Opinion

Israeli Jews' Debt to Peres

When suitable, we granted the Palestinians freedom of movement. When it empowered them too much, we revoked it. At most of these junctures, Peres was there.

Amira Hass
Amira Hass
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Peres was indeed a man of vision and he was able to maintain the necessary flexibility to attain that vision.
Peres was indeed a man of vision and he was able to maintain the necessary flexibility to attain that vision.Credit: Noam Armon, IDF Archive, Defense Ministry
Amira Hass
Amira Hass

Israeli Jews owe a considerable debt to the late Shimon Peres, and unfortunately for him, only a portion of them have understood this, and quite late at that. Peres was indeed a man of vision and he was able to maintain the necessary flexibility to attain that vision, but only when it came to the unimportant details. Peres’ wisdom and resourcefulness contributed much to Israel’s success in maintaining and enlarging its profitable colonial enterprise, in defining it as a peace process and even receiving international subsidies for it.

The reality of Palestinian enclaves, cut off among growing Israeli settlements – the unshakable result of the Oslo negotiations – is not an unfortunate historical accident. The “solution” of the enclaves has been taking shape in various forms since the occupation of 1967 as a way of squaring our version of settlement colonialism with the post-colonial era.

This reality was partially created by ideas expressed in public, but mostly through creating facts on the ground: the settlements, roads, the revocation of residency status of tens of thousands of residents of the Gaza Strip and the West Bank (including East Jerusalem), the neglect of infrastructure and obstruction of development in areas where Palestinians live. When suitable, we granted the Palestinians freedom of movement. When it empowered them to too great an extent (in the first intifada), we revoked it. At most of these junctures, Peres was there.

In the 1970s, Peres and Moshe Dayan promoted the vision of “functional compromise” – not partition of the land but rather partition of government authority. We were to control the land. The settlers would continue to multiply on it and be Israeli citizens, and Jordan would control the Palestinians. The autonomy plan of the Camp David Accord with Egypt during Menachem Begin’s term as prime minister was a variant of the functional compromise.

Peres, who gave his blessing to a confidential channel of the Oslo talks, made it clear at the time that he was opposed to the establishment of a Palestinian state. Shackled by this opposition, an agreement to negotiate and to gradually implement was decided on, but without a final goal. So where were they headed if the goal had not been stated? Wherever the sovereign – the side with military, economic and diplomatic supremacy – would decide, of course. Enclaves. It was not by chance that lawyer Joel Singer participated in the negotiations and drafting at both Camp David and “Oslo.”

When he was prime minister for a short time after the assassination of Yitzhak Rabin, Peres proposed to Yasser Arafat that the Gaza Strip be declared a state. That was a minor variation on Peres’ basic vision of continued Israeli domination over the West Bank until an unknown time in the future. Arafat politely rejected the suggestion. It didn’t change a thing. Ariel Sharon pursued the same line as his predecessors and cut the Gaza enclave off from the West Bank’s multiple, smaller enclaves.

And behold, the land is ours. The settlers are Israeli citizens. The densely populated pockets where the Palestinians live are not in fact under Jordanian control but rather the responsibility of the Palestinian Authority and Hamas. But the vision of functional compromise has been attained. The dispossessing Israeli settlement enterprise was not designed by a few individuals. The press chatter over one personality (Benjamin Netanyahu) being responsible for all of our troubles or all of our achievements, and one general (Ehud Barak, Gabi Ashkenazi, etc.) being capable of saving us belittles the Israeli collectivity, the strong military and civilian institutions of governance whose longevity and importance are greater than that of any leader.

And they propound, plan, and carry out policies whose substance remains unchanged: foiling the establishment of a sovereign Palestinian state in accordance with international resolutions and Palestinian consent. Such a state would have checked the colonialist drive and highlighted the Palestinians’ historic right to their land. It also could have paved the way for reason and for relations beyond two nation-states.

Peres is not solely responsible for the colonial reality of Palestinian enclaves in a sea of settlements. But no one was his match in the talent to lie to the world by claiming that Israel seeks peace.