The Israeli Left Is Looking at the Tent Protest With Envy and Hope

There is a link between the price of occupation and the price of rent, the public needs to be reminded of this for the left to reemerge as a viable alternative for governance.

Akiva Eldar
Akiva Eldar
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Akiva Eldar
Akiva Eldar

The right wing should be sending baskets of goodies to the tent-dwellers around the country on a daily basis. If there was ever the slightest chance of Prime Minister Benjamin "Supertanker" Netanyahu taking a diplomatic initiative that would stop the expected Palestinian move at the United Nations in September, the popular protest has turned him into a plucked chicken.

This image, which former Prime Minister Ariel Sharon applied in his day to Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas (Abu Mazen ), characterizes the prime minister's clipped political wings.

Housing protest in Tel Aviv on Saturday July 30, 2011.Credit: AFP

A few weeks ago, Netanyahu gave President Shimon Peres a mandate to initiate contacts with the Palestinian side concerning a formula for renewing the talks on the final-status solution. But when the prime minister heard that the president was taking the maneuver to buy his silence seriously and was bending over maps of the territories alongside Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erekat, Bibi took the toy away from Peres. That's all he needs now - for Likud MK Tzipi Hotovely to set up a protest tent on Balfour Street.

Thus Abbas has come out of this story too as the good guy, Netanyahu as the bad guy and Peres, as is Peres, as the loser.

At a time when Netanyahu is canceling visits to European capitals for fear there will be nowhere to come back to, Abbas and his people are spending a lot of time in the friendly skies winging their way from one place to another. The expectation that within few weeks, 120 countries, and perhaps more, will recognize their state is making them feel like they are in heaven.

When the entourage returns home to the empty coffers and the officials who have had to make do with half their salary, they walk with their heads hung in shame.

On the one hand, the Qataris have given them a hefty grant for the purpose of hiring a team of British experts on international law who are advising them on modes of action in advance of the vote at the UN General Assembly. On the other hand, the rulers of the Gulf states, who are not great fans of Prime Minister Salam Fayad and his insistence on importing the values of democracy from the West, are chortling with pleasure as they watch him hustle for cash.

At the same time, all the efforts by American Jewish organizations to persuade the Obama Administration to refrain from imposing a veto in the Security Council have proven fruitless thus far. Even a new survey by American pollster Jim Gerstein that shows staunch support for active American involvement in a comprehensive Israeli-Arab agreement has not succeeded in luring U.S. President Barack Obama off the fence.

He has noticed probably that only one-third of the 800 respondents in the survey, which was commissioned by J Street, support an American vote at the UN in favor of a Palestinian state, whereas half are opposed to the idea. The survey also shows that a large majority in the Jewish community and among Jewish donors supports Obama. Why should the president annoy such loyal voters?

The representatives of the Council for Peace and Security who visited the White House last week had an answer to this question. They explained to the president's senior advisors that if the occupation extends one day after the vote at the UN and diplomatic status quo remains as is, it will be the end of the Palestinian Authority. After scores of countries have recognized him as the president of an independent state, how will Abbas be able to hold his head up and fly around the world with the visiting cards of an "authority chairman" who needs entry and exit visas to travel between a foreign country and his own?

The day after the declaration of recognition of Palestine, the PA leadership is expected to come under increased pressure to dismantle the security mechanisms the Americans have nurtured with a lot of work and money, and to give the keys back to Israel, as Erekat puts it. If Obama continues to ignore Abbas' political distress, Hamas will have a good chance of winning the elections planned in the territories in April of 2012. This achievement will to a large extent be chalked up to the winner of a Nobel Peace for Prize.

Peace later

Activists of the Israeli left who have tried recently to enlist support for a petition calling for recognition of a Palestinian state have been following the tent protest with a mixture of envy and hope. For years, they have been trying, in vain, to persuade people that another road for the inhabitants of Kiryat Arba means less affordable housing for the inhabitants of Kiryat Shmona.

Ever since it helped the Labor Party win the elections in 1992, the formula, "security, peace and prosperity," has lost its charm. In an article published in the book, "The Elections in Israel 2009" (edited by Asher Arian and Michal Shamir, The Israel Democracy Institute ), Ophir Abu, Fany Yuval and Guy Ben-Porat analyze "the demise of the Zionist left parties."

Segmentation of the voters shows that the Labor Party and Meretz lost power mainly in the wake of mass desertion by members of the upper middle class - that is, the same people who are now demonstrating against the rule of the economic-diplomatic right are the people who brought it into power in the first place.

On the basis of analysis of voter behavior in the socio-economic deciles, the three authors write that the compound of security, peace and prosperity did not last over time. The members of the middle class who despaired of the diplomatic process in the wake of the failure of the peace process in 2000 redirected their support to parties that promised security and stability. Voters identified as "Zionist left" migrated en masse to centrist parties, which succeeded in breaking the connection between peace and prosperity or promoted a secular agenda.

In the 2009 elections, the Likud chalked up an increase of 14.7 percent to 16.9 percent in deciles 5 through 7 (as compared to a moderate increase of 1.2 to 3.3 percent in the three lowest deciles and 12.2 percent to 12.8 percent in the top three deciles ).

The authors end the article with the observation that the parties of the Zionist left need to find a sufficiently broad electoral base in order to once again become a governing alternative. In the very near future, someone will have to remind the tent-dwellers about how much war costs and who is paying the price of the occupation.



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