There’s something odd about the beginning of the talks between Israel and the Palestinians: Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu started what looks like his most important political act to date, and we, the Israelis, have no idea where he is headed. Nor do we have a clue whether it is a good or bad sign that we do not know where he wants to end up or what he wants to accomplish. Actually, we don’t know whether his move is only a feint or a real attempt to implement the two-state solution.
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The argument over the future of the territories and the division of the land, which has been going on for roughly 46 years, ended for all practical purposes when the core of the right wing — Sharon, Meridor, Olmert, Livni and Netanyahu — adopted the two-state formula. This was the left wing’s second accomplishment. Its first was when Labor accepted a peace plan in that spirit and Yitzhak Rabin and Shimon Peres began carrying it out.
At first, in the 1960s and the 1970s, it wasn’t an argument between the right wing and the left wing, but rather within the left wing. It was groups and individuals, most of them with no political power, coming out against the left-wing establishment — the Labor Alignment (Ma’arach) government. Yitzhak Ben-Aharon came out against his own party, Ahdut HaAvoda, with Tabenkin, Galili and Allon. He called the territories “hissing coals” and predicted that IDF troops would become “prison guards” in the not-too-distant future. Lova Eliav wrote Land of the Heart and left Mapai. Young members of Mapam came out to oppose their leaders, Meir Yaari and Ya’akov Hazan, who saw Gush Emunim as “new pioneers.”
At rallies in Jerusalem, Tel Aviv and in the territories, the number of police officers and Border Police soldiers surpassed the number of demonstrators. Some police officers, not caring what they did, beat demonstrators. “There’s nothing to be done for broken ribs,” a physician told me one winter night in the emergency room at Ichilov Hospital, after a police officer struck me with his club at a demonstration against the government’s policy at the Rafiah crossing.
I’m not nostalgic for those years. Support for “the legitimate rights of the Palestinian people” and opposition to the settlements and “Greater Israel” aroused hatred and hostility among many. I have no yearning for those times, or for my dismissal from the newspaper Al Hamishmar for “over-leftism.” But when I remember how Professors Jacob Talmon, Yehoshua Arieli and Yehoshua Bar-Hillel, the founders of the Movement for Peace and Security, criticized the rejection of every peace initiative by Golda Meir’s government, or the wall of cynicism of Moshe Dayan, Yisrael Galili and Peres, who supported Gush Emunim, or when I leaf through the pages of The Yellow Wind by David Grossman, I see once more how the blessing of victory in the Six Day War turned into the curse of occupation, and know that we did what we had to do.
“Even occupiers who went much farther in oppression, far beyond where Moshe Dayan is willing to go, sat in most places on thorns and scorpions until they were uprooted. Not to mention the total moral destruction that long occupation causes the occupier,” wrote Amos Oz. His essay was published in the newspaper Davar in August 1967. If I am not mistaken, he was the first to speak about the historic victory, while leaving no doubt as to what would happen if we became an occupying nation in our own land.
The left wing’s struggle for the division of the land and against the occupation was worthy and even necessary. It had its accomplishments, but reality “accomplished” more. The first Lebanon war, the two intifadas, and Palestinian and Jewish terrorism made it clear to most Israelis that the division of the country was inevitable.
Two states — that is the work we must complete. And it will be possible only on the basis of the 1967 borders. If we had done it 40 years ago, maybe there would have been another way. Today, there is no other way anymore.