Israeli-Palestinian Peace Is Dead, Long Live Peace

Just as Clinton revived the Democratic Party in the 1990s, the Zionist left must revive itself and offer a third way.

Ari Shavit
Ari Shavit
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An Israeli left wing activist holds olive branches, during a demonstration against Israel's offensive in the Gaza Strip, in Tel Aviv, Israel. July 19, 2014.
An Israeli left wing activist holds olive branches, during a demonstration against Israel's offensive in the Gaza Strip, in Tel Aviv, Israel. July 19, 2014. Credit: AP
Ari Shavit
Ari Shavit

The tale of the Israeli left is a sad one. In the summer of 1967, the Zionist left was correct. On the seventh day of the Six-Day War, it already understood that the occupation would corrupt us and the settlements were pointless. It fought bravely against the rejectionism of Prime Minister Golda Meir and the messianism of the Gush Emunim settlement movement, as well as the general hawkishness of Likud. But the left’s great mistake was that it conjured a magical faith in the possibility of ending the occupation via the metaphysical promise of peace now.

This serious (almost religious) faith in an immediate and comprehensive peace was shaky even at the end of the 20th century, but it has become utterly groundless in the 21st century. But the left refused to recognize this clear and bitter fact.

Its view of the past didn’t really leave room for the rejectionism of Yasser Arafat and Mahmoud Abbas, or for the steadily growing power of Hamas. Its view of the present didn’t really leave room for Islamic fundamentalism, Arab chaos and Palestinian extremism. The rational, moral and Zionist political movement of the 1960s and ‘70s lost its identity and way. It became detached from reality.

The goal to which the Israeli left has aspired for 47 years is the correct one: a two-state solution. If we don’t divide the land, Israel will either cease to be Jewish, cease to be democratic or cease to be. If we don’t end the plague of the settlements, the plague will do us in. Israel must pursue and test peace, but even in the absence of peace, it must act resolutely and wisely to end the occupation.

Even though the peace camp aspired to the right goal, it ignored the fact that withdrawals for the sake of peace brought us exploding buses on Dizengoff Square, suicide terrorists at the Dolphinarium discotheque and rockets that reached all the way to Hadera. The peace movement never addressed the fact that the Palestinians effectively rejected the peace initiatives of U.S. President Bill Clinton and prime ministers Ehud Barak and Ehud Olmert. The peace elite still behaves as if it hasn’t noticed that Iran is going nuclear, the Arab nation-states are collapsing and the Islamic State is cutting off heads.

The conceptual world of the people supposed to be the most informed, open and critical remains dogmatic, anachronistic and ossified. Their perception of reality relates only to half of reality; it ignores everything that has happened in this country over the past 20 years, and everything that has happened in the neighboring countries over the past two years.

The Big Bang happened in 2000. Exactly 14 years ago, Israel’s most generous peace offer led to the worst terror attack on Israel. The trauma of the second intifada after Camp David left a deep burn on the Israeli psyche, something that 13 years ago was supposed to make people on the Zionist left do some soul-searching. We should have realized that something went wrong, that our basic assumptions did not match reality and that we had to redefine ourselves.

Just as Clinton revived the Democratic Party in 1992 and Tony Blair revived Labour in 1997, Labor, Meretz and the peace movements should have revived the Zionist left in the early 2000s. If we had been serious – serious statesmen, serious intellectuals and serious religious opinion leaders – we would have offered Israelis a third way already in the middle of the last decade.

But we did not, and in not doing so we failed badly. We are thus going from bad to worse, weeping and wailing along the way. We have played into the hands of the right wing and are keeping Benjamin Netanyahu’s government in power. We are preventing the sharing of the land and building settlements. Instead of having an alternative, adult and responsible leadership that the Israeli people can trust, we have a gang of bitter adolescents cursing, abusing and going after any member of the fold who dares to leave and speak the truth.

Here is the truth: The emperor has no clothes. Better put, the king is dead. The attempt to resurrect the old idea of peace is like the attempt by Chabad Hasidim to resurrect the Lubavitcher Rebbe. Who is going to trust peace plans that were written when Boutros Ghali was Egypt, Faisal Husseini was Palestine and Dan Meridor was Likud? Who is going to accept a peace model dating back to 1990 as reliable? Only messianic people; only people whose noble beliefs and lofty ideals have rendered them blind to the reality around them.

But because most Israelis aren’t messianic, they’re not buying it. Even though they realize that the occupation is problematic and the settlements are dangerous, they don’t trust the people of the old left wing who still suggest ending the occupation with an immediate, comprehensive peace when no peace is on the horizon. In a choice between messianic people on both the right and left, they prefer the right. They’re not willing to blindly follow people who have been wrong time and again and have never admitted their mistake.

I won’t get into an argument with former Haaretz columnist Akiva Eldar and sculptor Dani Karavan. I very much admire the journalistic work of the former and the artistic creativity of the latter. When I wrote here two weeks ago about the delusional left wing, I wasn’t referring to the Zionist left wing to which these two men belong. I was referring to the anti-Zionist left wing that is continually hurling stones at Israel without compassion or historical insight.

But it still seems a burning issue for some people – people who don’t accept the Copernican Revolution. They believe that the blazing Middle Eastern sun revolves around the Planet Earth of Israeli-Palestinian peace.

Unconventional as it may be, I’m not going to enter the dispute. On the contrary, I’m going to take this unique opportunity to extend my hand and suggest that we join forces. So you still believe that orthodox peace is within reach? Great, I’m with you. Bring me Abbas’ signature on the draft of Olmert’s peace agreement. Bring me the Arab League’s renunciation of the right of return as enshrined in Resolution 194 of the UN General Assembly.

If you do that, I will join you. I will try to convince every Israeli man and woman to give peace a chance. But if you fail this time too, if you fail for a third and fourth time, then finally admit that the critical experiment didn’t go well. The optimistic theory has been disproved. Maybe then we can join forces, sharpen our minds and bring a new idea for peace into the world that’s not based on wishes but on solid facts.

If we do that, we will finally be able to convince the Israeli majority that our most important national enterprise is dividing the land. Only if we stop falling into delusions and selling delusions will we be able to save the democratic Jewish state and revive Zionism as a liberal, ethical and inspirational movement.

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