Tuesday, February 19, 2008

Peace Now, Now

Last Saturday evening, I attended a memorial for Peace Now activist Emil Grunzweig, a young scholar of democratic theory who was killed by a disturbed rightist’s grenade in February, 1983, at a demonstration in front of the prime minister’s office. Ten years ago, the fifteenth anniversary of his death, hundreds came. This time, a few dozen, perhaps. Many have noticed the decline in the profile of Israel’s peace movement during the past 20 years. What could be expected when Israelis are so obviously spurned in the region and under attack by bombers and missiles? Does it not seem unrealistic to expect a peace movement to get traction without a change in Arab attitudes?
 Imagine, if you can, the electrifying effect of an Arab leader coming to the Knesset today and making something like the following speech:

Ladies and gentlemen, any life that is lost in war is a human life, be it that of an Arab or an Israeli. A wife who becomes a widow is a human being entitled to a happy family life, whether she be an Arab or an Israeli. No one can build his happiness at the expense of the misery of others; nor does peace based on justice proceed from a position of weakness. 

On the contrary, there is no alternative to the establishment of permanent peace based on justice, peace that is not swayed by suspicion or jeopardized by ill intentions. How can we achieve a durable peace based on justice? I declare it to the whole world, from this forum, the answer is neither difficult nor is it impossible despite long years of feuds, blood, faction, strife, hatreds and deep-rooted animosity. 

 You want to live with us, in this part of the world. In all sincerity I tell you we welcome you among us with full security and safety. 

 This in itself is a tremendous turning point, one of the landmarks of a decisive historical change. We used to reject you. We had our reasons and our fears, yes. It is also true that we used to set as a precondition for any negotiations with you a mediator who would meet separately with each party. 

Yet today I tell you, and I declare it to the whole world, that we accept to live with you in permanent peace based on justice. We do not want to encircle you or be encircled ourselves by destructive missiles ready for launching, nor by the shells of grudges and hatreds. What is peace for Israel? It means that Israel lives in the region with her Arab neighbors in security and safety. Is that logical? I say yes. It means that Israel obtains all kinds of guarantees that will ensure these two factors. To this demand, I say yes. 

 It is inadmissible that anyone should conceive the special status of the city of Jerusalem within the framework of annexation or expansionism. It should be a free and open city for all believers. The holy shrines of Islam and Christianity are not only places of worship but a living testimony of our interrupted presence here. Politically, spiritually and intellectually, here let us make no mistake about the importance and reverence we Christians and Moslems attach to Jerusalem. In all sincerity I tell you that there can be no peace without the Palestinians. It is a grave error of unpredictable consequences to overlook or brush aside this cause. Conceive with me a peace agreement based on the following points. 

 Ending the occupation of the Arab territories occupied in 1967. Achievement of the fundamental rights of the Palestinian people and their right to self-determination, including their right to establish their own state. The right of all states in the area to live in peace within their boundaries, their secure boundaries, which will be secured and guaranteed through procedures to be agreed upon, which will provide appropriate security to international boundaries in addition to appropriate international guarantees.Commitment of all states in the region to administer the relations among them in accordance with the objectives and principles of the United Nations Charter. Particularly the principles concerning the non-use of force and a solution of differences among them by peaceful means. Ending the state of belligerence in the region. 

Ring the bells for your sons. Tell them that those wars were the last of wars and the end of sorrows. Tell them that we are entering upon a new beginning, a new life, a life of love, prosperity, freedom and peace. 

Some will have guessed by now that these are excerpts from the speech Anwar Sadat actually gave to the Knesset on November 20, 1977. Notice, apart from the stirring compassion, Sadat’s approach to the so-called “core issues,” now ostensibly being negotiated under the Annapolis framework. They are, more or less, the lines of policy one has heard for years from the Palestine Authority and from the Arab League’s 2002 initiative.

WHICH BRINGS ME back to the Israeli peace movement. The waning of interest in Peace Now seems much more the result of its belated success than its failure. Why take to the streets when the government, and the broad center—Tel-Aviv, professionals, the more educated—now espouse your approach, if only in principle? How different are Peace Now’s ideas—and Sadat’s, for that matter—from the approach Ehud Olmert’s close friend Vice-Premier Haim Ramon has hinted at in various interviews? Menachem Begin, remember, responded to Sadat with a vision of a region in which “we shall all live together—the Great Arab Nation in its States and its countries, and the Jewish People in its Land, Eretz Israel—forever and ever.” 

This was code for the Likud’s platform. (Here is Begin’s whole speech: judge for yourself.) There was no occupation to acknowledge in Begin’s response. Israel would deal with the Arab states, not with the Arab stateless. Jerusalem, too, belonged to the Jews; other religions would have access to their holy places. Nor was there a Palestinian people. (“I invite genuine spokesmen of the Palestinian Arabs” to come along with King Hussein, etc.; I remember distinctly that Begin used the Hebrew phrase Arviyeh Eretz Yisrael, “the Arabs of Eretz Yisrael,” though it is translated differently here.) “We took no foreign land,” Begin instructed Sadat; “We returned to our Homeland. The bond between our People and this Land is eternal.”

Oppose this way of looking at Jewish history, Begin went on, and you were being cavalier about the holocaust. The key to all of this was settlements. Eretz Yisrael still beckoned. Then, the number of Jewish settlers beyond Jerusalem and Gush Etzion was only about 2000; by 1979, 6000. Today it is a quarter of a million. I remember thinking that Sadat’s face said it all: listening to Begin, he looked as stricken as many of us felt. And it was in response to Begin’s response that 348 junior officers signed a letter imploring the prime minister to seize the moment. Their letter launched Peace Now, and prompted demonstrations that numbered in the hundreds of thousands in the late 7os and eraly 80s.

PEACE NOW'S EFFORTS did not save the ensuing peace process, which foundered largely on the settlements policy. Settlements precluded any implementation of the Palestinian autonomy plan that Sadat and President Carter extracted from Begin at Camp David. They were the reason why Sadat refused to travel to Oslo with Begin to collect the Nobel Peace Prize. They were a major reason for the collapse of Oslo. Olmert has claimed to have stopped settlements, too—though not within the extensive boundaries of Jerusalem. His policy is too little and far too late.

The real problem, now, is nothing Peace Now activists can do anything about. They have won the battle of public opinion in Israel, at least among those who are not in the third of the country for whom the process of forming opinions is itself suspect. But what the peace negotiations need, at least for now, is not just a clear head but a strong hand. Olmert knows what he must do eventually, but he likes his job, and does not like enraging the residents of Jerusalem, who support the settlers, and who make up a good many of the third in question; he continues to develop Jerusalem’s suburbs across the Green Line and pander to Shas, his rightist coalition ally, while undermining the already shaken reputation of Mahmud Abbas. He has asked, and apparently got, assurances from Secretary Rice that the US will back his desire to leave this problem of Jerusalem “to last,” as if there is a first that can be negotiated without including East Jerusalem in Palestine’s borders. As if blurriness about US policy and interests helps him.

Haaretz chief editor David Landau, for one, had enough a little while back. He told Rice in Jerusalem that his ”wet dream” would be that the US “raped” Israel, that is, simply imposed a settlement. Landau may have broken protocol (and also revealed the repressed state of mind of former British yeshiva students). Anyway, he lost his job last week. And the US—still unable to grasp that in getting tough about the shape of a deal it is actually strengthening Israeli leaders who claim the need for peace now—is getting hustled for the 30th. year in row.


bar_kochba132 said...

Bernie, your piece here is an eloquent expression of how little you really understand why there isn't peace here. I am a member of the 38% that you claim opposes ANY territorial concessions. Now, here is what you said previously about this (i.e. my) group:

Rather, the 38% that we see here are people living in more or less hermetic worlds, and their political opinions are passed on pretty much intact to their children, like their Sabbath observances: ultraOrthodox living in secluded neighborhoods; scripture-hawk settlers living across the green line; poor and barely educated Mizrahi Jews, living in development towns and nursing old grievances against Arabs and the Ashkenazi rich; new-immigrant Russians reading their own press and looking for an Israeli Putin

No doubt SOME of the 38% group does fit what you wrote, but the implication is that people who don't agree with you are uneducated, primitive morons who have no understanding of Israel's real interests. I, for one, do not fit any of these catagories (I graduated before making aliya from UCLA with degrees in Geophysics). While it is true I am Orthodox/Religous, I know many other people who agree with me who are not religious and also do not fit in any of your categories above. I work with many highly educated people, some religious and some not who also agree with the "38% group".

In reality, it is YOU and your "elites" that you are always talking about who live in a "hermetically sealed" world. How many people in the 38% group do you have contact with and have you even talked to recently? When is the last time Shimon Peres and Ehud Olmert really talked to average people on the street? Do they have ANY idea what the people of the country really think?
If "most of the people" supposedly believe in the phony "Two-state solution" you keep pushing, why was Sharon afraid to call national elections or a referendum before he destroyed Gush Katif? Because he knew he would lose (and note that Gush Katif had less emotional resonance with people than does Jerusalem or Judea/Samaria), just like he lost the Likud party referendum which he called (and which the polls showed initially that he would win).

You and I both know that if Arab leaders like Assad, Abu Mazen and King Abdallah of Saudi Arabia were to do what you suggest, that is, come in front of the Knesset and make the plea that you presented, the government in Israel would be able to ram through a large-scale withdrawal to the pre-67 lines and divide Jerusalem in a blitzkrieg-like action, knowing that the political opposition would be off-balance. THEN WHY DON'T THE ARABS DO SUCH A THING?
You know as well as I do...they don't care about Judea/Samaria, they don't care about "Palestinian self-determination", they don't care about peace and don't even want it...they oppose Israel's very existence, and having Israel around and the constant war situation gives them the perfect excuse to avoid making reforms in their own countries. The status quo, which is a long-term war of attrition against Israel is perfect for them. Alon Liel, former Foreign Ministry official, and friend of Yossi Beilin stated on Israel radio that the Egyptians, for example, oppose ANY peace agreement between Israel and the Palestinians because they believe Israel would use it to expand its influence and economic power over the whole Arab Middle East, particularly at the expense of Egypt. Whether this is true or not is irrelevant, what matters is that they believe it, based on the antisemitic views of Jews that are deeply inbred in the Arab world.

In fact, I reject your claim that that the majority of Israelis accept your twisted view of reality. If indeed a majority said to a pollster that they are prepared for peace on these terms, they most likely mean a "messianic" peace, but, you know full well, that if there were a withdrawal to the pre-67 lines and creation of a Palestinian state, the war of attrition would continue and further Arab grievances would arise. If you pose this as the situation that would occur after a phony peace agreement like you propose, a clear majority of Israelis would reject it. Maybe such a situation would be good for your friend Olmert, if he got a Nobel Prize out of it, or maybe it would be good for you for when you go to international conferences with the "high and mighty" progressives whom you would imagine would no longer nag you about "the settlements" but that is of no interest to the population which would continue to suffer. People are smarter than you and your friends in the "elite" give them credit for.

Anonymous said...

In response to Bar_Kochba132:

As a regular reader of Bernie Avishai's blog and, by default, your responses, I am finally moved to write out of exasperation.

Any critical/thinking person knows that it is not a simple matter to forge peace in this region so filled with painful memory and complex socio-political-economic (not to mention religious) entanglements. But this is precisely the reason why we must continually battle our own tendencies to cocoon ourselves in the comforting stories we tell ourselves that sound something like, "This is just the way things are."

How can you push so hard to distinguish yourself from the 38% Bernie describes in an earlier post only to use words like "They" in such a close-minded way? (e.g. "they don't care about Judea/Samaria, they don't care about "Palestinian self-determination", they don't care about peace and don't even want it...they oppose Israel's very existence, and having Israel around and the constant war situation gives them the perfect excuse to avoid making reforms in their own countries.")

Who exactly is this "they" you are talking about? All Arabs? Do you think all Arabs would agree?

There are people who spend their lives fighting to defend their story of "what is" and those who ask, "What could be?" The people who claim to know, "What is" can do your taxes for you. Those that ask "What could be?" change the world.

Anonymous said...

Good grief, Charlie Brown....
Why did a nice Jewish boy think that writing about the Jewish State will bring his own redemption...and wet dreams...

You point out that Landau was fired for speaking his mind about what was needed in fact to wean Israel away from depending on the US to bail it out and desist being the US's client state in the area. Why should anyone beyond your own natural constituency -- American liberal Jews -- listen?

Everyone else in Israel has either tuned out -- or is tuned in to a different channel -- believing that HaMashiach or some other skyhook will rescue Jews because they are more virtuous than other people?

I think that the real existential issues will not be solved by any speeches from Arab leaders coming to the Knesset. That is so old thinking. ... Jews only react to existential threats, and without some external threat to their existence, the Jewish state will not hold together. It will become a Bantustan. So the realpolitik is to just jettison the West Bank settlers and causing a small internal civil war in the process. I never understood why Israeli leaders have shied away from shedding the blood of a few American Jewish expatriates who decided to take up arms against the Jewish state in the name of some God or other...

American Jews have always lived vicariously off of the Holocaust, never having had the luxury of suffering directly from political oppression, so here's the opportunity. Going after American Jews on the West Bank, shedding a little Jewish blood in the interests of weaning Israel off of American Jewish dollars would go a long way to fulfilling the wet dream of Mr. Landau. It would be truly revolutionary.

Who has the balls to do it?

Anonymous said...

Also in response to Bar_Kochba...

I share the exasperation articulated elsewhere on this comment page. Well said.

Bar_k, your relentless postings are getting tiresome. If you have so much to say, get your own blog and stop piggypacking on someone else's.

Bernie, keep doing it, keep asking what could be.

bar_kochba132 said...

To first Anonymous:

I think it is clear that I was talking about the Arab leaders who have no interest in making peace and that the status quo of constant conflict with Israel suits their purposes fine. Although it is true Sadat did break the mold, as Bernie points out and "made a bold move towards peace", I am sure that had he lived another 20 years, the current situation of Egypt conducting a cold war with Israel would have been the same, but of course, I can't prove that.

The question then arises, given the anti-democratic nature of the Arab regimes (all of them except for Lebanon), can it be said that the Arabs masses are yearning for peace with Israel and if the Arab countries did have democratically elected governments that reflected the will of the people would there be more willingness on the part of the Arab countries to make peace with Israel?
To answer that, I think we should ask questions like "who is considered a hero in the Arab world, a 'peacemaker' like Sadat, or others like Saddam Hussein, Nasrallah, or Nasser?" The New York Times ran an excellent article a couple of days ago (it still may be on-line) called "Dreams Stifled, Egypt's Young Turn to Islamic Fervor" by Michael Slackman. Slackman points out that young people in Egypt are turning in droves to Islamic fundamentalism and he attributes this to the failure of the regime in power to provide jobs and a future for the more educated young. He says that Egypt tried other "failed ideologies like Arabism, socialism and nationalism", so now they are trying "Islamism". Now, Mr First Anonymous, do you believe these newly religious young people in Egypt are MORE or LESS likely to support peace with Israel?

If you read Bernie's posting about his friend Sam Bahour, the grocery chain magnate, you will note that Sam himself points out that Palestinian youth are wrapped up in a cult of martyrdom and struggle, not consumerism. Thus, I ask you, are they pushing Abu Mazen to make more or less concessions to Olmert in his negotiations with him?

Again, I repeat, I do NOT view the situation as hopeless, but it is going to require a sea change in the attitudes of the Israeli leadership, and as long as they maintain views like Bernie's, they are simply exacerbating the situation.

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ligneus said...

Bottom line, can you trust the Arabs? I say considering Hajj Amin's role in the Holocaust, the '48, '67 and '73 unprovoked wars and now Iran threatening destruction while arming Hamas and Hezbollah, the answer is no. Until the Arab countries can turn themselves into sane, modern states and leave the 7th century mindset of Mohammed behind, it would be a gamble too huge to contemplate.
Also they might considering helping their brethren, maybe they could start by cleaning out the rat's nest that is Gaza.

ligneus said...

ps. Ibrahim, a translation for the non Hebrew speaking would be much appreciated.

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