A delusional Left cannot be the much-needed alternative to Netanyahu

There’s a reason why many on the Israeli center/center-left are such fans of writer Ari Shavit. He articulates with a clear-eyed accuracy the maddeningly irreconcilable convictions that, (a) the occupation of the Palestinians is being maintained at a terrible cost to Israel’s standing in the world and is corrupting our Jewish and democratic values as a society; and that (b) the chances of reaching a genuine peace with our Palestinian neighbors in the near-future is close to zero; the rejection of the very idea of Jewish sovereignty in the Middle East is an animating principle of the Palestinian national movement.

A recent piece by Shavit in Haaretz called out the “suicidal” tendencies of the Israeli Left and prompted a response from fellow Haaretz columnist, Akiva Eldar (a representative of that part of the Left that Shavit is excoriating). You don’t have to go further than the withering title to get the gist: “With Friends Like Ari Shavit, the Israeli Left Doesn’t Need Enemies”. However, the actual content of the article merely reinforced Shavit’s point.

Eldar exhibits here exactly the tendency that Shavit abhors: an absolute inability/unwillingness to place any responsibility on the Palestinians for the absence of peace and the continuation of the occupation.

For example:

“If [Shavit] repeatedly writes that Clinton, Barak and Olmert gave the Palestinians the most generous offers, why should we doubt it? Only a few people wonder whether they would have signed an agreement with leaders like Barak and Olmert, who made their offers with the end of their political careers in sight. If one of Israel’s leading columnists argues that the second intifada, the most murderous of all, was the Palestinians’ ungrateful response to these generous peace offers, one assumes he examined the sequence of events. Who remembers that even former Shin Bet security service head Avi Dichter, today a Likud MK, said that Yasser Arafat didn’t plan the intifada?”

There are two arguments here; both entirely misleading straw men that say a more about the writer’s willful self-delusion than anything else.

First we have the idea that Arafat’s and Abbas’s negative responses to Ehud Barak and Ehud Olmert respectively can be explained simply with reference to the fact that the Israeli leaders were lame duck Prime Ministers.

In Barak’s case this is not strictly true. He was on the ropes politically for sure, but had Arafat accepted President Clinton’s parting proposal – the unprecedented offer of a Palestinian state on 93-97 percent of the West Bank and Gaza with a capital in East Jerusalem and de facto control over the Temple Mount – Barak would have made the 2001 election a referendum on a final peace deal. Arafat said no. That decision (referred to by the then-Saudi Ambassador to the United States as a “crime against the Palestinian people”) had no connection to the trajectory of Barak’s political career. When push-came-to-shove, Arafat was not willing to end the occupation of 1967 by accepting as permanent “the occupation” of 1948 – that is, Israel’s establishment.

The other ‘Ehud’, Olmert, was indeed on his way out of the Prime Minister’s Office when he made an offer to Mahmoud Abbas even more concessionary than Clinton’s. But Abbas did not simply say no. He gave no counter-offer and made no effort to rekindle the deal with Tzipi Livni who replaced Olmert at the head of the Kadima Party and was acting-Prime Minister until the elections. He has since walked away twice from US-mediated negotiations with Benjamin Netanyahu, even after Israel’s right-wing Prime Minister froze settlement building (in the first instance) and released Palestinian terrorists (in the second).

So what of Eldar’s claim that, according to former security chief Avi Dichter, Arafat did not plan the Second Intifada? (A transparent attempt to rehabilitate the man most responsible for the disillusionment of Shavit and others on the ‘mugged-by-reality’ Israeli Left.) Dichter may well have said that, but there are Palestinians who have said otherwise. And even if Dichter did say that, and is right in the strict sense that the PLO Chairman did not strategically start the campaign of suicide bombings and mass carnage, there can be no denying that, once it began, he deliberately inflamed the situation and helped finance and support the terrorists killing Israeli children in nightclubs and buses. This is a matter of record.

The realistic Center-Left is no less scathing than the delusional Left of settlement expansion outside the main blocs, or of this government’s bigoted rhetoric and legislative attacks on free expression. The difference lies in their treatment of the Palestinians.

The first calls out Abbas on his incitement and dishonesty, on – for example – his willful spreading of the libel that Israel planned to destroy the al-Aqsa Mosque; a deliberate lie which contributed directly to the current spate of stabbings.

The second chooses to infantilize the Palestinians with the soft racism of low expectations: They are a poor, oppressed people, not responsible for their actions; they should be coddled and supported at every turn, no matter what violence they commit, no matter that the poverty and despair of so many Palestinians is in part a result of the criminal embezzlement by Palestinian Authority officials of billions of dollars of aid money.

A viable alternative to Netanyahu (desperately needed) will not come from a delusional left. Zionist Union leader Isaac Herzog has belatedly realized that, declaring last week that a two-state solution is not realistic in the foreseeable future and that “I did not find Netanyahu to be a partner to my demands, nor was Abbas a partner.”

Greater credit should go to Yesh Atid leader Yair Lapid, who has steadily become the most serious alternative candidate for Prime Minister by combining a pragmatic position on peace (yes to a two-state solution, but only in the context of a regional agreement with the Sunni Arab states) with a tough line against assaults on Israel’s legitimacy by ‘pro-Palestinian’ forces in Israel and abroad.

David Ben-Gurion once said that, “In Israel, in order to be a realist, you must believe in miracles”. Perhaps so. However, being a realist comes first. That means comprehending both horns of Israel’s dilemma: the moral and demographic need to separate from the Palestinians; and the duplicitous nature of the Palestinian leadership  with whom we are expected to sign a lasting peace.

About the Author
Before moving to Israel from the UK, Paul worked at the Embassy of Israel to the UK in the Public Affairs department, and as the Ambassador's speechwriter. He has a Masters degree in Middle East Politics from the University of London. He is currently a Senior Fellow at the Menachem Begin Heritage Center in Jerusalem - though he writes this blog in a personal capacity. He has lectured to a variety of groups on Israeli history and politics and his articles have been published in a variety of media outlets in Israel, the UK, the US and Canada.