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Opinion: Anniversary Represents Time to Mourn Missed Chances

On the 60th anniversary of the establishment of the state of Israel, DW's Peter Philipp sees a lot of successes that are all overshadowed by one major failure.

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Sixty years of Israel: a time when Israelis and Palestinians pause for reflection, and remember the year 1948, back when it all began. And once again it is a time of festivities and demonstrations of strength for one side, and a time for melancholy, sadness and feelings of inferiority for the other.

"Sixty years of nothing"

So it is all the more surprising that in the meantime, the Jewish-Israeli side has begun to seriously reflect. Years ago it would not have been possible for the daily newspaper Ha'aretz to publish the following headline: "Sixty Years of Nakba, Sixty Years of Nothing."

Peter Philipp

Peter Philipp

Nakba, or "catastrophe," is the Palestinian term for the day of the founding of Israel. Of course, the author doesn't think the founding of Israel is a catastrophe -- just the things that have happened since then. And the things that haven't happened in the region. Like finding peace.

Ten years ago, the last major anniversary of Israel's creation, people were still optimistic; there was hope that the Oslo accords could bring about changes. But that hope lies far in the past. Likewise, hardly anyone expects George W. Bush to be successful in his attempt to wind up his presidency with a Mideast peace accord. Some 80 percent of Israelis don't believe in it, and that number is likely even greater among Palestinians.

Years of missed opportunity

This pessimism reduces the otherwise widespread success of the state of Israel: The Jewish state was not only home to hundreds of thousands of Holocaust survivors but was also transformed into a modern and progressive country: despite socio-political oddities, it is a living democracy that leads the region in the areas of science and medicine. It also has an efficient economy and, still, the most powerful military. But what good are all these accomplishments without peace -- whose precondition is their very enjoyment?

The 60 years of the history of the state of Israel are full of missed opportunities to obtain a peace -- opportunities missed on both sides. Just as many Palestinians, and with them the rest of the Arab world, for far too long rejected any thoughts of peace and recognition, so Israeli governments have, as a rule, preferred military might to diplomacy and conciliation.

Many "nos," few "yeses"

Israelis often speak of the Arabs' "three nos" after the Six Day War: "No" to negotiating with Israel, "no" to recognizing Israel, "no" to peace with Israel. And Israel, too, has had a long "no" list: For a long time, it refused to recognize the Palestinians as a unified group; then the idea of a Palestinian state was rejected. Today, the main taboos for Israel have to do with returning refugees and the idea of a compromise over Jerusalem, just to name a few.

There is another catastrophe for both sides: they are unremittingly working to turn back the wheels of history.

Peter Philipp is Deutsche Welle's chief correspondent and an expert on the Middle East. (jen)

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