Israel’s Better Place
As we witness the latest attempts to restart the comatose peace process between Israel and the Palestinians, we heard last week about the shutting down of Better Place, the much-ballyhooed Israeli venture that aimed to revolutionize the world of electric cars.
It’s hard not to see a poetic link between these two failed ventures — one dreamed of being free of war, the other of being free of oil.
The closer you look at them, the more similarities you see.
First, they both suffered from the poison of too much hype. It’s not true that all publicity is good publicity — certainly not when you raise expectations so high that you set yourself up for failure.
Has any diplomatic subject ever received more hype than the Israeli-Palestinian conflict? How many careers have been built on its poor back? How many times have we heard leaders, diplomats and activists prattle on about “the importance of the two-state solution” — as if the mere act of conveying importance were a magic potion that would get us to that solution?
Similarly, Better Place was Israel’s most-hyped private venture. Everywhere you went, you heard about Shai Agassi’s revolutionary “battery solution.” This was the infrastructure solution to electric cars that would change the world: Drivers would pull up to a station and a fully charged battery would be installed to replace the old one — in minutes!
The two-state solution and the battery solution: Two dreams that were pitched as crucial and inevitable, two dreams that attracted enormous investments, and two dreams that crashed on the shores of reality.
In both cases, Israelis were initially caught up in the hype but then sobered up when they looked at reality. With Better Place, they saw that this sexy new system of “recharging” batteries wouldn’t save them that much money after all. Then they looked at the paltry number of battery stations that Better Place had set up throughout the country: 38.
You do the math: 38 battery stations versus 1,500 gas stations. Which one feels like less of a hassle?
With the peace process, after getting caught up in the dreams of Oslo, Israelis again looked at reality: 126 suicide bombings in the Second Intifada that left more than 1,000 Israelis dead following an offer of a Palestinian state in 95 percent of disputed land.
They also saw reality not getting any better: nearly 10,000 terrorist rockets raining on Israel after the country withdrew from Gaza, and 1 million Israelis terrorized by those bombs.
This reality also included figurative bombs from their “peace partners”— such as the glorifying of terrorists, the teaching of Jew-hatred and the denial of any Jewish connection to Jerusalem — along with the rejection of Israeli peace offers, the refusal to negotiate even after a settlement freeze and the longstanding refusal to recognize a Jewish state under any borders.
So, when Israelis today hear the tedious mantra about the “importance of the two-state solution,” you can’t blame them for yawning.
For too many Israelis, “land for peace” has come to mean land for terror.
Peace dreamers might still holler that the status quo is “unsustainable,” but Israelis today see another status quo that is markedly less sustainable: the West Bank turning into Gaza.
Yes, Israelis still dream of peace. But the story of their country has always been a battle between dreams and reality. They need dreams to shape their reality, but they also need reality to shape their dreams.
In the brutal Middle East, it seems as if reality always wins.
The failures of the two-state solution and the electric car battery solution remind us that while having great dreams is important, it’s not as important as the ability to turn these dreams into reality.
Israelis are reality people. They hear their glorious president Shimon Peres wax poetic about how peace with Jew-haters is right around the corner, and they roll their eyes. They see the hundreds of diplomatic photo-ops over the past five years just to get peace talks going, and they think only of the hundreds of Hamas bombs waiting to be launched at Tel Aviv.
“Debating the peace process to most Israelis is the equivalent of debating the color of the shirt you will wear when landing on Mars,” an Israeli told a New York Times reporter last week.
Israelis have learned the hard way that evidence is more important than hope. Show them an electric car that really makes life easier, and they’ll buy it. Show them peace partners who really want peace, and they’ll buy that, too.
Ultimately, no matter how much hype you pile on, whether you’re pitching a peace process, baby diapers or an electric car, things need to work.
In Israel today, that reality is the better place.
David Suissa is president of TRIBE Media Corp./Jewish Journal and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.