A White Tent in the Square

Peace Now bound together (justified) resistance to the occupation of the Palestinians and (invalid) faith that the Palestinians are the allies.

The slogan was pointless: Peace is better than Greater Israel. Of course, peace is better than Greater Israel but, even at Peace Now's first demonstration in April 1978, that wasn't the choice. Even less is it so now, as the movement marks its 30th anniversary this month.

The visionary element in Peace Now was, and remains, an illusion. It was a messianic illusion, a self-deception.

But, illusory slogan aside, there was also an incisive grasp of reality. It understood that occupation corrupts, that the settlements were a disaster, that every effort must be made to divide the land between two nation-states.

The movement was formed at the end of the '70s because a new generation of Israelis understood that in the face of the right wing and settlers, a different Zionism was called for. An educated, rational, enlightened, moral Zionism - that would be a contemporary reflection of the founding fathers' fundamental insights.

One cannot ignore the tribal context. Peace Now was not established when the Labor government led the way to the 1973 war, nor when it built settlements in 1975. The movement was established when Menachem Begin made peace in 1978. From its outset the Israeli peace movement had not only a political platform but also a genetic code. This code says: The state may have been taken from us but we will forge a new identity as the state's critics. The other may be in power, but we will march to the tribal square and there confront him together. We will make it a square of blazing torches and rousing speeches. We will transform it into a place of convergence, purification and pining, and the last stand of an aristocracy that has been cast down.

Despite it all, Peace Now was an impressive movement. People derided its naivete, but it was ingenious and influential. They mocked its caution, but that was the secret of its strength. They scorned its elitism, but it was responsible and serving. They also mocked the bleeding heart liberalism that radiated from it, but indeed it had heart.

Despite its weaknesses, Peace Now was an impressive civil movement, which struggled for the Israeli consciousness and managed to change it. It paved the way to Israelis' disenchantment with the occupation, their willingness to reconcile and to support the two-state solution.

Success and failure were intertwined. Peace Now won the battle over consciousness, but lost the fight on the hills. It brought the Israeli center to adopt unmistakably left-wing positions, but could not stop the settlements in time. It created a situation in which the gap between Israel's intention to divide the land and its ability to do so is intolerable.

And it had a greater failure. The movement never distinguished between the solid truth of the occupation and the shaky truth of the promise of peace. It bound together (justified) resistance to the occupation of the Palestinians and (invalid) faith that the Palestinians are the allies.

Consequently, this Zionist peace movement transformed a moral historic position that couldn't be disputed into a political plan that couldn't be defended. It was captivated by the PLO's charms, and Oslo's delusions, and finally became Yasser Arafat's hostage. Then, when harsh reality struck at Camp David, Peace Now lacked the courage to face it and take stock. It did not face the public and declare where it was right, and where it went wrong, and how it would update its peace message. With this failure, Peace Now's moral authority crumbled, it lost political clout and finally it simply faded away.

On Tuesday evening a white tent was put up in the square. This time, hundreds of thousands did not throng to the square, not even tens of thousands or even one thousand. But a handful of decent, devoted Israelis did come, Israelis who for a generation had done everything they could to save their nation from its stupidity. There were anonymous patriots whose faces furrowed with wrinkles and their hair became white in the years they ran on the hills, stood holding up placards and carrying torches, trying to lessen the killing and injustice, to bring peace closer and keep war away.

Quite a few statements that were disconnected from reality were made from the stage. But even in the weariness of the 30th anniversary it was clear that Peace Now's mainstream has maintained its sanity and vitality. It was just as obvious that the movement needed a way if it were to have a future. No more Annapolis-style delusions, no more relying on scarecrows like Mohammed Dahlan, but a long-term, large scope plan to end the occupation. A plan to ensure that even without peace or Greater Israel, the Israeli state will survive.