A Monument to a Lost Time and Lost Hopes

The marking of the 10th anniversary of the Peres Center for Peace was a glittering event.

Meron Benvenisti
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Meron Benvenisti

Shimon Peres did it in style, as usual. The marking of the 10th anniversary of the Peres Center for Peace was a glittering event, full of international celebrities and famous artists, and of course included the poem written by the principal guest, beginning, "Oh, My Lord, it is time to pray."

The high point of the festivities was the dedication of the Peres Peace House in Jaffa, a magnificent building of huge green blocks, which cost $15 million, three times the original estimate. The building is windowless and air-conditioned throughout and blocked off from its surroundings, which are home to a poor Arab population. Its faces the sea, as though its builders were hinting that the chance for peace lies in the West, beyond the sea, and not in the East, where neighbor enemies dwell.

The magnificence and elegance cannot, unfortunately, blur the sense of missed opportunity. The events surrounding the establishment of the Peres Center for Peace in October 1997 powerfully demonstrated the political culture that favored peace; that was suffused with confidence in the possibility of achieving peace; and defied the approach of Benjamin Netanyahu, who defeated Peres and did everything possible to torpedo the Oslo Accords. The festivities today cannot hide the fact that the only a meager vestige of the peace camp remains, the peace industry functions by the power of inertia and those involved in it must invent excuses for their activity, and that suggests they are turning peace into a tool for achieving their own personal ends.

Only in hindsight are we able to see the fatal damage done by the Oslo Accords, which inspired Peres to establish the center: The accords, instead of bringing about a change in the status quo, have become the pillar of a de facto binational regime (called "the occupation"), which has become institutionalized as a permanent regime. The Oslo Accords are the legal infrastructure for the division of the West Bank into cantons, which allow for direct Israeli control over 60 percent of the territory (Area C), as well as a constitutional infrastructure for the existence of a virtual Palestinian Authority. The plethora of titles assumed by its leaders and the official uniforms of its soldiers make it possible to maintain the false illusion of the temporary nature of the regime of Israeli control, and thus to perpetuate it.

In the activity of the Peres Center for Peace there is no evident effort being made to change the political and socioeconomic status quo in the occupied territories, but just the opposite: Efforts are being made to train the Palestinian population to accept its inferiority and prepare it to survive under the arbitrary constraints imposed by Israel, to guarantee the ethnic superiority of the Jews. With patronizing colonialism, the center presents an olive grower who is discovering the advantages of cooperative marketing; a pediatrician who is receiving professional training in Israeli hospitals; and a Palestinian importer who is learning the secrets of transporting merchandise via Israeli ports, which are famous for their efficiency; and of course soccer competitions and joint orchestras of Israelis and Palestinians, which paint a false picture of coexistence.

There is no chance that the activists and administrators of the peace center will participate in the daily struggle of the Palestinian olive pickers; in the frustrating efforts to transport critically ill people via the checkpoints; or to breach the economic siege and sea blockade of Gaza. The Peres Center for Peace does not publish reports about the catastrophic economic situation of the Palestinians and does not warn about Israel's responsibility for this situation; after all, it is not a club of Israel-hating anarchists but one of respectable people, who mostly contribute to peace in the generous funding of glittering events and participation in them.

It has always been maintained that the principal, and perhaps revolutionary contribution, of the Oslo Accords did not lie in the "declaration of principles," but in the mutual recognition between the Palestinian national movement and the State of Israel. But this mutual recognition, which turned the Palestinians from a terrorist entity into a legitimate entity in the eyes of the Israelis, was erased in the wake of the suicide attacks and the violence of the Al-Aqsa intifada, after which the pre-Oslo viewpoint returned.

Now the Jews are giving the Arabs a bill of divorce, turning their backs on them, imprisoning them behind sealed walls and checkpoints, willingly keeping to themselves and praying that the Mediterranean will dry up or that a bridge will be built that will connect them directly to Europe.

This mentality has created two monumental structures in the past decade, whose symbolic significance is greater than their functional value: the separation fence and the new Ben-Gurion International Airport terminal. The former is designed to hide the Palestinians and erase them from our consciousness, and the latter serves as an escape hatch and the basis for an aerial bridge to the West.

The third monument that was built in this decade, the Peres Peace House in Jaffa, joins them as a memorial to a time and hopes that have been lost, and the only thing that remains is to join in Peres' prayer: "Then send a Ray of Hope for a new way."



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