Blame the Palestinians: Israel's Peace Camp Has a New Target

They've been brutally occupied for 50 years but, according to the 'pro-peace' Zionist left, it’s still the Palestinians' responsibility to get Israel out of this mess.

Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas at a press conference in the West Bank city of Bethlehem, Jan. 6, 2016.
AP

Exhausted, frustrated and politically emasculated, the Zionist left appears to have zeroed in on Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas as the source of its woes and the main obstacle to its long-cherished dream of peace.

“It depends very much on you,” former cabinet minister Yossi Beilin wrote in an open letter to Abbas in Haaretz two weeks ago (“Dear Abbas, Answer Kerry, and Establish a Palestinian State Now”). “The one who can lead the decision toward [a two-state] solution more than anybody else is you.”

Gadi Taub reinforced (and possibly reinterpreted) Beilin’s message last week (“Israel Has No Partner for Peace”), when he determined that “if Abbas does not change his positions, we have no partner for a permanent solution.”

In other words, the Palestinians may have been under the heel of a brutal, occupation regime for the past 50 years, but it’s their responsibility to get us out of this mess.

The most telling part of Beilin’s article was his counsel to the 81-year-old Palestinian president that “for you it will be a national and a personal tragedy if you end your presidency without real hope for a Palestinian state.”

That may well be true, but I couldn’t help thinking that Beilin, who himself is no spring chicken, was addressing himself as much as he was Abbas. After almost four decades of dedicated – but ultimately fruitless – political activity, Beilin’s words were suffused with weariness and disappointment. He, too, could well end his career without achieving peace.

The articles by Beilin and Taub sum up the malaise of the Zionist left in Israel. It has no electoral prospects – proved this week once again by Isaac Herzog’s disastrous attempt to insinuate himself into the government – and no extra-parliamentary base (such as the old Histadrut) that could conceivably propel it back into power in the distant future.

Where others (still small in number) have effectively abandoned parliamentary politics and are focusing their activities on fieldwork (Breaking the Silence, Ta’ayush) and promoting boycotts and sanctions, the traditional left is psychologically blocked from taking that route. Herzog’s recent attacks on “Arab-lovers” in his own party testify to the conceptual prison in which the left has confined itself.

Hemmed in on all sides, the Zionist left’s instinctive response is to bully Abbas. Unable to vent their frustrations on the sources of their despair – the Israeli electorate and the current government – they turn their aggression on Abbas and the Palestinians, the party least responsible for the predicament of the left and least able to resolve it.

Taub’s argument that the Palestinians are not a “partner” for peace is a cheap attempt at shaming. The Palestinians were partners in the abortive 2014 negotiating process led by John Kerry, the secret Olmert talks and the Clinton-era negotiations at Camp David and Taba, after which Ehud Barak came up with the “Israel doesn’t have a partner” canard to obfuscate his failure.

If, however, Taub is using the word “partner” in the sense of a person who joins with another on the basis of shared risks and profits, he should consider how sharing Israel has been during the partnership forced on the Palestinians over the past 50 years. Who precisely has absorbed the risks and who has gobbled up the profits?

Full partnership is voluntary and denotes equality. There cannot be a peace partnership between Israel and Palestine until Israel accepts the principle of true equality, which it has never been willing to do.

Until such a time as concepts such as sovereignty, security measures and land rights apply publicly, equally and fully to both parties – as they did during the peace negotiations with both Egypt and Jordan – Israel and the Palestinians may be participants in peace talks but they’ll never be partners.

The partnership that Taub is offering is the partnership between a wife-beater and his battered wife or the hangman and his bound and blindfolded subjects.  A slave can never be a partner in the slavery enterprise. Nor can a shotgun bride be a partner in a marriage or a rape victim a partner in sex. Participation based on force, coercion or blackmail is not partnership.

The only partnership that Mahmoud Abbas can offer Israel right now is what he has been doing since he took office – a partnership in crime; complicity in maintaining the illegal occupation and settlement enterprise. By all accounts, he has been a good partner.

But if things are to move on from there, if the Palestinian leader is ever to become an equal partner in peace, it’s up to the party holding all the assets to put them on the table and negotiate over them seriously. And that, as we all know, is not the sort of partnership the Netanyahu government has in mind.

Roy Isacowitz is a journalist and writer living in Tel Aviv and an editor at Haaretz.