Left far behindBy Gideon Levy, Ha'aretz, 07/23/2000
In one of the few recent demonstrations by the left, near the Prime Minister's House in Jerusalem on the eve of his departure for Camp David two weeks ago, two placards were raised. The one said "Don't abandon refugees" and the other, "Barak, divide Jerusalem." The life span of these placards was very brief - the organizers of the demonstration on behalf of Peace Now ordered that they be taken down immediately. Their message was too radical for them, and ruptured the line. The left's line is once again that same stuttering, vague, fuzzy and frightened line we have known in recent years ever since it, most astonishingly, abandoned its clear positions in favor of a withdrawal to the 1967 lines, which now have become unmentionable. At a time when Prime Minister Ehud Barak is making a number of courageous moves, even if perhaps they are not courageous enough, and the right is saying sharp and clear things about them, the Israeli left is continuing to trail behind and dabble in the shallow waters of its unclear and meaningless positions. At the critical juncture that should perhaps have been its most important test ever, the Zionist Israeli left, both parliamentary and extra-parliamentary, finds that it is a factor lacking all relevance. It was already like this back in the days of Oslo, when of all people Yitzhak Rabin and Shimon Peres left them far behind, and this is the way things are now, only more so.
Go, for example, to the "peace tent" at Rabin Square in Tel Aviv, almost the only protest site of the left these days: an effectively air-conditioned tent, where only a few high school girls with sweet expressions were busy last Thursday writing out bulletins. The bulletins promised an appearance by singer Ehud Banai and a visit to the tent by a delegation of immigrants from Russia. In the background hung a few exasperating placards: "The majority has chosen peace." This is now the left's official slogan.
The majority has chosen peace? How nice. For this, we don't need the left and we don't need its tent. The majority chose peace is no different from "The nation is with the Golan," the right's most widely distributed slogan, behind which there is also very little. What does it mean, "the majority has chosen peace?" And is there anyone, apart from the madder margins of the right, who does not want peace, some kind of peace? Is the question on the agenda now the extent of the noncommittal longing for peace, or is it the real question of that "peace" and its conditions? And what does the left have to say about this? Nothing. The songs of yesterday: settlement blocs and the unity of Jerusalem, and not a word about the refugees and the right of return is unmentionable.
Does the Peace Now movement support the return of the refugees or not? Who knows. Does Meretz support giving explicit sovereignty over East Jerusalem to the Palestinians and turning the city into the capital of two nations? Not clear. Anyone who goes ahead and tries to give a clear answer to these questions ... has his placards folded. When in the council of Meretz, a supposedly radical peace party, a few members tried to bring up the question of Jerusalem two years ago, the heads of the movement hastened to strike the issue from the agenda. This isn't the right time, they explained.
Now Barak is way ahead of Meretz and is agreeing in Washington to proposals that go much further than the ones that appear in the Meretz party platform. This is how Barak has out-Meretzed Meretz: He at least has paved the way for negotiations on Jerusalem, a discussion that was prohibited in Meretz. So what relevance has Meretz now? Peace Now? The Peace Headquarters?
The left committed its original sin when it abandoned its clear, principled, moral and unambiguous positions in favor of a return to the 1967 borders. Yes, these used to be the left's positions, even the Zionist left's, and by their light it was possible to conduct a struggle. But over the years the left has undergone a process that has always characterized the labor movement, though this left wished to be more radical than it was. Positions grew vaguer, in an attempt to swell the ranks. The irony of fate: What happened is that this attempt has led to a decline in the strength of the left and not to a swelling of its ranks. A left that mumbles slogans about the people's desire for peace has no chance of drawing crowds and being of any significance.
The questions now on the agenda concern the conditions of the peace. The left must give clear and sharp answers. Now that it has once again turned out that only with the traditional positions of the true radical left will it be possible to reach an agreement - even Ehud Barak has apparently begun to internalize this - the Zionist, consensual left must speak its piece. Is it in favor of giving sovereignty to the Palestinians in East Jerusalem, a city that is in effect divided? Is it prepared to take responsibility for the injustice that was done to the Palestinians in 1948? And is it prepared to support correcting this injustice through reparations and granting some kind of right of return?
If the left's answers to these questions are affirmative, it must hasten to declare this explicitly and then gird its loins to fulfill its important and crucial role in persuading the public. If its answers are negative, then everyone will know that its slogans in favor of peace are empty rhetoric and that it does not want peace more than anyone else. And if it keeps stuttering, as is its wont, let it fold its air-conditioned peace tents now. In any case they will remain uninhabited.