The Israeli Left: Yesterday’s Traitors

By Uri Avnery – Israel

In the crucial battle over the national consciousness, we are experiencing great success.

Let us pause to recall: In the aftermath of the 1948 war, when we said there is a Palestinian people and that peace should be made with it, there were not 100 people in Israel and the entire world who agreed.

When we said a Palestinian state should be established alongside Israel, we were deemed national enemies.

When we insisted that dialogue with the PLO was vital, we were called traitors. Four cabinet ministers demanded that I be prosecuted for treason after I met Yasser Arafat in 1982 in besieged Beirut.

We were subjected to endless denunciation when we made it clear that East Jerusalem had to be the capital of Palestine.

When we said that the settlements are a cancer in the nation’s body and that we need to talk to Hamas, we received death threats.

Yet these positions have by now come to be accepted by most of the Israeli public. The "two-state solution" is a matter of worldwide consensus, and even politicians who oppose it must pretend to endorse it.

So if things are so good, why are they so bad?

The victory in the battle for national awareness does not come hand in hand with a political victory. On the contrary: The settlements are growing at an alarming rate, even though their residents are isolated within the Israeli public. The occupation is becoming entrenched. The settlers are infiltrating the military’s high command. The large political parties pay lip service to making peace and do the opposite. The upcoming elections will include three large, outdated, tired parties, which have already been in charge of the country and demonstrated their inability or unwillingness to bring about change. There is no chance that Israel will have a new government that is willing to take on the settlers in the West Bank and the Golan Heights, or to play a leading role in genuine peace talks.

Many factors can be blamed for this. The recent presidents of the United States supported the proponents of settlement and annexation. Ehud Barak pulled the rug out from under the Israeli peace camp when he returned from Camp David to spread the mendacious mantra that "I have left no stone unturned on the road to peace / I have offered them unprecedented generous terms / They have turned everything down / We have is no partner for peace."

Politics is about power. The Labor Movement, in the days before the establishment of the State of Israel, knew this well and created its power structures in all areas of life. That is why it dominated the Jewish community here for two generations. Its power had negative side effects, but it also enabled it to direct the establishment of the state.

Since then, the Israeli left has moved from one extreme to the other, reaching the point of utter political collapse. It seemed to believe that if the right message were only voiced, everything would then happen on its own.

The left has divested itself of all its political assets and of almost all its media assets. It has lost touch with Israel’s peripheral areas, as well as with the Jewish Oriental and Russian communities. It emasculated itself when it agreed to exclude the Arab public from the coalition arena. It has failed to convince Israelis that peace is possible, that there is a partner for peace.

Without access to the media, the voice of the active, dedicated and resolute part of the peace camp rings weak.

The appearance of Barack Obama, the man who came from nowhere and led a historic revolution, proves that anything is possible. People with an exciting vision, creative thinking, courage, determination and a clear message can work miracles. Two years ago no one believed it was possible. Now it has happened. Obama has mobilized an entire new generation, which understands that change must be political and that political mobilization is the duty of anyone who wants to fix the world.

On Saturday, two weeks ago, the proponents of peace gathered at Rabin Square and listened politely to sad songs and to the cliches of failed politicians. The word "Palestinians" was not mentioned once during the entire evening. An air of quiet despondency floated above everything. But perhaps there was in that crowd an Obama of our own, waiting for his day.

I believe that the Israeli Obama will find fertile ground for peace. I would like to be present at his victory rally at Rabin Square.

-Uri Avnery is a journalist, peace activist, former member of the Knesset, and leader of Gush Shalom. He contributed this article to Contact him at: (Originally published in Haaretz.)

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