Saturday, June 18

The Fragmentation of the Israeli Left and a possible Peace Initiative

The Israeli left has never been so fragmented. The Labor Party has been in sharp decline for many years now. In fact, the tactic of uniting with Tzipi Livni’s Party, Hatnua, has been a failure. Yitzchak Herzog, the party leader and leader of the opposition, cannot be taken seriously as he straddles on the fence. He has had the carpet pulled out from under his feet by the wily, Benjamin Netanyahu. Herzog is no match for him let alone an alternative as prime minister. He lacks charisma and his strong desire to enter the Netanyahu Coalition in the hope that he will give it a more moderate face is doomed to failure.

A few weeks ago Netanyahu decided to increase his power by bringing in Avigdor Lieberman, giving him the post of Defense Minister and ousting Moshe Ya’alon from that post. All this was done while he was negotiating with Yitzchak Herzog to bring the Zionist Camp into his coalition. Herzog had no knowledge of Netanyahu’s negotiations with Lieberman. The result was Herzog coming out of the deal with egg yolk covering his face and his tail between his legs.
Many members of the Zionist Camp feel betrayed by Herzog and his credibility as Zionist Camp leader has taken a great knock. Herzog declared rather unconvincingly that the Zionist Camp will remain a fighting opposition to Netanyahu (until another attempt is made by him to crawl on all fours into the Likud Coalition Government, where he hopes he will be made foreign minister). Meanwhile, the terrible terrorist attack in Sarona, Tel Aviv has taken the attention away from the wheeling and dealing with Yitzhak Herzog. Netanyahu has many rabbits in his hat unbeknown to Herzog in his ambition to reach a deal with Netanyahu.
Yitzhak Herzog is trying to move his party toward the center if not a shade to the right in order to gain support from the right. He made some disparaging remarks about the party not being an “Arab lover’s Party”. This was a most divisive, racist statement and he got wrapped over the knuckles over it by members of his own party and Meretz as well as the Joint List. Even Naftali Bennett of the right wing Habayit Hayehudi criticized Herzog for his statement. Trying to “out-Likud” on its inherent racism will bring Herzog more ridicule and will further damage the Zionist Camp that is already disunited and in the doldrums.
The time has arrived for the left in Israel to be inclusive of all its supporters in order to offer the electorate a viable and realistic alternative to the right wing policies of the Likud and the coddling of the settler camp and right wing religious camp, including the ultra-Orthodox (Haredi) parties. The real issues of peace, social and economic issues are not being addressed as it should because of the budgeting for political favors within the ruling camp each having its own sectarian issues. The left has to re-organize in order to survive and become relevant again and Yizhak Herzog must be replaced as Leader of the Opposition.
There are members within the Zionist Camp, whose ideology is closer to Meretz than it is to the centre with a touch of right wing in the Zionist Camp. If this trend in the Zionist Camp continues towards becoming Likud B, it will cease to be relevant as the majority of the electorate is right wing to extreme right wing and will not vote for anything that has a “left wing stigma”.
Perhaps the time has arrived whereby a new left wing social democratic political platform can be supported by all parties on the left, including Meretz, Joint Arab List and disillusioned Zionist Camp members can join. The new social democratic party should embrace all Israel’s citizens irrespective of race, color or religion in a new Israeli patriotism for the good of the State of Israel. This is the only viable alternative to the partisan right wing coalition that rules Israel at present. Individual members of the new party need not be Zionists. This is a matter of personal choice. Historical divisions between Zionists and non-Zionists under the new order becomes irrelevant as both sides can work together for the common good of the country of which they both share equal citizenship. The main ideology that all members have is a common loyalty to Israel that goes beyond sectarian interests. This would also strengthen the movement towards a solution of the Palestinian-Israeli Conflict by negotiations. Here, members of the Joint List within the new coalition can play an active role in negotiations. An old conflict that is deadlocked with no movement is bad for Israel and the Palestinians and offers no future for either side.
Ehud Barak speaks at the Herzliya Conference, June 16, 2016. (Adi Cohen Zedek
Ehud Barak, ex Chief of Staff, Prime Minister and Minister of Defense in Netahyahu’s Cabinet has made a scathing attack on the present Government, so has Moshe Ya’alon until recently Defense Minister, has also attacked the Netanyahu Government. A number of ex Generals have also come out against the present government and the direction that it is moving. It may be the beinning of the "night of the long knives" against Netanyahu. It remains to be seen whether it will destabilize the present government or  not. The fragmented left is out of the picture as an alternative. These attacks on Netanyahu seem to be “sour grapes attacks” or personality problem clashes that were unknown to the public while they were serving in the Netanyahu Cabinet. ThEhud Barak speaks at the Herzliya Conference, June 16, 2016. (Adi Cohen Zedek)ey do not offer any movement towards a viable alternative that is moderately left. The Zionist Camp is out of the picture entirely apart from a few impotent clucks from Yitzhak Herzog, who is still finding a way to join Netanyahu’s coalition, despite the setback of the carpet being swept from under his feet by Netanyahu.
A new peace initiative that merits examining for solving the Palestinian-Israeli Conflict has been making some soft ripples in the headlines. This is the Two States, One Homeland Initiative.
The following is an article from Haaretz about this new initiative:

“Out with separation, in with confederation – declare the proponents of the 'Two States One Homeland' initiative that will have its official launch on Thursday at a special full-day conference in Tel Aviv.
Judy Maltz Jun 01, 2016 7:37 PM
BEIT JALA, West Bank – Countless proposals for resolving the Israeli-Palestinian conflict have been bandied about over the years. What sets this one apart, beyond everything else, is the unusual mix of supporters it has galvanized – among them Palestinians, settlers, ultra-Orthodox Jews, and left-wing activists.
Out with separation, in with confederation – declare the proponents of the “Two States One Homeland” initiative that will have its official launch on Thursday at a special full-day conference in Tel Aviv.
In a nutshell, here’s the plan: two sovereign states with open borders, every house stays where it is, and all people get to live where they want. Forget about uprooting settlements, evacuating residents, building high walls, and swapping territories. The border, under this plan, will be in the exact same place it was on the eve of the 1967 Six Day War, and all those Jews living on the other side are welcome to stay where they are provided they are willing to live as Israeli citizens under Palestinian sovereignty. In other words, they get to vote in Israeli elections, but their speeding tickets will be issued by Palestinian police. The same holds true for Palestinian nationals who choose to live under Israeli sovereignty. (Yes, this initiative does accept the Palestinian demand for right of return – despite being anathema to most Israelis.)
Several days before the official launch of their peace plan, a small group of activists – some new to the cause, others engaged from the start – have convened at their usual haunt, a hotel in this small town near Bethlehem, for some last-minute preparations.   
“The difference between this initiative and others,” explains Awni Elmashni, its lead Palestinian architect, as they settle down, “is that we try to work with reality rather than change it.”
Elmashni, who was born in the Dehaishe refugee camp, spent 12 years in Israeli prisons before moving up the ranks of the Fatah movement.  He is in a better position than many to know that certain key elements of the plan – keeping the settlements intact, for example – will not go down well with the average Palestinian. But what better alternative at the moment is there, he asks.
“Everything else that’s been tried has failed,” he notes. “And we are right now in a situation where there is no political horizon, and the status quo is unsustainable.”
It all began in 2012 when Elmashni was introduced to Israeli journalist Meron Rapoport, whom he was told had some “original ideas” about solving the decades-old conflict. Elmashni heard him out and liked what he heard. Operating largely under the radar, the Israeli and Palestinian set out to build a movement. They organized parlor meetings, met privately with key opinion leaders, drafted position papers and reached out to communities not typically part of the peacemaking discourse.
More often than not, they were dismissed as delusional. After all, who in their right mind could believe that after years of bloodshed, Israelis and Palestinians would be able to put all the bad feelings behind and live happily among one another?
Yet, slowly but surely, they succeeded in winning over some less cynical hearts.
That would include people like Nuri Gross, a 25-year-old college student who grew up in a right-wing Orthodox family and participated in demonstrations against Israel’s withdrawal from Gaza. “On the one hand, I care about other people, so right-wing style solutions don’t appeal to me,” he says. “On the other hand, all those on the left who call for separating from the Palestinians – to me, there’s also a bit of racism in that.”
Gross was first introduced to the confederation idea during a parlor meeting held at the home of Hadassah Froman at the West Bank settlement of Tekoah. Following in the footsteps of her late husband, Rabbi Menachem Froman, Hadassah, a core activist in the movement today, has evolved into a rare breed of peace activist settler.  “What I heard in her home really made sense to me,” says Gross.
Even newer to the movement is 37-year-old Pnina Pfeuffer, an ultra-Orthodox mother of two involved in various efforts to engage the Haredi community with the Israeli political discourse. Pfeuffer had always supported the classic two-state solution that involved building a wall to separate Israelis and Palestinians. “But as far as I’m concerned, any solution is better than no solution, and if we can get Israelis and Palestinians to support this new idea, then I’m all for it,” she says.
For the leaders of the new initiative, a recent coup was signing up Eden Riskin, the grandson of Rabbi Shlomo Riskin, the prominent American-born founder and spiritual leader of Efrat, one of the larger West Bank settlements. He joins two well-known Haredi activists, Shmuel Drilman and Rabbi Shmuel Pappenheim. Some notable representatives of the Israeli left are former Peace Now executive director Moriah Shlomo, Meretz activist Avi Dabush, author (and Haaretz contributor) Nir Baram, and prominent civil rights attorney Limor Yehuda”.
Yehuda, formerly head of the occupied territories department at the Israel Civil Rights Association, estimates the number of core activists in the movement at “several dozen,” but says “we are growing every day.”
Israelis on the left tend to have two key reservations about the confederation plan. Like most Palestinians, they don’t like the idea of leaving the settlers where they are in what could be construed as handing them a victory. Where they differ with the Palestinians is on the issue of repatriation of refugees: Even hard-core leftists tend to draw the line there, seeing the Palestinian right of return as an existential threat to the Jewish state.
Many of the details of the plan have yet to be worked out, but according to Eran Tzidkiyahu, an Israeli activist in the movement, “the main obstacle is not deciding whether Jerusalem will have one mayor or two mayors but overcoming the lack of trust on both sides.”
At one point, he and his fellow activists debated the possibility forming a political party. They eventually concluded that growing the movement from the ground up was a preferable option. “The Israeli politicians aren’t there yet,” laments Yehuda. “Either we have to wait until we’ve gained more public support or until there are different politicians in power.’
They do take heart, though, from recent support expressed by President Reuven Rivlin for the idea of confederation (even if not exactly in the format they advocate), as well as some Knesset members on the Israeli left, whose names they prefer not to mention.
About two weeks ago, Al-Mashni organized a gathering of 70 Palestinians in Ramallah to hear about the initiative. “There was great interest,” he reports. “But what’s most important for our people is to know that there is a serious partner on the Israeli side.

It is obvious that the present Israeli Government would not support this initiative and in the atmosphere that exists between the two parties to the conflict it appears to be unacceptable. Nevertheless, the time is more than ripe to examine new initiatives and encourage discussing them.

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