Domaine de Rosner: a first Negev banquet

On Monday morning, the Negev leaders’ summit almost disappeared from public view. Foreign Minister Yair Lapid had planned everything well. The site of Sde Boker, the place of residence of David Ben Gurion, the flags, the blowing wind, the helicopters, the informal setting. Everything, that is, except the unexpected, which in this region is to be expected. When leaders come together to talk about cooperation and development, invariably someone will grab a gun and shoot. TV cameras in the Negev were turned off, TV cameras in the town of Hadera, where two terrorists opened fire and killed two Israeli policemen, were turned on. Lapid and the summit suddenly seemed out of place, distant – as distant as Sde Boker.

When leaders come together to talk about cooperation and development, invariably someone will grab a gun and shoot.

Even before the latest attack, focusing on the historic summit – attended by foreign ministers from Egypt, Bahrain, Morocco, the Emirates and the United States – was not easy. Three days before the summit, a terrorist attack in Beer Sheba resulted in four deaths. In both terrorist attacks, the culprits were Arab citizens of Israel. Tension between Jews and Arabs has been a recurring theme over the past year – a year in which, on the one hand, riots and violence raged, while on the other, for the first time, a party Arab joined the majority coalition.

So it is in this schizophrenic region. When there is good news, there must be bad news. When some Arabs integrate, politically speaking, some Arabs also revolt or commit attacks. It is not always easy to say which of the two tendencies is more dominant. And the same goes for the news coming from the south, from the Negev. When some Israelis and Arabs sit together to chat with the serene desert in the background, other Israelis and Arabs (mostly Bedouins) are caught up in a struggle over Israel’s ability to rule the desert.

The Hebrew word that is often used to describe problems with the Negev is “Mesilut– governability, or in this case, the lack thereof. There are not enough police to control the crime rate in this area; there is not enough determination to settle the Bedouins on land that belongs to them, rather than where they want to reside. The Negev is about half of Israel, but many still think it’s our Wild West, where the laws don’t always apply. Ask almost any Israeli, and they’ll tell you it’s time the government did something about Meshilut in the Negev. Ask what exactly needs to be done, and the answer begins to vary. At a cabinet meeting on Sunday, two ministers fought vehemently over a plan to build five new Jewish settlements in the northern Negev. In previous months, the Arab coalition party, the Raam Party, whose main constituency is Bedouin, has blocked initiatives to more aggressively combat illegal Bedouin activities.

Ben-Gurion’s dream of the Negev as a blooming desert, the one Lapid wanted to underscore by bringing together foreign leaders for a show of unity, has yet to be realized. There are flowers, yes, but next to the flower is a bag of unresolved issues, which is also an apt description of the top of the rulers. It was a historic show of legitimacy, as Arab countries sent their dignitaries to be seen publicly socializing with Israelis, on Israeli land, not far from where Israel’s founder is buried. It was also the spectacle of Middle Eastern leaders beginning to prepare for a more dangerous and unstable region, in which Iran – emboldened by the lack of American resolve – grows stronger and bolder. Imagine this: a summit in which Israel and the Arabs are on one side, complaining and protesting, while US Secretary of State Antony Blinken is on the other, trying to explain a US policy for which no no good explanation has been given so far.

When the summit convened, there was speculation that it could become a place of confrontation with the United States. It didn’t happen, maybe because of the quiet, or maybe because that’s not Lapid’s way of operating. Thus, the event was a success. The food was good, the ambiance warm, the photos lovely, the sense of history being in the air. But ask what exactly has been achieved and the answer becomes somewhat vague. It was decided to organize another such meeting next year. Which reminded me of the Purim we just celebrated and Queen Esther’s first banquet. Do you remember his feat? Let the king and Haman come back the next day – to fix the real problem.

Something I wrote in Hebrew

Sometimes I write about the daily life of Israelis. Things like: do they have pets?

How many of us have a dog or a cat at home? The answer is, about a third. Much less for the Arabs, much less for the ultra-Orthodox, more for the rest of us. But even in the case of the rest of us, Israel is far from being at the forefront of pets. In the United States, more than half of the population owns a pet. In Israel, even among secular Israelis, who tend to have more pets, the share does not reach 50%. Yet the level of tradition and religiosity is the best indication of whether people are likely to have pets. The more religious Israelis are, the fewer pets they have. Among the ultra-Orthodox, it is an almost non-existent phenomenon. Among the religious, it only exists among a minority of about a tenth.

One week numbers

Israel’s heart is with Ukraine; Israel’s mind is more about Israel’s need to balance its policy and not alienate Russia.

Response from a reader:

Naomi Eshron wrote: “I don’t understand why you call the backwardness of the Haredi world a success – it’s a disaster for Israel! “. A quick answer: oddly, both can be true, a success for them that is a challenge for Israel (a “catastrophe” is premature and too strong).


Shmuel Rosner is a political editor. For more analysis of Israeli and international politics, visit Rosner’s domain at jewishjournal.com/rosnersdomain.