My Promised Land Peace 1993

My Promised Land: The Triumph and Tragedy of Israel

by

Ari Shavit

 

XI        Peace 1993

For Ari, the desire for peace has always been one stream of Zionism. But it has always been on the fringes. The more basic instincts have been militant.. Further, since the Arab uprising of 1936-1939, the militancy has grown. Sometimes he seems to attribute this to external factors – the responses of local Arabs. However, it is clear here that the main factor is that Zionists, “paid lip service to peace, but [Zionism] was not willing to pay a real price for it.” (240) Immigration. Settlement. Nation-building. These were all supreme values. Peace was not.

For Ari, the real peace movement started in 1967. The movement for Greater Israel started in earnest at the same time. Yossi Sarid, a Holocaust survivor who rose to become Israel’s Minister of Education, is his first hero of many in this chapter. Like many Israeli characters, like Shulamit Aloni who died two days ago, Yossi was arrogant and brilliant, conceited  and rebellious. and unable to serve any authority higher than himself. Yossi had accomplished more as a literary figure than Shulamit. Yossi and Shulamit were hard to tolerate as people but enchanting nevertheless. Yossi’s brilliance was such that he was destined to lead the Labour Party. The crux of the first part of this chapter is both why he failed to fulfill his destiny.

According to Ari, Yossi became a committed peacenik in the early 1970s when he was convinced then that occupation and settlements were a disaster. Was it the settlements that served as the turning point? Ari says the turning point came in the early 1970s not mid-1970s when Ofra was established. Was it the Yom Kippur War? He does not mention that and only focuses on peace with the Palestinians not Israel’s neighbouring Arab states. Even if others, such as Jacob Talmon, arrived at that position in 1967, Ari never tells us why Yossi arrived at his position at the time he did, only that the timing was premature for the Labout party and he was out of synch with its hawkish leaders. So Yossi Sarid, the prince-in-waiting of the Labour Party, became an outcast, a leader of protests rather than of a major political party or faction within it.

In 1982, in opposing the Lebanon War, Yossi came into his own as undisputed leader of the peace movement. But his breach from the Labour Party meant he was confined to the life of a maverick, frustrating for him because, unlike others, he saw himself as destined for prime leadership.  So he ends up disheartened, discontented and disillusioned. The dilemma is posed. How does one say “No” to warmongering but remain within the folds of potential leadership without consigning oneself to being a permanent outsider? For Ari, protest alone is inherently vacuous, barren and sterile; it does not offer you a position to really inspire and lead.

As someone who has always preferred the role of the outsider and critic, I find the argument totally unconvincing. There is a role in society for action and leadership from the sidelines as well as the mainstream. Some who want both power and reform manage to straddle both. But most or many of us do not. What is clear is that if you want power and are unable to learn the art of pragmatic compromise while upholding your own ideals, then you are doomed either to sell out or to be relegated to the margins in frustration.

The core issue is the settlements for Ari. That is not, of course, how Netanyahu sees it. As quoted by John Ivison approvingly in yesterday’s National Post., he says settlements “are not the core of the conflict, since there were no settlements for nearly half a century while conflict raged between Jews and Arabs. Settlements were uprooted in Gaza, and Israel reverted to the pre-1967 line, ‘But we didn’t get peace. We got 16,000 rockets.’ He says the settlement issue will be resolved in a final peace deal. It will be hard but it is resolvable. Simply pulling the IDF from Hebron would be one solution, as long as any Jews that want to remain are guaranteed safe haven by the Palestinian Authority. It would be painful for any Israeli prime minister but politically possible. However, the real Gordian knot is not the Arab mission to liberate the West Bank – it’s the one to liberate pre-1948 Palestine.” (A6)

Ari agrees with Netanyahu that the central issue is not the occupation and not the settlements. But he reverses the focus from the Palestinians to the Zionists who settled the land and had to clear out Palestinians by force.

Sarid has a different view. “The occupation is the father of all sins. Occupation is the mother of atrocity. When we occupied the West Bank and Gaza, we opened a door, and evil winds swept through it. All the depravity you see in Israel is because of the occupation. The brutality. The deceit. The decay. Even the army is now rotting because it was forced to be an occupying army.” (244)

I personally believe that settlements are one obstacle to peace. But I agree with Netanyahu and Ari. They are not THE obstacle. To single out settlements and to blame settlements are all of Israeli ills is not simply hyperbole of the worst order, but does not jibe with what I have heard from Palestinian activists. Ari answered Sarid, “You (to Sarid) discovered the world but you ignored our own history. You forgot 1948 and the refugee problem that it created. You were blind to the chilling consequences of Zionism and the partial dispossession of another people that is the core of the Zionist enterprise.” Setting aside whether dispossession was the core of Zionism, the refugee problem is the key (along with Jerusalem) and not the settlements. For Israel will not allow a return and is simply following the normal pattern of every other group involved in an ethnic or religious conflict. Those who fled or are forced out never return with few exceptions, except if they are the victors.

Another hero of the chapter is Yossi Berlin, more sober than Sarid, a man of peace but not of protest. Also industrious, eager and ambitious though perhaps not as brilliant as Sarid, he too became preoccupied with the quest for peace but not obsessed with the occupation or the settlements. And it was the Yom Kippur War not the Six Day War that was the major turning point in moving him from being religiously observant to becoming a professional politician obsessed with peace and playing the role of peace entrepreneur with two professors from Haifa with whom he helped initiate the Oslo process when he was deputy minister to Shimon Peres in 1992. Ari succinctly sums up the back door diplomacy that led to Oslo and the Oslo process which initially only envisioned a local autonomy agreement.

I am not sure Ari knows the full story of the transition from the Palestinians as part of the Jordanian delegation to recognition of the Palestinians as a separate delegation to recognition of the PLO as the representative of the Palestinians, but he does tell the end of the story. The start was made, in fact, in the multilateral talks gavelled by Canada over the refugee issue..

Ari accuses Yossi Beilin of becoming mesmerized by the appearance of peace and getting rid of the occupation. “An Arafat peace agreement should have been based on a Palestinian about face recognizing the Jewish people, recognizing the Jewish national movement and its national rights, relinquishing the Palestinian right of return.” (251)  That is what a true peace requires. Ari who has always been devoted to peace found that his fellow-peaceniks failed to come face to face with the central tragedy of two peoples fighting over the same land. So Beilin from a very different perspective suffers from the same pre-occupation with the occupation and fails to confront the central tragedy. This explains the withering away of the peace movement after the failure of Oslo. The advocates of Oslo never understood the source of that failure.

“So it transpired that peace stopped being peace. It was no longer bound by a realistic analysis of power, interests, opportunity, threat, and alliance — by sound judgment. It ignored Arab aspirations and political culture. It overlooked the existence of millions of Palestinian refugees whose main concern was not the occupation but a wish to return to their lost Palestine. It was not based on a factual state of affairs, but on a sentimental state of mind. It was a wish, a belief, a faith..” (255) So in conflict with this non-rational mythos of return, a naive belief in rational self-interested politics in pursuit of peace was useless. One needed a counter myth that recognized rather than repressed the brutality required to possess the land and accepted living within a tragic frame.

Menachem Brinker echoes Ari’s thesis. Avishai Margolit, the author of the unilateral Gaza withdrawal, denies that he advocated that position blind to the larger obstacles, but insisted they were necessary in spite of and to confront the real core issues. Avishai blamed the peace movement to which he was one of the intellectual leaders with a naiveté about the political process needed in obtaining political allies sufficiently to stop settlements, not with ignoring the issue of refugees and return. Avishai has become pessimistic even though the peace movement was successful in getting most of the right to accept the reality, inevitability and desirability of a two state solution and surrender the vision of a Greater Israel. “But on the ground, we lost badly. We didn’t stop colonization. We never managed to forge a coalition wide enough and strong enough to stop the settlers. Now it’s too late. It’s almost irreversible. I don’t see a power within Israel fierce enough to stop the state founded by my parents from becoming an apartheid state.” (256)

Ari’s answer to why the peaceniks failed is different but simple. “We were right to try peace. We were right to send Beilin’s team to meet with the Palestinians and offer them a grand deal: a demilitarized Palestine living side by side with a Jewish democratic Israel along the 1967 border. But we should never have promised ourselves peace or assumed that peace was around the corner. We should have been sober enough that occupation must end and even if the end of occupation did not end the conflict…We failed to say to the world and to our people that occupation must cease even if peace cannot be reached.” (256-257)  Ari faults Avishai and Menachem, not for being peacniks, but for failing to take up the responsibility of political leadership. It is a false charge. That was not their job. It was not my job. We were all teachers, not politicians.

Further, the fault was not naiveté. We all knew the risks. We all understood the internal resistance. But we hoped – and we came very close – that the Palestinians would grasp the offer. And until the last minute, there were plenty of reasons to believe we would succeed in spite of the forces undercutting a leap forward. But Arafat turned out to be a flake. He agreed then he backed down and changed his mind. The timing was right. But the opening and opportunity was not grasped. To retrospectively suggest that we should have recognized that such a failure was inevitable is to resign to necessitarianism. Peace is pursued on the basis of possibilism. and not surrendering to the necessity of being trapped in a tragedy.

I actually cannot recall whether Menachem and Avishai were blinded to the larger conflicts in the Middle East,, as Ari charges. But I think not. Uri Avneri, Matti Peled and Michel Warschawski who formed the Peace Bloc, criticized Peace Now for selling out to Labour and tolerating Rabin’s procrastination and provocations. Avishai and Menachem opposed “escalating” the Lebanese conflict but did not oppose responding to the artillery attack  There appeared to be a temporary reprieve. When the Declaration of Principles were signed with the Palestinians in August 1993, momentum seemed to support cautious optimism instead of the constancy of pessimism which Ari sees as a necessary requirement of the pursuit of peace. The miracle of peace with Egypt fifteen years earlier could be followed by another miracle. The deal clearly recognized that other issues were as critical if not more critical than the occupation. Even Shulamit Aloni, then a Minstter in the Coalition government, welcomed the agreement and declared, “No more parents will go weeping after the coffins of their sons,” and Amos Oz echoed, “And death shall rule no more.” (Mordechai Bar’on (1996) In Pursuit of Peace: A History of the Israeli P{eace Movement, Washington: USIP, 310)

The problem was not myopia but, to prove his point, Ari offers Amos Oz. For Amos, the captured lands of 1967 were only to be used as bargaining chips and NOT for settlement. The results of the Yom Kippur War eventually brought both sides around to the need to recognize that peace required that the land be divided between the two peoples. The issue now became how to make that division and in that both sides failed. But both sides also succeeded. For this new recognition is not reversible.

However, in Ari’s tragic vision and the necessity of adopting a tragic posture, Hulda of 1948 is the problem. The destroyed villages of 1947 are the problem. “Hulda is what the conflict is really about. Hulda is the crux of the matter. Hulda is what the conflict is really about. And Hulda has no solution. Hulda is our fate.” (265) “What is needed to make peace between the two peoples of this land is probably more than humans can summon. They will not give up their demand for what they see as justice. We shall not give up our life. Arab Hulda and Jewish Hulda cannot really see each other  and recognize each other and make peace. Yosi Sarid, Yossi Beilin, Ze’ev Sternhell, Menachem Brinker, Avishai Margolit, and Amos Oz put up a courageous fight against the folly of the occupation and did all they could to bring about peace. But at the end of the day, they could not look Jabal Munheir in the eye. They could not see Hulda as it is. For the most benign reasons, their promise of peace was false.” (268)

But it was not a promise. It was a push and effort. Everyone of those people could look Jamel Munheir in the eye just as well as Ari Shavit. Only they, as well as I, would say that in every other case of such conflict and such separation of ethnic groups, peace is made when each side accepts the current reality and neither tries to get back what was lost or to advance further beyond what was done. Israelis and Palestinians have to do the same thing. The sooner the better. But there is no other realistic game in town. Viewing the situation as the need to correct historic wrongs that cannot be corrected or changed and viewing this as a tragic trap is what passes for reality when it is simply a recipe for living under a doomsday cloud. And peace always requires not surrendering to the temptations of despair.

If for Ari, “Hulda has no solution. Hulda says peace shall not be,” (267), I answer, Why not? There have been a myriad of such conflicts. Sooner or later they end either in peace or in the total victory of one party over the other. I can only hope it will be the former and not the latter and sooner rather than later. I have maintained that hope since 1967 and see no reason to surrender it to Ari’s recipe of a tragic vision of deep doom.

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