At which point the Israelis understood that their desire and struggle for acceptance and legitimacy in the Middle East was a lost cause; that the Arab world would never accept their sovereign presence in the region, just as it had never accepted the Crusader kingdoms in the Middle Ages.
The Arabs might accept some Jews as a minority within a Muslim Arab Palestine, but the bulk of the Jews, like the Crusaders, would, in time, be swept into the sea or, at least, back to Europe. Weak Arab rulers and states, such as Anwar Sadat's Egypt in 1979 and King Hussein's Jordan in 1994, might sign formal peace treaties with Israel, but the Arabs, the masses and their intellectual and religious guides, would never bow to its existence. The Palestinians' election to power in 2006 of Hamas -- which openly avows that its aim is Israel's destruction -- only drove the nail into the coffin of Jewish hope.
Which left many Israelis wondering where had they gone wrong. Could they have behaved better toward their own Arab minority and toward the 3.5 million Palestinians in the semi-occupied West Bank and Gaza Strip, in a manner that would have led to acceptance and integration in the region? Would a unilateral Israeli withdrawal from the West Bank and Gaza after 1967 have led to peace with the Palestinians? Was the problem the (continuing) expansion of the settlements in the West Bank?
Many left-wing Israelis, with a penchant for self-flagellation, certainly thought so; Israel should have been more conciliatory and "softer." But most Israelis concluded that the fault lay in the historical circumstances and with the other side. The problem was not what Israel did but what Israel was -- a Jewish state, a democracy, an outpost of Westernism and modernity in a world that abhorred the West. Most Israelis looked about and saw an Islamic Arab world that was hardening and radicalizing regionwide, brutal and closed to compromise and change, and resistant to the West and its messages of democracy and liberalization and secularism and individualism.
The mini-war between the Israeli Defense Forces and Hezbollah in the summer of 2006 only deepened the sense of despair for most Israelis. The IDF, unwilling to inflict large-scale casualties on Lebanese civilians (Hezbollah forces hid among them and operated from their villages) and unwilling to risk greater Israeli casualties, fought with both hands tied behind its back, sending in the air force to do a job that only a massive sweep by ground forces could have done: rooting out and killing Hezbollah's fighters and destroying the organization's Katyusha rocket launchers, strongholds and arms stores as far north as Beirut.
The Israeli army has traditionally functioned well against conventional Arab armies. And Israel, over the decades, has managed to ward off the successive conventional challenges by the Arab world (including economic boycotts and the threat of international political isolation).
But the threats that have emerged since then, coupled with growing Muslim rejectionism and radicalization, have posed and continue to pose far more difficult challenges: Hezbollah and Palestinian fundamentalist terrorism, with their rockets and suicide bombers; Palestinian demography (Palestinian Arab birthrates are twice those of Jewish Israelis) and the looming black cloud of a nuclear-armed Iran, whose leaders almost daily proclaim, in Allah's name, the need to destroy Israel. All these constitute challenges that are extremely difficult if not impossible to counter at a cost that is morally acceptable.
How do you silence the rocketeers of Hamas and their fellow jihadi groups (which are firing on an almost daily basis into the Israeli town of Sderot) without killing masses of civilians in Gaza? How can you reduce Palestinian Arab birthrates (and this includes the birthrate among Israel's own Arab minority, whose members increasingly identify themselves as "Palestinians" and will, if present demographic trends continue, constitute more than a third of Israel's population within 15 to 20 years)? How do you stop Iran's nuclear armament (after the world has failed to do so) without initiating an open-ended war and without yourself using nuclear weapons?
And these long-term threats are compounded by the short-term prospect that Israel's staunch friend in the White House may well be replaced next year by Barack Obama, whose views on the Middle East I find to be unclear, at best, and who many Israelis fear may sell them down the river.
All this presents Israel's Jews with the prospect of a bleak short- and medium-term future, and perhaps no future at all. A small minority is making tracks, or may make tracks, for the West. But the overwhelming majority of Israeli Jews, for whom Israel is and always has been home, is staying put.
But it doesn't look good. It is no wonder that there has been little enthusiasm for the government's 60th anniversary festivities.