Mass demonstrations are legitimate components of the democratic process, but
they certainly are not an end in themselves.
That is why the rhythmic
chants that “the people want social justice” became superfluous once they were
sounded during last year’s turnout on Tel Aviv’s Rothschild Boulevard and the
subsequent procession down the adjacent streets.
At that stage, the
controversial tent colony that sprang up, the posters that were bandied about
and the off-the-cuff interviews that were lapped up by Israel’s sensation-hungry
news media were impressive developments.
However, the current effort to
stage a replay of all this comes across as an admission that nothing was
accomplished in the interim – no legislation was introduced in the Knesset, no
tax-related procedures were authorized by the government and no progress was
achieved toward narrowing the wide gap between rich and poor.
Some of the
more outspoken participants in the original series of outdoor activities
declared frankly and publicly that their goal was a “welfare state” in which the
so-called middle class (a local misnomer for the working class) would enjoy
financial concessions if not actual handouts by or from the state, so that their
standard of living and especially their ability to afford housing commensurate
with their needs would be enhanced.
There is ample reason to understand
One need only tour the southern reaches of Tel Aviv to
realize the extent to which Israeli citizens must cope with congestion and
(These conditions are even worse for the so-called African
infiltrators who have become their unwanted neighbors.) The contrast with the
upscale and nouveau-riche housing conditions enjoyed by residents of central and
north Tel Aviv makes the scene down there even more appalling.
this was the impetus for the initial phase of the Rothschild Boulevard protests,
the organizers should have realized that after making their point the time had
come to enlist the open and active support of the various left-of-center
political parties. The prime candidate for a working political relationship was
the Labor Party. Its espousal of social democratic principles should have made
it a natural partner.
Unfortunately, Labor’s sometimes-charismatic
leader, Shelly Yechimovich, preferred to stay in the background rather than
hitch her uncertain political star to the demonstrators.
Even during the
initial phase of processions and other activities aimed at attracting the
attention of the TV cameras, party activists who were attracted to them seemed
to maintain as low a profile as possible, lest the chants and the placards be
dismissed as a partisan tactic rather than as a genuine popular
One of the underlying reasons for the pitching of the Rothschild
tent colony was the fact that the dominant right-of-center Likud Party has no
social program whatsoever. Its main concern is the maintenance of existing
Jewish settlements in the West Bank (“Judea and Samaria” as the Likudniks prefer
to call the area being disputed with the Palestinians; they and non-Likudniks
who also harbor that particular preference rightly argue that the term West Bank
was created by the Jordanians after 1949 to distinguish it from the East Bank
(of the Jordan River)).
If the Laborites ever muster the courage to join
forces with the ostensibly apolitical demonstrators, they would have to focus on
the economic consequences of the settlement movement that followed the Six Day
War. They would have to make the general public aware of the fact that the
series of governments that have ruled since mid- June 1967 have poured more than
$8 billion into these projects.
The aggregate outlay was not covered even
in part by American financial largesse. To the contrary, the US was opposed to
the settlements from the very outset, and still is. In other words, the
financial resources had to come from Israel’s own monetary resources.
of the above is not meant as a rationale to dismantle the settlements or to
create economic conditions that make it impossible for many if not most of their
residents to remain beyond the Green Line that existed from 1949 to
There is a strong legal basis for the aspirations harbored by
Israel to maintain the Jewish presence there. Concurrently, the requisite
diplomatic conditions that might augur for a transfer of the terrain in question
to a projected Palestinian state simply do not, and evidently never will,
If one contends that it was supposed to encompass the “Arab state”
whose creation was included in the UN’s watershed resolution for the partition
of Palestine, adopted on November 29, 1947, along with that of a “Jewish state,”
this formula was immediately torpedoed by the Arab side which preferred to
launch a four-front war against Israel (whose independence was proclaimed on the
date set by the UN – May 15, 1948).
That invasion rendered the partition
null and void and nullified the local Arabs’ subsequent claim to sovereignty
over the West Bank and the Gaza Strip, not to mention their refusal to recognize
Israel’s existence as a legitimate entity.
In contemporary terms, the
highly touted twostate solution favored by the US and EU as well as Russia,
cannot materialize as long as the Gaza Strip is under the control of the Hamas
Hamas’s militant Islamic proclivities constrain it from
recognizing Israel and above all, from engaging in public negotiations with
Even the vague if not unrealistic hope that Egypt
might somehow convince Hamas’s local leaders to join their PLO counterparts in
the West Bank in talks with Israel has been diluted by the outcome of the recent
Egyptian election. The Muslim Brotherhood, which is now at the governmental helm
in Cairo, has already reached out to its ideological kinsmen in Gaza, but
certainly not to seek a modus vivendi with Israel.
This could mean that
the only realistic alternative for Israel is to reconsider the much-maligned
one-state solution, at least to the extent that ante bellum Israel and the West
Bank (at least) could be transformed into a single political entity based on a
fair and mutually agreed extension of political rights to the West Bank’s
Palestinian Arab inhabitants. Such an initiative would require legislative
ingenuity, and could generate very constructive results. It could become a
universally recognized framework for more Jewish settlement (motivated by the
historical and religious links between the Jewish people and the area in
question) and simultaneously provide a practical basis for a partial and
symbolic solution to the Palestinian refugee issue.
The writer is a
veteran foreign correspondent.