Ehud Barak said at the Herzliya conference on national security that there's nobody to talk to on the Palestinian side. Like most of the audience at the conference last week, the outgoing leader of the "peace camp" forgot to put into the equation the elements of the occupation and the settlements.
Shimon Peres, the current leader of the "peace camp," is still a member of a government that prohibits him from talking with his Nobel Peace prize partner, and finances the settlers' tightening hold on the territories. Benjamin Ben-Eliezer, putative leader of the "peace camp," executes government policies aimed at getting rid of every remnant of the Oslo agreement and to make more land available to the settlers.
Yitzhak Rabin paid for his life with the decision to continue talking with the Palestinian leadership, despite the ruthless terror attacks of the time. His party, which swore to continue his legacy (as did his daughter, now the deputy defense minister), easily gave into the decision by party secretary general Ra'anan Cohen to close the gates of the party's headquarters to a peace-loving Palestinian.
Despite efforts by extremists in both the Palestinian and Israeli leaderships, Dr. Sari Nusseibeh showed up at Beit Sokolov in Tel Aviv for a meeting that went almost unreported in the media. It's true that for the Palestinians (and for us) everything is decided by the tip of the pinnacle. But the man whom the chairman gave responsibility for the sacred Jerusalem portfolio in the PLO, is still in the job and still sticking to his call for an end to the armed struggle; presumably, he isn't expressing only his private views.
According to the latest poll by Palestinian sociologist-researcher Khalil Shkaki, a large majority (more than 70 percent) of the Palestinians in the territories still support conciliation with Israel on the basis of two state for two peoples. Shkaki explains that the current support for the Hamas is out of fear in the Palestinian street of the Israeli occupier, and the desire to take revenge for the ongoing suffering and the settlements.
According to the Peace Index, the survey conducted by Effi Ya'ar and Tamar Herman, and published by Ha'aretz, a large majority of Israelis also continue to support far-reaching political compromise. That support will grow significantly when the terror stops.
On Tuesday, Nusseibeh threw down the gauntlet to his friends in the Israeli left. "Let's leave the intifada together, and if the leaders can't stop it, the role of the public should be to do it. We have the ability in our hands and we have to use it, here and now." The demonstrations by the Negev residents, handicapped, and archaeologists, as well as the protests by Israeli Arabs, prove there's pent-up energy for protest in the Israeli street. Prof. Yuli Tamir noted at the Beit Sokolov meeting that the audience was all well-fed English speakers. She proposed distributing stickers saying "War or work," a variation on the old slogan of "Money for the slums, not the settlements."
The campaign for peace has to be taken out of the hands of the elite and into the hands of the leadership in the slums and development towns. But it's not enough to send a message from the bottom to the top that there's someone to talk to on the other side. At the same time, the Palestinian and Israeli peace camps have to prove in word and deed that there's something to talk about.
While many good people, like Gilad Sher, Ehud Barak's bureau chief, reiterate that the negotiations did not break down over the right of return issue, the fear of the refugees crushed the "peace camp." In order to once and for all get rid of that ticking bomb, Abu Mazen, Abu Ala, and Nabil Sha'ath have to set aside their calculations about the inheritance, and press Arafat to come out openly in favor of Nusseibeh's stand, in which by recognizing the Palestinian state in the 1967 borders, Israel is absolved of the need to recognize the right of return.
Instead of wasting time and hope on "peace initiatives" that are surely going to be killed when they begin to sprout, it would be better for peace laureate Peres to show the Palestinians that there's someone to talk to on our side about real peace. Only Peres can pull Ben-Eliezer out of the territories and prove the argument that the failure of the peace process can not be blamed on either fate or Arafat, but to a large extent was a matter of Barak's personality and mistakes.
The peace camp's "shadow government" could get behind the program conceived by the group Yossi Beilin put together to work with a similar team under Nabil Sha'ath. Only a Peres-Arafat document, some new and revised version of Oslo, can bring the peace camp back to power.
Chief of Staff Shaul Mofaz ended his lecture in Herzliya with a particularly pessimistic quote by Moshe Dayan, at the grave-side of Ro'i Rotenberg, killed years before Dayan ever said "better Sharm el Sheikh without peace, than peace without Sharm el Sheikh."
At a meeting with Sari Nusseibeh, son of Anwar, one of the leading Palestinian moderates of the 1970s, Moshe Dayan's daughter explained that she was tired about hearing about peace "for the children," and that her mother, Ruth - who was in the audience - also deserves peace. It's time for the "peace camp" to decide which Dayan it prefers.
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