The White House peace-signing ceremony between Israel and United Arab Emirates and Bahrain also underscored the historic fallacy of the Peace Now movement and its basic premise. The stated goal of the movement, which was founded in 1978, was “to persuade public opinion in Israel and Israeli governments of the need and feasibility of achieving a just peace and historic reconciliation with the Palestinian people and neighboring Arab countries in return for a territorial compromise and on the basis of the principle of land for peace.”However, already in this very declaration lie the seeds of the movement’s 42 years of failure, stemming from its fundamentally erroneous concept – namely that the “occupation” was the root cause preventing peace and historic reconciliation (as if peace and reconciliation had existed before 1967) – when in fact the real reason was what is in the eyes of the Palestinian national movement, Israel’s illegitimate existence. According to this, the Jews are not a people or a nation, but a religion, and as such are not entitled to self-determination and to a state.To quote the eminent historian, Prof. Shlomo Avineri: “The Palestinians’ basic concept is that Israel is a colonialist and imperialist creation and that the Jews not being a people but merely a religious group don’t have a right to self-determination or statehood.” The Palestinian polemic gained support among antisemitic and pro-Palestinian groups both on the Right and on the Left, including the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement, but also among certain Jews like British cabinet minister Edwin Montagu at the time of the Balfour Declaration, and more recently the journalist Peter Beinart, apparently being concerned about their standing in the world to which they strove to belong. While the Palestinian leadership does not oppose practical ties with Israel – even formally acknowledging its existence, it does not accept its right to exist. Hence, the PLO never really repealed the clauses in the “Palestinian National Covenant” calling for the destruction of Israel, as it had committed to do in the Oslo Accords and at the Wye River Conference.
Calling into question the moral and firm rights of the Jewish people in the Land of Israel, or anything that could be interpreted as such – especially if by Israelis and Jews – increases the Palestinians’ determination to reject the option of making peace with Israel, believing that time is on their side. Sometimes anecdotal utterances tell the whole story.
A recent article in The Economist recounted that when a group of West Bank Palestinians who were permitted by the Israeli authorities, as a goodwill gesture, to vacation on a Tel Aviv beach, were asked about their impressions, one of the boys in the group named Issa, answered curtly: “This is a Palestinian beach no matter what they say in Abu Dhabi.” The late Faisal Husseini, formerly a senior PLO leader and a frequent interlocutor with Peace Now, said in an internal Palestinian forum that the ostensibly conciliatory approach toward the Israeli public should be continued in order to lead it astray as to the Palestinians’ true goals. Though often couched as merely opposing Israeli claims to the West Bank – an argument supported by Peace Now – in fact the Palestinian propagandists use this as a red herring for rejecting Israel’s legitimacy in any part of the land between the Jordan River and the Mediterranean Sea – as Issa, the Palestinian boy on the Tel Aviv beach said: “This is our beach.”
As the late Prof. Ruth Gavison pointed out, denying the moral and concrete right of the Jewish people to a state – not the issue of “the territories” or the settlers, is the real reason the Israeli-Palestinian conflict has not been resolved. This does not rule out Israeli compromise, but one can compromise only on what is yours and not on something you are not entitled to.
Though I do not abide by the position held by some that Peace Now is a treasonous movement, some of its actions such as its call to refuse to serve in the “territories,” its opposition to the Nation-State Law, and the support, including financial, it solicits from foreign groups, as well as ongoing efforts to damage Israel’s international standing, could have brought upon itself such a description.
PERHAPS IT was poetic justice that Peace Now’s US sister organization was recently slapped in the face by US Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, leader of the anti-Israel and partly antisemitic progressive squad, whom it had assiduously courted, refusing an invitation to an event in memory of Yitzhak Rabin.
In 1977, during Israel’s peace negotiations with Egypt, the Egyptians tried to use Peace Now to promote their position in the talks (albeit apparently without the knowledge of the movement’s leaders). Cairo simply analyzed the movement’s activities and concluded that it would be advantageous to adopt its arguments as part of Egypt’s public relations strategy, hoping that Peace Now’s demonstrations and pronouncements against what it described as prime Minister Menachem Begin’s government’s hard line and inflexibility would undermine unity in Israel and affect public opinion. Cairo regarded this effort sufficiently important for then-Egyptian prime minister Mustafa Khalil to deal with it directly.
In the US, the 1799 Logan Act criminalizes private and unauthorized negotiations with foreign states. While the Palestinian Authority is not a state, some of Peace Now’s activities would be of questionable legality if a similar law were on the books in Israel.
The Oslo Agreements of 1993 signified a milestone for Peace Now. “Here Israel has officially accepted a fortiori, (regardless of the dubious means by which this was accomplished, i.e. illegitimate negotiations with PLO representatives, bribing Knesset members) our views, and not only Israel, but the US and a large part of the international community.” In the terms of the Madrid Conference, for example, the Americans still planned to include the clause of “land for peace” (but agreed to abandon the idea after I expressed the Israeli government’s reservations). Ironically, this high point in the fortunes of Peace Now also signaled its demise. Though its views are still part of the official positions of the UN, the European Union and the US Democratic Party, in light of the reality of the current diplomatic developments on the path to peace, even they would be hard-pressed not to recognize that, at least in its Manichean form, this stance has become largely irrelevant to the Israeli-Palestinian issue and Israel’s relations with the Arab world. The cornerstone of Peace Now’s doctrinaire approach was that peace with the Palestinians was the key to normalization and peace with the Arab world. This was ostensibly reinforced by the 2002 Arab Peace Initiative, which made normalization contingent on far-reaching Israeli concessions on almost all issues, including territories and borders, Jerusalem and refugees. Peace Now and the Left tried to downplay these conditions and to provide a more moderate interpretation of the Arab stance, but their efforts were inconsistent with the stated positions of the Arab side itself.
PEACE NOW and its allies on the Israeli Left (as well as various American administrations and the European Union) did not abandon this futile position to wit that peace and stability in the Middle East depended exclusively on settling the Palestinian issue, despite events in the Arab world such as the wintry shades of the Arab Spring, al-Qaeda and ISIS terrorism, the general chaos in the region, and Iran’s nuclear ambitions and hegemonic aspirations – none of which having to do with the Palestinian question. When I talked to students at the US Military Academy, pointing out that out of the dozens of wars and violent conflicts in the Middle East since WWII, only six or seven had any connection with the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, I may have convinced my audience, but evidently not changed the ingrained opinions of policy-makers in Washington – such as Zbigniew Brzezinski, president Jimmy Carter’s national security advisor, who up until his last day maintained that all the problems in the Middle East “go through Jerusalem.”
Though several Israel’s leaders diligently sought to advance a reality of peace, or at least of an absence of belligerency and had failed in their efforts, the reason for their failure was not only Palestinian intransigence, but also incomprehension, or non-admittance of the Palestinians’ motivations, conceptions and ideology.
Prime minister Shimon Peres had illusions about a then non-existent New Middle East (prime minister Yitzhak Rabin was more reserved, having misgivings about both Oslo and Yasser Arafat).
Ehud Barak pre-announced a soon to occur “end to the conflict” with the Palestinians and the entire Arab world only to be rudely awakened by Arafat’s Second Intifada.
Begin and Moshe Dayan bypassed this obstacle in the Israel-Egyptian peace treaty. Yitzhak Shamir and Rabin’s Jordanian peace treaty, orchestrated by Elyakim Rubinstein, a future Supreme Court judge, was a special case, not only because if reinforced a preexisting de facto peace situation convenient to the respective interests of both sides, but also because of the Palestinian-leaning demography of Jordan.
Prime minister Ehud Olmert, desperate after the problematic course of the Second Lebanon War, was reportedly ready to give away the store, but was misled by Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas.
Prime minister Ariel Sharon unilaterally disengaging from Gaza and a few points in northern Samaria, perhaps believing that this would enhance Israel’s diplomatic position to such an extent that it would put to rest once and for all any prospect of Palestinian statehood, eventually signed on to US president George W. Bush’s and the Quartet’s 2003 “Road Map for Peace” (though with reservations), calling for a freeze on Israeli settlement activity and whose second phase was to include the establishment of a Palestinian state (with provisional borders). But at least Sharon obtained a written assurance from Bush on “secure and defensible borders” and that borders “in the light of new realities on the ground, including already existing major Israeli populations centers, should be different from the 1949 armistice lines” (the Green Line).
TO BE fair, geopolitical and intra-Arab realities at the time of Rabin, Peres, Barak, Sharon and even Olmert were different and not conducive to the wide-reaching diplomatic steps such as those currently undertaken by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and helped and facilitated by US President Donald Trump. The political-security strategy pursued by Netanyahu, focusing on the interplay between the main interests of Israel and those of the pragmatic Arab countries, constructively reversed the order of things – as former British prime minister and long-time Quartet envoy to the Middle East Tony Blair said at the recent Jerusalem Post conference: “contrary to the failed former concept that Israelis and Palestinians negotiate peace and then the rest of the region joins, what you need to do is create peace between Israel and the Arab nations and include the Palestinian issue in that peace – and that actually has happened.” While Israel’s new peace partners, like Egypt before them, are not turning their back on Palestinian aspirations, they are putting their own interests first – with the backing of the US and, at least tacitly, also of other parts of the world. Thus, no longer peace by trading land, but peace as a worthy goal for all sides based on shared interests. As stated by the United Arab Emirates and Bahrain in the preamble to their peace agreements with Israel, the above is a commitment to “working together with Israel to realize a negotiated solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict that addresses the legitimate needs and aspirations of both peoples.” The key words are “working together” and “needs of both peoples.” Related to the above, Netanyahu’s strategy, as required by the situation in the Middle East, takes into account additional players such as Russia, and may also generate changes in Israel’s security doctrine.
Symbolically – and perhaps as an auspicious worrying sign, the rockets fired at southern Israel at the same time as the peace agreements were signed, reminded us that Israel still has enemies – and, that comprehensive peace still depends on Israel’s ability to defend itself by itself and maintain its overall advantage – militarily, technologically and scientifically – over its adversaries. The doctrines of Peace Now were never as irrelevant as they are now. Time has come even for them to move on.