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2.9.10

Why Israel Doesn't Care About Peace

Asked in a March poll to name the "most urgent problem" facing Israel, just 8% of Israeli Jews cited the conflict with Palestinians, putting it fifth behind education, crime, national security and poverty.

TIME | By Karl Vick | September 02, 2010


Heli and Eli sell condos on Exodus Street, a name that evokes a certain historical hardship in a neighborhood that suggests none at all, the ingathering of the Jews having entered a whole new realm here. The talk in the little office is of interest rates and panoramic sea views from handsomely appointed properties selling on the Ashdod waterfront for half what people are asked to pay in Tel Aviv, 18 miles (29 km) to the north. And sell they do, hand over fist — never mind the rockets that fly out of Gaza, 14 miles (22.5 km) to the south. "Even when the Qassams fell, we continued to sell!" says Heli Itach, slapping a palm on the office desk. The skull on her designer shirt is made of sequins spelling out "Love Kills Slowly." "What the people see on the TV there is not true here," she says. "I sold, this week, 12 apartments. You're not client, I tell you the truth."

The truth? In the week that three Presidents, a King and their own Prime Minister gather at the White House to begin a fresh round of talks on peace between Israel and the Palestinians, the truth is, Israelis are no longer preoccupied with the matter. They're otherwise engaged; they're making money; they're enjoying the rays of late summer. A watching world may still define their country by the blood feud with the Arabs whose families used to live on this land and whether that conflict can be negotiated away, but Israelis say they have moved on.

Now observing 2? years without a single suicide bombing on their territory, with the economy robust and with souls a trifle weary of having to handle big elemental thoughts, the Israeli public prefers to explore such satisfactions as might be available from the private sphere, in a land first imagined as a utopia. "Listen to me," says Eli Bengozi, born in Soviet Georgia and for 40 years an Israeli. "Peace? Forget about it. They'll never have peace. Remember Clinton gave 99% to Arafat, and instead of them fighting for 1%, what? Intifadeh."

But wait. Deep down (you can almost hear the outside world ask), don't Israelis know that finding peace with the Palestinians is the only way to guarantee their happiness and prosperity? Well, not exactly. Asked in a March poll to name the "most urgent problem" facing Israel, just 8% of Israeli Jews cited the conflict with Palestinians, putting it fifth behind education, crime, national security and poverty. Israeli Arabs placed peace first, but among Jews here, the issue that President Obama calls "critical for the world" just doesn't seem — critical.

Another whack for the desk. "The people," Heli says, "don't believe." Eli searches for a word. "People in Israel are indifferent," he decides. "They don't care if there's going to be war. They don't care if there's going to be peace. They don't care. They live in the day."

This is an abridged version of an article that appears in the Sept. 13, 2010, print and iPad editions of TIME magazine.