The Israeli left
The recent re-awakening of the Israeli peace movement, with large demonstrations in Tel-Aviv called under the slogan “The Occupation Is Killing Us All”, and the emergence of a “refusenik” movement of Israeli reservists refusing military service in the Occupied Territories, has put the Israeli left back in the spotlight. This has happened after a year of complete silence in the wake of the Palestinian uprising and the election of right-wing Israeli Prime Minister, Ariel Sharon.
There are growing calls in dipplomatic circles for a negotiated settlement, and the Arab summit in Beirut recently discussed Saudi proposals for normalising Israel’s relationship with all the Arab states in return for full withdrawal from the 1967 territories and a Palestinian state.
The largest and most well-known of the Israeli “peace” organisations is “Peace Now”. It was founded in March 1978 by 348 reserve commanders, officers, and combat soldiers of the Israel Defence Forces. Their objective was to pressure the Likud government to bring about a politically negotiated settlement with Egypt, Syria and Jordan, the frontline Arab states whose territory had been lost in the 1967 war. Their argument was that security required a political settlement as well as military superiority – and they wrote to prime minister Menachem Begin that: “Real security can be achieved only when we achieve peace.” This obsession with Israeli security, rather than with the roots of the national conflict, has been a hallmark of this group and the Israeli peace movement as a whole.
During Israel’s invasion of Lebanon in 1982, the movement mushroomed, mobilising 400,000 people (one-tenth of the country’s population) to demonstrate for Israeli withdrawal from Lebanon and a commission of inquiry into the massacre of Palestinians in the Sabra and Shatilla refugee camps, in which Israel was implicated – with Sharon himself identified as the architect of the butchery.
When the Intifada broke out in 1987, Peace Now argued for negotiations with the PLO and claims the credit for paving the way for the Oslo accords.
While claiming to be a non-party organisation, it has long been associated with the “doveish” wing of the Labour party establishment, and has supported former Labour-led governments such as those of Ehud Barak, Shimon Peres and Yitzak Rabin.
Today, their own stated objectives include, “Israeli withdrawal to safe borders from the West Bank and Gaza; creation of a Palestinian state subject to strict military limitations; negotiation of security and peace accords between Israel and Syria leading to a safe Israeli withdrawal from the Golan Heights; and a resolution on the status of an undivided Jerusalem that accommodates the national aspirations and religious needs of both Israeli and Palestinian residents.”
In practice, this means that they oppose full withdrawal to the 1967 cease-fire lines, expect the Palestinians to accept a capital city outside of Jerusalem’s historic boundaries, and insist that a Palestinian state should be prevented from having arms and military formations that might pose a threat to Israel’s security. They also seek to exclude foreign (that is, Arab) military forces from Palestinian territory.
Equally, they insist that the Palestinian Authority “has the responsibility to make a maximum effort to thwart terror ... resume effective security co-operation with Israel; arrest and prosecute within the full extent of the law those Palestinians who engage in terrorism...”
Peace Now rejects the right of return of the refugees, arguing that this demand is “an unacceptable threat to Israel’s integrity, demographics and sovereignty”. Instead, it argues for the return of Palestinian refugees, not to their homes in pre-1967 Israel, but within the boundaries of a future Palestinian state, “as Jews are allowed the right of return within the borders of the State of Israel”, and limit themselves to the repatriation of limited numbers of refugees into Israel as part of a programme of family reunification.
They argue that “settlement building must be frozen during the peace process until such time as the future of the territories, including the status of the settlements, has been negotiated”, and that settlers who want to return to Israel should be financially assisted to do so. But they do not call for the full removal of the settlements – rather that settlers who remain in place “should understand that they will be subject to Palestinian law and sovereignty”, and that Israel and the Palestinians may negotiate border adjustments that would annex a portion of settlements to Israel while leaving others under Palestinian control.
Taken as a whole, this places their programme extremely close to the mythically “generous offers” that Ehud Barak presented to the Palestinians at Camp David in July 2000, whose rejection preceded the outbreak of the current uprising.
It is therefore not surprising that their reaction to the Palestinian uprising in September 2000 was a sense of betrayal by their “partners in peace”. They remained largely silent as the government of their favoured candidate for prime minister, Ehud Barak, used brutal and indiscriminate force against civilians to crush the uprising. Author Amos Oz, one of Peace Now’s leading lights, went so far as to argue in February 2001 that the “doves” should “re-examine their perch”, that it was no longer the case that “the sole obstacle to peace is Israel’s occupation of the Palestinian territories”, that Israel had presented the most far-reaching offer that it could make, and that the Palestinian nation had “rejected peace”.
Another important group is Meretz, which describes itself as “The Israeli Social Democratic and Peace-seeking Party”. Its programme commits it to “human rights, equality, social justice, Israel’s security, and to the values of humane Zionism”. Like Peace Now, it opposes any division of Jerusalem or a full withdrawal to the cease-fire lines of 1949, arguing that they “have never been internationally recognised borders”, and argues that negotiations over future borders must be related to security and demographic considerations, so that Israel’s security will be enhanced. Similarly, it argues that the evacuated territories “will be demilitarised, and any violation will entitle Israel to act in accordance with the fundamental right of self-defence”.
While calling for a settlement freeze, Meretz says that “Israel will do everything in its power to protect its citizens” in the territories prior to a negotiated settlement, and Meretz fights to ensure that the Israel Defence Force receives “the full budgetary resources needed to preserve its might and its superiority in qualitative, technological and human terms over all the armies of the region”.
Equally, it calls for the return of the Palestinian refugees to the territory of a future Palestinian state, but not to their lands in pre-1967 Israel. As a political party, it has repeatedly taken part in coalition governments led by the Labour establishment, including Ehud Barak’s.
The defining feature of this wing of the peace movement has been its dependence on the Labour establishment, its argument for “peace” as an extension of Israeli security policy, its commitment to a negotiated settlement and a two-state solution, and therefore also to the defence of the Jewish state.
The Oslo accords were a godsend to this movement, appearing as they did to vindicate their historic policy. This has made them into uncritical admirers of Labour-led governments when they were engaged in the “peace process”. It has also pitted them against the Palestinians when their resistance has erupted into confrontation with the Israeli state.
Just as significantly, it has placed it on the defensive against the Israeli right when Israeli security is threatened by Palestinian resistance, and when repression is seen to produce better results than negotiation in creating “security”.
The most militant of the Israeli peace organisations is Gush Shalom (Peace Bloc). Its most prominent figure, radical Israeli journalist Uri Avnery, established secret contacts with senior PLO figures in 1974 and famously visited Yasser Arafat during the Israeli siege of Beirut in 1982. His organisation calls for full Israeli withdrawal to the cease-fire lines of 4 June 1967, unilaterally if necessary, and the establishment of a Palestinian state with East Jerusalem as its capital.
It also calls for a recognition in principle of the right of return for the Palestinian refugees, although insists that the return of Palestinians to Israel should be subjected to strict quotas over a 10-year period following a political settlement. Nevertheless, this is still much further than any other group has gone in recognising the historic injustice committed against the Palestinian people by the creation of Israel. Avnery and Gush Shalom are still committed to a Jewish state and a two-state solution – however, they embody the most extensive version of it.
Like other sections of the peace movement, Gush Shalom called for a vote to Rabin in 1992, Peres in 1996 and Barak in 1999. Unlike other figures on the Israeli left, Avnery defended the Palestinians’ to resist following their uprising in September 2000, denounced Barak’s “generous offers” to the Palestinians for being the humiliating demand for surrender that they were, and refused to support Barak during the elections that led to his downfall and the creation of a government led by Ariel Sharon.
Nevertheless, he anticipates that the creation of a Palestinian state in a two-state solution will enable Arafat to isolate and demobilise the Intifada – that is, to strip it of its revolutionary potential for transforming the whole region. Just as the Peace Now and Meretz wing of the peace movement argue for a negotiated settlement and partial withdrawal as the best guarantee of Israeli security, Avnery and Gush Shalom argue for a two-state solution and full withdrawal as the price of bourgeois democratic stability. Instead of being a fellow-traveller with Labour Zionism, this makes him a fellow-traveller of Fatah’s bourgeois Palestinian nationalism.
Ultimately, the real obstacle to the Israeli left’s goal of a two-state solution is Israel’s own domestic political, social and economic division. Israel has maintained the internal unity of its Jewish population through its policy of occupation and settlement-building, thus buying off disaffected (Jewish) minorities by granting them privileges at the expense of the Palestinians.
Any withdrawal from the territories or abandonment of the settlements would result in the loss of the social position held by those sections of Israeli Jewish society whose livelihood depends upon the spoils of occupation, and would result in an internal Israeli conflict. This is why Israeli governments of both right and left have clung so tenaciously to the settlements, and with them have prevented an accommodation with the forces of “moderate” bourgeois Palestinian nationalism.
It is also why a two-state solution will not bring about peace between the Israeli and Palestinian peoples – as a militarily stronger Israel will always have recourse to renewed expansionist aspirations in order to guarantee the internal stability of the Jewish state, in whatever boundaries the Jewish state might exist. A genuine peace between the peoples, and not merely their ruling classes, will only come about with the abolition of all national privileges, including the privilege of having a Jewish state built upon the ruins of a Palestinian Arab nation.
Nevertheless, co-operation with the Israeli peace movement is possible. Their various activities – of monitoring human rights abuses, civil rights violations and settlement-building, their acts of protest against the occupation, and their calls for withdrawal from the Occupied Territories – are all supportable, and can form a basis for common action with anyone committed to defence of the national rights of the oppressed Palestinian Arab people. However, revolutionary socialists believe that only a complete break with any defence of their own national privileges, and therefore also with Zionism and the defence of the Jewish state, will allow a just and lasting peace to become a reality.