lining. This year, though, we beg to differ. We’re celebrating.

The Talmud teaches that age 50 is a time for wise counsel and 60 a time of emerging maturity. That’s the right way to view Israel’s internal discord of the past few years: as the growth struggles of a still-young country seeking to find its way onto the right path. It is a nation conceived in persecution, born in war, forged from a melding of many cultures, striving to build from those tangled roots a strong, humane democracy. Even — no, especially — the turmoil of the past year, with its scandals of corruption, official misconduct and military disarray, gives cause for hope. These are the marks of an earnestly evolving democracy that is, for all its challenges, able and determined to address its flaws, blessed with a robust press and a fearless judiciary to keep it on track. No, it’s not pretty to watch. But real life seldom is.

It’s on the international front, though, that despair over Israel’s future is least warranted. Pessimists, including too many of Israel’s friends, look at the latest array of threats facing Israel — Iran, Hezbollah, Hamas — and fret that the end is near. They somehow forget the many threats that Israel has faced down in the past. The Jewish state has survived and thrived through six decades because it has met danger with pragmatism, determination and cool-headedness. It does Israel no favors to suggest, as some do, that it replace those qualities with hysteria and inflexibility.

For all the threats Jerusalem confronts right now, it also has unprecedented opportunities. From its birth, Israel has insisted in the face of Arab hostility that it was ready to talk peace anytime, anywhere, with any power that was willing to talk to it. For years it got only rejection. Now, in a historic turnaround, it faces a united Arab world offering to sit down and talk peace. Four years ago, the Arab League offered a take-it-or-leave-it proposal of full peace in return for full withdrawal, something Israelis found interesting but deeply flawed. Last month, the Arab League took the essential next step, offering to sit with Israel in working groups and hammer out mutually acceptable details. Israel, initially skeptical, now appears ready to join in, according to the latest reports from Prime Minister Ehud Olmert’s office.

Much remains to be done, but an outline of peace is visible. It’s not too much to hope that in a few years’ time, it will be the Islamic Republic, not the Jewish state, that finds itself isolated in the Middle East.

For all these reasons, we see Israel’s 59th birthday as a time for hopeful celebration. We’re looking forward eagerly and confidently to the 60th, and then onward to 120.


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