Peace needs a peace camp

No longer do we see huge demonstrations in support of peace, or even small ones.

Ehud Barak, Bill Clinton, and Yasser Arafat 370 (photo credit: REUTERS)
Ehud Barak, Bill Clinton, and Yasser Arafat 370
(photo credit: REUTERS)
It has been said that the peace camp in Israel is not dead, just on vacation. Hopefully this is the case, because Israel needs peace with the Palestinians and peace is a universal principle and value which must be part of the ideology of a democracy like Israel.
In any event, if the peace camp is on vacation, it is a lengthy one. No longer do we see huge demonstrations in support of peace, or even small ones. And for many moderate politicians, peace has even seemingly become taboo. Whatever happened to the long-standing mantra of the peace camp, even in days when no Arab side would even mention Israel’s name, let alone recognize her: “Keep trying, keep trying”? Much of the Israeli public believed that the 1993 Oslo accords between the government of Yitzhak Rabin and the PLO of Yasser Arafat was the beginning of the end of the conflict between the two peoples.
But since then we have witnessed political stalemate, false hopes and much bloodshed.
The talks were resumed a number of months ago with strong US prodding, but neither side is voicing optimism. An October 15 report in the Ma’ariv newspaper said the talks are near a blowout over Israel’s security demands, while Palestinians claim that Israel’s demands would be tantamount to locking them in a cage.
And even a “super dove” like Yossi Beilin, the architect of the Oslo accords and Geneva initiative, has said on various occasions that he does not believe a permanent-status agreement is possible now and that the sides should strive toward a long-term interim agreement.
The majority of the left-wing electorate in Israel blames Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu first and foremost for the ongoing stalemate and absence of peace. In all fairness to the center-left voters in Israel, however, it must be pointed out that a good number of them say that the Palestinians also share blame.
The Left attributes its weakness in Israeli public opinion to demographic changes in the country since the Oslo accords, namely the over a million immigrants from the former Soviet Union, together with the lack of willingness by Washington to impose a solution on the sides, and the obstinacy and settlement policy of Netanyahu governments.
At the same time, the Left ignores the devastating effect Palestinian political intransigence and massive bloodshed aimed against Israelis have had on Israeli public opinion, and its own inability to put forth a popular leader of national stature who if elected premier would have the political strength to make far-reaching concessions to the Palestinians.
The cycle of attacks from the Gaza Strip after Israel’s totally withdrawal and removal of settlements contribute a great deal to the skepticism of many Israelis. People ask: will Ben-Gurion Airport and our cities be safe if we leave the West Bank?
LET’S TAKE a closer look at the main false assumption of the Israeli peace camp: all it takes to bring peace is total Israeli withdrawal to the pre-1967 Six Day War borders, including in Jerusalem.
History has proven that this is not the case. In the 2000 Camp David summit then-premier Ehud Barak reportedly offered Arafat close to 95% of the West Bank with the rest being compensated for by territorial exchange. Arafat not only refused, but incited the Palestinians to embark on the second intifada which resulted in Israel’s streets flowing with blood. These events had far-reaching effects on Israeli public opinion, swinging it to the Right.
To make matters worse for Barak in his re-election efforts, ministers Yossi Beilin and Shlomo Ben-Ami were scrambling in last-ditch efforts trying to reach a permanent status agreement with the Palestinians while Israel was counting its dead.
Was this Arafat a partner for peace? The Israeli public had seen enough. It is no wonder Ariel Sharon easily defeated Barak.
Arafat’s successor Mahmoud Abbas renounces violence and terror and is in close cooperation with Israel on security matters, the press here reports. But he, too, did not accept an even more generous Israeli offer in 2008, made by then-premier Ehud Olmert, who reportedly offered the Palestinians almost the entire West Bank and large parts of east Jerusalem.
To be sure, Netanyahu’s settlement policies do not help gain Palestinian trust. And he also is very reluctant to make large territorial concessions, it seems. But it is neither fair nor correct to place all or most of the blame on him for the absence of peace.
The Palestinians saw the Oslo accords as a first step to the return of the descendents of the refugees to Israel, thus changing the character of the state. Amos Yadlin, a former head of military intelligence, says that in Israel’s eyes the Palestinians will not agree to halt all demands from Israel or declare an end to the conflict.
Israel says a two-state solution is its objective, but will likely insist on controlling the security buttons.
THE MAIN problem of the peace camp in Israel is that it has no control over the Palestinian intention and actions.
Moreover, since the assassination of Yitzhak Rabin, there has been no real leader of the peace camp in Israel, let alone a leader of stature. In the previous Knesset, Tzipi Livni’s Kadima party won the most seats (28).
She went into the opposition but didn’t constitute a real fighting parliamentary opposition. To this day I still don’t understand why. Was it to win over right-wing voters for the next election? In the past elections Livni’s Hatnua won only six seats. When Livni was opposition leader there was a situation whereby Yossi Beilin, a former minister and MK, was called upon very frequently to express opposition to Netanyahu’s policies on the Palestinians even though he was no longer an active politician.
He, in fact, was the main peace camp spokesman. Hardly any of the opposition MKs ever spoke. This situation was a certificate of demerit to Israel’s parliamentary system.
And where was the leader of the Labor Party, who traditionally is supposed to head the peace camp? Barak eventually quit the Labor Party and joined the Netanyahu government as defense minister at the head of a now-defunct faction.
Livni, now the justice minister and chief negotiator opposite the Palestinians, must act in accordance with Netanyahu’s instructions, although she personally is perhaps quite dovish.
Finance Minister Yair Lapid’s centrist Yesh Atid party speaks with more than one voice and it isn’t clear where it stands. Just this past week Lapid forbade MKs from his party to attend a meeting of dovish MKs with Abbas. It also isn’t clear where Labor Party leader MK Shelly Yacimovich stands, although she assailed Netanyahu on the Palestinian issue at the outset of the opening of the winter session of the Knesset.
Polls show the Israeli public wants peace with the Palestinians but doesn’t believe in it. It is no wonder that moderate Israeli politicians have been reluctant to speak about concessions and peace since the second intifada.
IT IS said at times here that peace has even become a dirty word in Israel. During the previous election campaign, Yacimovich refrained from taking a stance on the Palestinian matter, apparently with the hope of winning right-wing votes.
She later admitted this was a mistake.
The peace camp and Left have not only failed to adjust their policies to the realities since Oslo, but some of them call for an imposed solution to the conflict from Washington.
This is a major mistake: it not only admits political impotence on their part but also arouses the deepest of fears in Israelis, fears based not only on the Israeli experience, but also on the Jewish experience.
The idea of outside forces determining Israel’s fate is not a vote-winner here. The last time the US imposed a solution was for the forced withdrawal of the IDF from Sinai in 1957 after the Sinai campaign.
And there are no ostensible signs that the US has any intention to do this now. US policy has consistently been for a negotiated agreement between the sides. The Israeli Left and peace camp can perhaps gain more internal support by placing a stronger emphasis on the security arrangements in any agreement with the Palestinians.
This might lessen the independent nature of a future Palestinian state, but Israel has no choice: security must always take precedent over peace.
One more thing: there is no basis to leftist claims that the right-wing-religious bloc is guaranteed an automatic majority in elections due to the large number of right-wing immigrants from the former USSR.
Premiers Rabin, Barak and Olmert are proof of this.
The author was the founder and editor of Israel Media Digest from 1990 through 2008.