The Protests / Quiet Now, Peace Later

Tomer Friedman admits there is something strange and sad about the fact that the left is keeping silent now, preserving Ehud Olmert's government.

Friedman, a 25-year-old student at the Bezalel Academy of Arts, voted for Amir Peretz in the last election, and has been active in Peace Now for the past two and a half years. He has had seven hard political years since he first voted in general elections - for Ehud Barak, who disappointed him, and for Peretz, who he now fears will disappoint him, too. Now he has reservations about any political action that might bring down the government. "There's no alternative," he says. "Any alternative will be worse than this."

This is exactly the plight of the peace camp, which finds itself in an absurd position. A small part of the camp opposed the war from the start, while a large part was furious about the last three unnecessary days. Most of it feels terrified over the way the government acted both on the front line and toward the home front. Nevertheless, this anger cannot be seen among the protesters.

Peace Now, which was born in 1978 in the wake of the "officers' letter," whose leaders were proud of their ranks and understanding of security affairs, has nothing to say about the second Lebanon war and its lessons. It certainly has no comment on the way the home front was poorly treated, since its claims it is not a social movement. A poor excuse. When it served their purposes, Peace Now knew how to demand "money for the [outlying] neighborhoods, not for the settlements." Now it shakes off the home front, perhaps because it is not its own home front. The movement has never seemed so irrelevant.

Peace Now's only contribution over the past few weeks to the efforts toward taking stock has been in eroding the legitimacy of the reservists' protests. "They are orange" - the color of the settlers - the movement's speakers repeat about the protesting reservists, while cooperating with the government's manipulations. The question of who is protesting has become more important than what they are protesting about. The exclusive club will not join a protest that it did not invent itself.

The heads of the movement are also holding back supporters who wish to join in protests about the last three unnecessary days of warfare, on the grounds that the alternative to the present regime will be a right-wing government. Some of Peace Now's leaders object to a state commission of inquiry on the grounds that it will "paralyze the system." No one bothered to discuss whether the paralysis was worse than the system's ineffectiveness.

"No peace can grow on a morally decayed infrastructure," says Eliad Shraga of the Movement for Quality Government. His colleague at the hunger strike, Lt. Col. (res) Yehiel Gilo, a former Peace Now activist, says he is disappointed by how the movement has turned a cold shoulder to the protest.

"I'm bothered by this behavior," says Meretz MK Zahava Gal-On. "All the time they say this protest can serve the right, but there [have to be]... principles."

The dissonant absence of the peace camp from the protest is first and foremost an expression of the defeatism that has engulfed it, and its lack of self-confidence. It can't provide alternate leadership or up-to-date thinking. The damage of Ehud Barak's statement that "there is no partner" is further compounded by the fact that the war has proved that there is no blocking aggression against Israel even after withdrawal to a recognized international border.

Without Amir Peretz, who has forgotten his own social agenda, there is no natural leader for the movement. "We are not wasting time now with unnecessary digging up of the past, but already thinking about the future," says Peace Now Director Yariv Oppenheimer, as if the war was some distant experience from the past and not a trauma that masses of people are still experiencing. "This is the time to exploit the weakness of the government and push it to do things."

The minimum demand of the group's upcoming campaign will be to freeze building on the settlements and dismantle the outposts; the maximum will be to begin negotiations with the Palestinians about a state within temporary borders, and in parallel to initiate talks with Syria. But this leaves several unanswered questions, such as, why should the Palestinians and Syrians negotiate with a government that has lost the trust of the people who elected it? How can one ensure that a government that could not conduct a war will know how to deal with a peace process?

Oppenheimer says the group wants to check how open the public is to applying pressure on the government. But it is unlikely that a few sophisticated slogans will succeed in rallying to the cause those sectors that were neglected by both the government and protesters.