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With Labor, there is hope for peace
By HILIK BAR
21/01/2013
We can change the public discourse and the reactionary politics of rejectionism. It can be so much better here.
 
As secretary-general of the Labor Party and as a candidate for Knesset, I want to make something very clear: If elected, we will fight for traditional Labor values, we will pursue peace unflinchingly, and we will not be afraid to use the word “peace” as some have accused us of. And, contrary to the media narrative this election, it now appears we have a fighting chance of actually changing the government and ending the diplomatic terrorism of Binyamin Netanyahu and Avigdor Liberman.

“Traditional Labor values” means that a Labor-led coalition would not abdicate its responsibility to pursue peace with the Palestinians and the Arab states, in line with the Clinton Parameters, in spite of all the challenges and in spite of the grim national mood.

Peace does not happen in an instant. All change requires tireless chipping away at something until you achieve the desired result. But no matter how hopeless things may seem, no matter how recalcitrant our opponents may be, it is morally bankrupt, not to mention un-Jewish, to walk away from the table and abdicate your national responsibility.

As it is written in Ethics of our Fathers: “It is not incumbent upon you to complete the work, but neither are you at liberty to desist from it.” (Pirkei Avot 2:21)

But that is exactly what this prime minister, who could now be in his final days in office, has done. I have had a few conversations with Mahmoud Abbas, the Palestinian president, and we have many, many points of contention and disagreement, but one thing truly amazes me: Abbas says Netanyahu is the first prime minister to simply stop talking to the other side.

It is almost impossible to imagine, but it utterly fits with the public narrative – Netanyahu chants the mantra, “There is no partner for peace,” and proceeds to ignore the enormous challenges we now face in deciding what kind of country Israel will be in the coming decades.

AND CHALLENGES they are. We have the same choice today that we had in 1967: annex the West Bank, and give the Palestinians there citizenship; annex the West Bank, and deny the Palestinians citizenship; or withdraw to an agreed-upon border.

In fact, the choice is essentially the same as it was in 1947 when the Zionist movement accepted the UN’s decision: to partition the country into two states, rather than to create a bi-national state and thereby Balkanize this conflict indefinitely.

In my view, to avoid replicating the bitter, bloody experience of the former Yugoslavia, we must pursue a two-state solution, for the sake of the Jewish state and the Zionist enterprise and dream.

Besides which, the very idea that there is “no partner for peace” is an utter fallacy.

We watched this fallacy play out on television a couple of months ago. Abbas appeared on Israeli TV and stated that he has no right to return to his birth town of Safed, the city in which I was also born, in Israel’s north. “Palestine now for me is the ’67 borders,” he said. “This is now and forever....This is Palestine for me. I am [a] refugee, but I am living in Ramallah.”

Anybody familiar with the Arab-Israeli conflict understands what a step forward it was for the Palestinian president to publicly announce that he personally had no right to return to his own place of birth.

Even on a personal level, we can all imagine what a serious matter it is to claim that one has no right to return and dwell in the city of one’s birth.

President Shimon Peres said, “His brave words prove that Abu Mazen [Abbas] is a real partner for peace. [He] rejects terrorism and has pledged that under his leadership, there will not be a third intifada. He understands that the solution to the refugee problem will not be on Israeli territory.

These are statements of great importance.

Abbas’ statements should be taken seriously. They are in line with the positions of most Israelis, who support the two-state solution. Israel is a peace-loving nation and as such we need to bravely extend our hand out in peace to a leader like Abbas, with whom Israel has a real hope for peace.”

I will add to President Peres’s words and say: Abbas is not a great Zionist, he will never love us and will never admire the State of Israel, but the same was true for Anwar Sadat of Egypt and King Hussein of Jordan. They were both our enemies, but both of them were partners for peace. So is Abbas.

BUT NETANYAHU, the historical revisionist, publicly attacked Abbas, issuing a pro forma statement claiming that Abbas had rejected peace for four years, and that Abbas’s actions did not match his words.

And the Likud ripped into Peres, saying that the president’s support for a two-state solution was “disconnected from the Israeli public’s stance.” Contrary to all polls on the matter, which indicate that the majority of Israelis support a two-state deal.

You see, the truth is, the Netanyahu/Liberman coalition has been a kind of a terror attack on Israel’s foreign policy and public diplomacy. And the Israeli voting public can make a change tomorrow.

Without Yisrael Beytenu, Likud would barely be achieving 21 mandates in the polls. Likud Beytenu has lost as much as a third of its support in the polls since the start of the campaign. A great many of those voting for Netanyahu will do so holding their noses, and perhaps because they imagine that it is a foregone conclusion.

25 seats are now in the hands of swing voters, and another 10 seats’ worth of votes are predicted to be wasted on parties that will not make the electoral threshold. There is a lot of room for maneuver even – especially – at this late stage.

With all this, we only need another few seats to be able to change this government.

It is far more feasible than many Israelis have been led to believe during this campaign. Your vote matters more than you can begin to imagine.

When you enter the polling booth tomorrow, remember that we can replace this diplomatic nightmare, we can change the public discourse and the reactionary politics of rejectionism. It can be so much better here.

The author is the secretary-general of the Labor Party and is number six on his party’s list for the Knesset elections.
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