Where is the political follow-up?

Mass demonstrations are legitimate components of the democratic process, but they certainly are not an end in themselves.

Angry social justice protesters 521 (photo credit: Reuters)
Angry social justice protesters 521
(photo credit: Reuters)
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 these aspirations.
One need only tour the southern reaches of Tel Aviv to realize the extent to which Israeli citizens must cope with congestion and overcrowding.
(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.
If indeed 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 protest.
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.
All 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 1967.
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, exist.
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 regime.
Hamas’s militant Islamic proclivities constrain it from recognizing Israel and above all, from engaging in public negotiations with Israeli officials.
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.