Setting the record straight on Peres and Israel’s Left
The left’s political views were never given a chance; and there are strong arguments for the thesis that Israel’s troubles are a direct consequence of the right’s blunders, mistakes, messianic ideology and aggressive expansionism of the last thirty-five years.
In a rare move, Shimon Peres exhibited a clear stance against an Israeli attack on Iran without coordination with the United States. Given Peres’ phenomenal experience and his role in building Israel’s deterrence, including its presumed nuclear arsenal, it is not easy to simply discard what he says.
Likud MK Zeev Elkin, in an appearance on the popular “London and Kirschenbaum” program tried to disqualify Peres’ opinion. With a shrewd smile he said that Peres was, after all, one of the architects of the Oslo Accords and had spoken of a “New Middle East” at the time. Elkin implied clearly that Peres’ political judgment has always been wrong, and that he is thoroughly unreliable.
The term “left” has become a term of denigration and accusation, and Peres has become the right’s symbol for the left’s being a loser. Here is the list of accusations: Israel got the second intifada because leftist Rabin gave the Palestinians guns; we got the shelling of Southern Israel because rightist turned leftist Ariel Sharon disengaged from Gaza; and we got the second Lebanon war because the leftist Barak pulled out of Lebanon in 2000.
So maybe it’s time to set the record straight. The left’s political views were never given a chance; and there are strong arguments for the thesis that Israel’s troubles are a direct consequence of the right’s blunders, mistakes, messianic ideology and aggressive expansionism of the last thirty-five years.
Let’s begin with Lebanon: Does anybody remember that this was a war of choice that not even the Begin government authorized? Does anybody remember Sabra and Shatila, and that Sharon was declared unfit to serve as minister of defense forever? Does anybody remember that Israel’s staying in Lebanon for eighteen years created Hezbollah? So is the Lebanon conundrum due to Barak, or to Sharon’s megalomaniac conquest of Lebanon?
While we are at it: Sharon is now hailed for the unilateral disengagement from Gaza. Does anybody remember that Sharon refused to hand over the Gaza strip as part of a general agreement with the Palestinians? Sharon never turned to the left: There is strong evidence that the disengagement was primarily meant to separate between Gaza and the West Bank, to make sure that Israel could keep the latter without having to rule the former. The disengagement was, on purpose, done in ways that weakened Fatah and Mahmoud Abbas – successfully, and with catastrophic consequences.
Making the left uniquely responsible for the failure of Oslo is also tendentious, to say the least. Let’s start with the dreadful mistakes made before Oslo: In the 1980s repeated attempts were made to build a political structure in the West Bank. Moderates like Feisal Husseini, Hanan Ashrawi and Nabeel Cassis tried to build the foundation of a Palestinian civil society. They were striving for compromise with Israel, often paying a great personal price.
Instead of engaging with these attempts, Israel saw great danger in Palestinian civil society and did everything it could to prevent it. This notoriously included supporting Hamas, thus fatefully changing the Palestinian political landscape.
At this point, right-wingers like Elkin will become impatient, and say “leave us alone with early history. What about Oslo’s failure?”
Well, the Oslo process never got a chance. Right-wingers who use the term “Oslo” as if it were the greatest idiocy of the twentieth century conveniently forget that Israel never met its obligations under this agreement, and never moved out of the West Bank according the stages agreed upon by the Accords.
Idith Zertal and Akiva Eldar have documented in detail how all Israeli governments including those headed by Rabin and Barak continued building in the West Bank, thus eroding Palestinian belief that Israel genuinely intended ever to grant Palestinians a viable state. Add to this the fact that that Netanyahu was filmed bragging that he had destroyed the Oslo process, a claim that members of the Clinton administration would certainly endorse: they came to see Netanyahu as an unreliable, arrogant liar – a title that the Obama administration would certainly agree to.
I am not trying to claim that the left hasn't made mistakes. But the course of Israeli history since 1967 was predicted by Ben-Gurion in the weeks after the fateful victory of the six-day war: he said that if Israel would not return the territories within a year, this would be the Zionist project’s end. He was dead-on. Israel’s tragedy is the consequence of the right’s dream of the greater Israel and not the left’s mistakes.