The Golan Heights dust-up, the constant push and pull in the United Nations, all the Middle East deaths and entrances: They're part of the process.
For instance, the death of Anwar Sadat means . . .
"To me nothing, yes," says Yuval Ne'eman. "You can't look at countries through the eyes of their leaders. You have to look at the process."
Ne'eman, at 56, has been studying processes all his life. He thinks very big, bigger than any one man, or annexation. He is an engineer who was a colonel in the Israeli army until the age of 33, when he went off to the University of London to become not only a theoretical physicist, but a brilliant one. (He was the subject of a number of films, including "Strangeness Minus Three" and ABC's "The Way-Out Men.")
Becoming a physicist at 33 was strange enough -- like chess, it's a young man's game -- but then he forsook his world reputation as theorist to head the Israeli project to build the tools to construct an atom bomb, and then became president of Tel Aviv University. He quit that to be an assistant defense minister, and quit that when Israel first agreed to give up part of the Sinai. He went back to California to study subatomic particles, which he then abandoned to get involved in plans to build a canal from the Mediterranean to the Dead Sea. And he's a bit of a historian. And he's head of the ultra-conservative Tehiya (Revival) party, which holds three seats in the 120-seat Knesset. And his family has lived in the land of Israel for 200 years. And he's wandering around the East Coast in Edward Teller's raincoat.
"I was up in Durham, N.H., for a meeting of the Scientists and Engineers for Secure Energy, and I ended up with his coat," he says, pulling a black raincoat out of the closet and pointing to the monogram E TELLER sewn in the lining. Teller is known as a prime mover of American nuclear technology, and Ne'eman is known as the Teller of Israel.
His visit to Washington on this particular day is to confer with the National Security Council on Middle East defense questions, and with a White House science adviser on solar projects, such as turning the Dead Sea into an energy collector.
"Do you speak in metric or in feet and inches?" he asks, sprawling across a bed in his motel room to draw a map of Israel on a yellow legal pad with a pencil. He uses a legal pad and a pencil the way some people use hand gestures and shrugs.
". . . and the heavier liquid stays six feet below the surface so the heat is trapped . . ."
He writes the facts and figures upside down on the pad so his visitor can read them. He is short, thick-waisted, wildly vigorous, adamantly intelligent.
He applies this scientific demeanor to everything, including the death of Anwar Sadat.
"You can't look at countries through the eyes of leaders -- they can disappear."
So he never paid much attention to Sadat. What he did was look at the Middle East like an engineering problem.
"There are two assumptions you can make about the Middle East. One, there is a prospect for real peace. Or two, it is impossible at present -- it will take more than 20 years, the passing of a whole generation.
"If we assume number two, the problem is not peace but survival."
And if the problem is survival, then . . .
This is the way he talks. He is eloquent, logical, and very difficult to interrupt.
". . . this distance from these mountain passes on the West Bank to the main population center of Israel is 40 miles, which means that an enemy could occupy Israel in three hours, before the mobilization order could go out. Now, if we need to hold those passes, isn't it better to have our soldiers think of it as our land rather than as occupied land?"
Ne'eman broke with Begin over the peace treaty with Egypt. Now, he says, his party is the "only real opposition party in Israel" because it opposes that treaty. It also opposes any withdrawal from the Sinai or the West Bank.
"My family has lived with Arabs for hundreds of years now. I don't need their recognition to feel better. Now, Egypt is not much more stable than the rest of the Arab world. Either they will have to push us for more concessions, or they'll have to be strong enough to survive by themselves. So . . ."
Either. Or. So.
"There was a TV film made in Israel about my party. They said that the three seats we hold in the Knesset were reason, sentiment and faith. I hold the seat which is reason."
If you hint that Palestine was more of an Arab homeland than a Jewish one years ago, he responds with a barrage of history about Palestine being the center of the Jewish world in the 16th century, with its two schools of Cabalism. He talks like a man who lies awake at night imagining arguments.
The justice, history and outcome of Middle Eastern politics aside, what Ne'eman represents is the sort of Renaissance man that emerging countries seem to breed.
"Thomas Jefferson!" he says. "I am not comparing myself to him, but he was a scientist and a politician at the same time. When von Humboldt, the great geographer, came over to North America from Prussia, he stopped in Washington to talk to Jefferson, scientist to scientist." And he goes on to cite Benjamin Franklin, and an American Tory scientist named Benjamin Thompson who went back to England after the Revolution. He is very intelligent.
For 200 years his family waited for this Israel he lives in now, the kind of Israel that would let Ne'eman be solar engineer, parliamentarian, military strategist and subatomic physicist all at once.
"My problem lately is how do you keep that flame of Zionism going? There is a tiredness and a normalization I don't like. Except among the young -- the high schools held mock elections and my party was first or second in the voting at every school. If the voting age had been 12 to 20, I would have had 70 people in the Knesset."
Having waited 200 -- or 2,000 -- years to be the first of his breed, Ne'eman doesn't want to be the last.