Israeli Leftists and Peace Activists Need to
Create a New Political Force
By Uri Avnery
October 23, 2017
Palestinian women in the West Bank in an Israeli military
checkpoint to allow them to pass
Palestinian men in the West Bank in an Israeli military
checkpoint to allow them to pass
WHAT WE NEED is a new start.
ONE DAY the Israeli Labor Party felt that it needed a new leader.
That happens to this party every couple of years. The party is in
bad shape. It looks more like a political corpse than a living organism.
Wanted: a new leader, charismatic, energetic, enthusiastic.
they found Avi Gabbay.
Why him? Nobody is really sure.
Avi Gabbay has no
visible qualities of political leadership. No charisma at all. No
special energy. No enthusiasm himself and no ability to inspire
enthusiasm in others.
After serving as a government employee
dealing with the mobile phone industry, he himself became the successful
director of the largest mobile phone concern. Then, he went into
politics and joined a moderate right-wing party, and was appointed
Minister for the Protection of the Environment. When the extreme
right-winger Avigdor Lieberman was appointed Minister of Defense, Gabbay
resigned from the government and his party and joined Labor. That was
only a year ago.
He has one significant asset: he is a Mizrahi,
an oriental Jew. His parents are immigrants from Morocco, he is the
seventh of eight children. Since the Labor party is considered a
Western, Ashkenazi, elitist grouping, these passive attributes are
important. Up to a point.
GABBAY DID not waste time in
presenting his political identity card.
First he made a speech
asserting that he will not sit in the
same government with the "Joint List".
The Joint List is the united (or
disunited) list of the Arab community in Israel. It
joins together the three very different “Arab” parties: the Communist
party, which is overwhelmingly Arab, but includes some Jews (including a
Jewish member of parliament), the Balad party, which is secular and
nationalist, and a religious Islamic party.
How come these
diverse parties created a joint list? They owe this achievement to the
genius of the great Arab-hater, Avigdor Lieberman (see above), who saw
that all three parties were small and decided to eliminate them by
raising the electoral threshold. But rather than perish separately they
decided to survive together. There is no doubt that their list
represents the vast majority of Israel's Palestinian citizens, who
constitute more than 20% of the population. Strange as this may sound,
every fifth Israeli is an Arab.
The simple numerical fact is
that without the support of the Arab
members in the Knesset, no left-wing government can exist. Yitzhak Rabin
would not have become prime minister, and the Oslo agreement would not
have come into being, without the support "from the
outside" of the Arab bloc.
Then why did they not join Rabin's
government? Both sides were afraid of losing votes. Many Jews cannot
envision a government including Arabs, and many Arabs cannot envision
their representatives sharing "collective responsibility" in a
government mainly occupied with fighting Arabs.
This has not
changed. It is highly unlikely that the Arabs would join a Gabbay
government if invited, and even more unlikely that they would receive
such an invitation.
So why make such a declaration? Gabbay is no
fool. Far from it. He believes that
the Arabs are in his pocket anyhow. They could not join
a Likud government. By making a
blatantly anti-Arab declaration, he hopes to attract right-wing voters.
His predecessor, Yitzhak Herzog, publicly complained that too many
people considered the Labor party to consist of "Arab-lovers". Terrible.
IF ANYONE hoped that this was a one-time anomaly, Gabbay put them
right. After the first blow came more.
He declared that "we have
no partner for peace". This is the most dangerous slogan of the
populists. "No partner" means that there is no sense in making an
effort. There will never be peace. Never ever.
He declared that
God promised the Jews the entire land between the sea and the Jordan.
That is not quite correct: God promised us all the land from the
Euphrates to the River of Egypt. God never made good on that promise.
Last week Gabbay declared that in any future peace agreement with
the Palestinians, not a single Jewish settlement in the West Bank would
Until now, there has been tacit agreement between
Israeli and Palestinian peace activists that peace will be based on a
limited exchange of territories. The so-called "settlement blocs"
(clusters of settlements near the green-line border) will be joined to
Israel, and an equivalent area of Israeli territory (for example, along
the Gaza Strip) will be ceded to Palestine. This would leave some dozens
of "isolated" settlements in the West Bank, generally inhabited by
fanatical religious right-wingers, which must be evacuated by force.
Gabbay's new statement means that after a peace agreement, these
islands of racist extremism will continue to exist where they are. No
Palestinian will ever agree to that. It makes peace impossible, even in
In general, Gabbay agrees to the "two-state solution" –
but under certain conditions. First, the Israel army would be free to
act throughout the demilitarized Palestinian state. The Israeli army
would also be positioned along the Jordan River, turning the Palestinian
"state" into a kind of enclave.
This is a "peace plan" without
takers. Gabbay is much too clever not to realize this. But all this is
not devised for Arab ears. It is meant to attract right-wing Israelis.
Since a Labor-led "center-left" coalition needs rightist or religious
votes, the reasoning looks sound. But it isn't.
There is no
chance whatsoever that a significant number of rightists will move to
the left, even if the left is led by a person like Gabbay. Rightists
detest the Labor party, not since yesterday, but have done so for
THE LABOR party was born a hundred years ago. It
was the main political force that led to the creation of the State of
Israel, and led it for almost thirty years. Its power was immense, many
(including me) accused it of dictatorial tendencies.
these years, the main occupation of the Zionist leadership was the
historical fight against the Palestinian people for the possession of
the country. Except for a tiny minority, the party was always
nationalist, even militaristic. It was left-wing only in its social
activities. It created the Jewish workers movement, the powerful trade
union (the "Histadrut"), the Kibbutzim and much more.
social network has long since degenerated. Corruption became endemic,
many scandals were uncovered (mainly by my magazine). When the
right-wing under Menachem Begin finally took over, in 1977,
the Labor Party was already a living
corpse. It has changed its name many times (its current name is "the
Zionist Camp") but it has dwindled from election to
Avi Gabbay was
called in as a savior. His nationalist declarations are
conceived as patent medicines. No
CAN THE Labor Party be saved at all? I
In the last elections, after a powerful, spontaneous
social upheaval, there seemed to be a new chance. Some of the young
leaders, female and male, who had appeared from nowhere, joined the
Labor Party and entered the Knesset. They are
genuine leftists and peace activists. Somehow,
their voices became quieter and quieter. Instead of inspiring the party,
the party subdued them. It seems to be beyond repair.
never asked is – does the party really, really want to assume power? On
the face of it, the answer is yes, of course. Isn't that the supreme
prize of politics?
Well, I doubt it. The existence of a
parliamentary opposition is a cozy one. I know, because I was in that
situation for ten years. The Knesset is a good place, you are coddled
all the time by the ushers, you get a good salary and an office, you
have no responsibilities at all (unless you create them for yourself).
You must, of course, make an effort to be re-elected every four years.
So, if you are not particularly keen on becoming a minister, with all
the work and responsibilities and public exposure that this entails, you
just stay put.
WHAT IS the practical conclusion? To
forget the Labor Party and create a
new political force.
We need new leaders,
young, charismatic and resolute, with clear-cut aims, who can energize
the peace camp.
I do not subscribe to the picture of a public divided
between a right-wing majority and a left-wing minority, with the
orthodox on one side and the Arabs on the other.
I believe that
there is a right-wing minority and a left-wing minority. Between the two
there is the great mass of the people, waiting for a message, desiring
peace but brainwashed into believing that peace is impossible ("there is
WHAT WE NEED is a new start.
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