Few books on the intellectual history of the second half of the 20th century are as impressive as "The God that Failed," an anthology of essays in which the finest philosophers and writers of the West describe the painful process of emancipation from the false charms of the Stalinist dream. Each in his own words and style, the contributors - Arthur Koestler, Ignazio Silone, Richard Crossman, Richard Wright and others, some of them former communists, others only admirers of the Soviet Union - talk about how hard it was to give up the idea that the Soviet system heralded a new era for mankind. Even when the horrors of enforced collectivization, the Hitler-Stalin agreements, the Soviet labor camps and the lies and deceit of the Stalinist show trials came to light - even then emotional separation remained difficult.
Most of the writers said that the hardest part was not dealing the facts but with their own credo, their own self-image as soldiers battling for a better world. How difficult it was to admit that their dream of redemption was a fata morgana; that Stalin, the "shining sun," was a murderer; that the Soviet ideological system was a web of lies; that the new society, meant to be liberated and liberating, was nothing but a giant prison cell, founded on terror, cynically exploiting the innocent faith of some of the West's finest intellectuals.
Something similar is happening today in the Israeli left, and one sees it especially in the objection of some members of this camp to the idea of unilateral separation. Why nationalist and religious right-wingers are afraid of unilateral separation seems clear enough: With it, the dream of a greater Israel is shattered once and for all. There is no unilateral separation without the evacuation of settlements.
It is harder to understand the unwillingness of the left. With the situation as precarious as it is today, one would think that leftists, of all people, would embrace unilateral separation. If the path to compromise is indeed blocked, why would a leftist object to separation?
Such a move, after all, would bring an end to the bulk of Israeli occupation. Most of the Palestinians would be freed from shackles of an occupying army. No longer will they be at the mercy of Israeli soldiers and officers, who behave sometimes like lords and masters. Settlements will be evacuated, along with thousands - even tens of thousands - of settlers. Obviously, a negotiated agreement would be better. But one would have to be blind as a bat to think that after Camp David, the Intifada and the last elections, there could be a more generous Israeli offer than the one proposed at Camp David and Taba.
The chief reason for this opposition to the idea of unilateral separation is not connected to the political reality at all. It has to do with the difficulty in admitting ideological failure. The logic behind Oslo was the belief that we were on the cusp of a historical compromise.
When Arafat rejected the Clinton plan, turned the right of return into a matter of principle, and denied that Israel has any right at all to the Temple Mount, it became clear that the Palestinians were not prepared for a historical compromise. In their eyes, the talks were only a way of getting what they wanted - not a painful process of give and take. That the Palestinian public and its leaders voice broad support for terrorism against Israeli citizens shows yet again that all the universal values cherished by the Israeli left mean nothing to the other side. Whoever expected Yasser Arafat to turn into Nelson Mandela was proved wrong, but admitting it is hard. Incredibly hard.
For that reason, there are members of the Israeli left who prefer to labor under the illusion that some compromise can be reached. It is difficult for them to admit that "peace now," however desirable, is not possible at the present time. When the other side cannot come up with a single intellectual prepared to state clearly, without mumbling, that the murder of children in a pizzeria is a crime, then the Israeli left has no ally. Whoever sees the cold-blooded murder of children and the establishment of settlements as belonging to the same moral category has lost all sense of what morality is.
It was hard for those seduced by the charms of the Soviet Union to see that it was a ruthless, oppressive country, but that was truth. Just as intellectual honesty enabled the foremost intellectuals of the Western world, smitten by the idea of a new dawn in Moscow, to admit that "god had failed," one hopes that the excruciating process of facing up to the truth will enable the Israeli left to accept a solution that is capable of ending much of the occupation today.
If not, they are liable to find themselves - dialectically, if one can say such a thing - among those who perpetuate the occupation. For the solution they propose, there is no partner on the other side. It hurts, but that is the truth.
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