The Israeli Left Needs Both Peace and Welfare

What's the big deal? Next month will mark 18 years since the Oslo Accords, which deepened the occupation. The world won't come to an end if the Palestinians were to wait a few more years.

If MK Shelly Yachimovich beats her four male fellow candidates to lead the Labor Party, it will be the first time that two major Israeli parties are headed by women at the same time. The last time that the two main parties were led by women was nearly 40 years ago, when Golda Meir was head of the Labor Alignment and Shulamit Alona led Ratz, the Movement for Civil Rights and Peace.

Unfortunately, both Yachimovich and Kadima chairwoman Tzipi Livni bring to mind the inflexible, arrogant woman who brought about the Yom Kippur War debacle - not her rival, who proudly waved (and still waves) the twin flags of peace and equality. The bad news is that the two of them have joined the masculine-militaristic discourse and are missing a unique opportunity to offer a conciliatory conversation and feminist values. The good news is that the agenda of the female Labor contender and the worldview of the former Likudnik leave a large vacuum that is just waiting to be filled by the left.

In a reasoned response to her critics that appeared in Haaretz ("A woman's place," Haaretz Magazine, Aug. 19), Yachimovich argues that the prevailing political agenda, which until the tent protest focused nearly exclusively on the left and the right, is blindly clinging to the tip of the iceberg. She proposes changing priorities: letting the settlements thrive undisturbed, abandoning the "idle chitchat" of the peace process and uniting around "a deep and genuine social-democratic agenda." Only then, promises Yachimovich, "will the time come for the difficult decisions about the settlements."

Her timetable resembles that of the ship's captain who asks about the dinner menu just as his vessel is about to run into an iceberg.

Yachimovich has managed to convince a significant chunk of the left that "before going to war, or fighting for peace, we must first have a state" that justifies the risks, as she said in a January interview to Haaretz. In that case she should get on the horn to Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas (Abu Mazen ) and ask him to put off the United Nations vote on recognizing a Palestinian state until she finishes her social-democratic revolution. What's the big deal? Next month will mark 18 years since the Oslo Accords, which deepened the occupation. The world won't come to an end if the Palestinians were to wait a few more years. Since September 1993, the number of settlers in the West Bank increased from 110,000 to almost 310,000 - a few thousand more won't matter.

After she persuades Abu Mazen to take the economic inequality issues of the neighbors into account, the contender for Yitzhak Rabin's seat would do well to get in touch with the young Palestinian men who, at dawn, crowd together like sardines at the crossing points into Israel. She should appeal to their emotions and request that they not vote for Hamas in the upcoming election and instead give their electoral voice to the Oslo losers, who promised to peacefully rid their lands of the Israelis. What's the matter, can't they wait until their neighbor completes her war against the tycoons?

And why is Egypt so impatient? Next month will be the 33rd anniversary of the signing of the Camp David Accords, which were supposed to lead to a comprehensive peace arrangement. And what about the Arab League - can't it leave its March 2002 peace initiative in the deep freeze a little while longer, until Yachimovich's Zionist friends finish taking over the East Jerusalem neighborhood of Sheikh Jarrah? How inconsiderate. And we haven't said a word about demographics.

Livni actually champions the issue of the Palestinian-Israeli conflict. But you won't hear a peep out of her about the construction in Ariel and in Ramat Shlomo, about the logical division of Jerusalem or a just solution of the Palestinian refugees issue. On the other hand, the Kadima chairwoman reprimanded Defense Minister Ehud Barak (on Army Radio), saying, "It's not enough to talk about separating the head from the body that shoots," and she would not settle for the relatively restrained response of the Netanyahu government to the terror attack in the south.

Since her stint as head of the Government Companies Authority Livni's own socioeconomic record would be enough to keep her from winning a tender for leader of the Israeli left.

The Israeli left - Jews and Arabs, members of the middle class and below - in other words, all those who will join the "million-person march" - need a leadership that can lead them with two legs: one of peace, and one of social welfare.