The torchlight parade and peace rally scheduled for last night in Tel Aviv, like the wave of advertisements warning against a new war and calling for a joint diplomatic effort to end the violence, have brought back images from days gone by: an enormous desire for peace is welling up from the depths of Israeli society, together with a great willingness to pay the price.
This approach swept the Israeli public in 1979, supporting the government of Prime Minister Menachem Begin in its decision to sign a peace agreement with Egypt in exchange for giving up the last grain of sand in Sinai; it was the driving force behind the demonstration of hundreds of thousands of Israelis against the war in Lebanon, and it was what gave the seal of approval to the Oslo peace process.
That voice fell silent in September 2000, and even now it is hesitant: the ugly reality exposed by the failure of the Camp David summit, embodied chiefly in the murderous terror of the Palestinians and the existential threat over Israel posed by their demand to exercise the right of return within the Green Line of Israel's 1967 borders silenced the search engines of reconciliation.
The Palestinian position, as seen by the majority of Israelis in the last 10 months, has made eccentrics of the few people in the peace camp who continue to argue obstinately that a diplomatic agreement is possible, and that we must not despair in the wake of the smashing of the Oslo illusion.
A few factors have laid the groundwork for the revival of the Israeli peace movement: the recognition that there is no point in a long and bloody struggle; the aspiration to put an end to the difficulties experienced by the state since the start of the Intifada; the basic unwillingness to accept the injustice of the occupation and the difficulty posed by the moral dilemmas of the Israeli retaliation policy to Palestinian violence; and the new interpretations of the circumstances behind the failure of Camp David, which raise doubts concerning the validity of the accepted Israeli version.
The drumbeats of the Israeli peace movement, however welcome, sound hollow when there is no responsive echo from the other side. Even when one is careful to avoid self-righteousness, and while being aware of Israel's role in the Israeli-Palestinian mess, one may ask why there are no peace rallies in Ramallah or in Nablus. The subjective sense of injustice in whose name each of the parties presents its demands does not give a moral advantage to either one of then.
For that reason, there is still validity to Israel's hope for a grassroots Palestinian movement that would call on its leadership to stop carrying out acts of violence and terror and plead with it to look for diplomatic ways of settling the conflict. The willingness of a handful of Palestinian intellectuals to make the symbolic gesture of signing a peace declaration together with a group of their Israeli counterparts does not adequately meet this demand.
The totality of the hostility on the Palestinian side, as it appears to the Israeli observer, points to the untenability of the conventional wisdom that has taken hold in the corridors of power in Jerusalem, according to which Palestinian Authority chairman Yasser Arafat is the source of all evil. This version holds that Arafat is the main, if not the only, obstacle to ending the armed conflict and achieving a diplomatic solution. He is depicted as a gang leader who lacks the skills to be a diplomat, as someone who is unable to abandon the way of terror and bring his people to the stage of running a real state.
The theory guiding Israeli decision-makers today is to wait for the changing of the guard in the Palestinian leadership. Until then, we are to grit our teeth and wage a controlled armed struggle.
This description reflects an edifying psychological need to pin hope on a future where the sun shines: that after Arafat, redemption will come; that it is only due to him that the situation is so gloomy. This attitude also points to an escapist tendency: the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is comprehensive, an integral part of the conflicting national aspirations of both sides.
Even after Arafat, the Palestinians will continue to demand the right of return. Even after him, Israel will have security demands that will conflict with the Palestinian demand to exercise their rights to sovereignty.
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