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the August 2001 issue of World Press Review (VOL. 48, No.
The Crippled Movement
Schmitz, Süddeutsche Zeitung (centrist), Munich, Germany,
May 19, 2001
Square in Tel Aviv is the barometer of Israeli society. What
happens there moves the nation. In the eight months since
the [second] Intifada broke out, there have been two mass
demonstrations in the square: Last summer, 100,000 right-wing
nationalists and Orthodox settlers came, concerned that then-Prime
Minister Ehud Barak might, in the interest of peace, partition
Jerusalem and evacuate the Jewish settlements. More recently,
250,000 Israelis gathered on Sunday night to celebrate the
Maccabee basketball teams victory in the European Championship.
The peace movement can only dream of such turnouts for now.
Its time seems past. We were never able to get that
many demonstrators to come together, says an activist
who has been working in the Peace Now movement for 30 years.
So they would rather not even tryand remain silent in
the face of the violence between Israel and the Palestinians.
Among leftists and the peace movement, the general feeling
is that [Prime Minister] Ariel Sharons predecessor,
Ehud Barak, went further than anyone ever had in making a
peace offer, when he met with Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat
at Camp Davidand was rewarded with violence. Reuven
Hazan, a political scientist at Jerusalems Hebrew University,
says: The left in Israel, in light of the violence,
has imploded. They recognize that the past seven years of
peace negotiations have been futile.
As if crippled, the peace activists of yesterday look on as
the army deliberately shoots down Palestinian activists almost
on a daily basis despite growing international criticism.
For the past several weeks, it has also become a part of the
Israeli armys tactics to march into the autonomous Palestinian
territory and destroy Palestinian homes and olive groves,
because Palestinian militants have used them to hide out while
shooting at Jewish settlers. There were times in Israeli history
when thousands of Israelis would have come out to protest
such actions, and people would have taken out newspaper ads
in protest. But the left and the peace organizations are silent.
Their leading lights, such as writers David Grossman and Amos
Oz, are writing articles for the foreign media. In Israel
you read and hear nothing from them. Instead, you may find
editorials in such conservative mass-circulation papers as
Maariv and Yediot Aharonot criticizing Sharons
purely military tactics and the lack of any political program
to end the Intifada. The last major collective action taken
by the Israeli left was a half-hearted appeal two weeks before
the early elections last February. Voters were asked to choose
the lesser of two evils and vote for Barak. The pleading was
ignored, and many leftists either did not go to the polls
or cast blank ballots. The muted voice of Israels left
has its roots in a painful recognition: that no one like the
assassinated prime minister, Nobel peace laureate, and peace
partner of Arafat, Yitzhak Rabin, was likely to appear anytime
soonand that Barak, while Rabins political godson,
was not able to accomplish anything with that legacy.
Not much is happening on the political stage. Sharons
government is refusing to talk to Arafat in person, while
the mission to Ramallah by Sharons son Omri did not
achieve anything, either. Only Yossi Beilin, the former minister
of justice, is trying to keep a minimal level of communication
open. Sharon has not asked him to do this, nor does he have
a portfolio now, but Beilin has already met with Arafat twice,
who has increased his respect for the doves in the Israeli
parliament. Last week, for example, Beilin founded, along
with a hundred other members of the Knesset, peace activists,
scholars, and former Peace Now members, a Peace Coalition.
This motley crew, which includes, among others, opposition
leader Yossi Sarid and former mayor of Jerusalem Teddy Kollek,
hopes to make itself into an alternative to Sharons
ice-age policies. Its central demands are the dismantling
of Jewish settlements, a resumption of peace talks based on
the Jordanian-Egyptian initiative, and the acceptance of the
Mitchell Commissions report. Says Beilin: We must
work against Sharons policy. For without any hope for,
and efforts toward, peace, Israel will be just an episode
in history, and it will be impossible to continue to maintain
a viable Jewish state.