Israel: chance of a new movement?

Submitted by Anon on 18 June, 2003 - 6:31

By Michel Warshawski

The "roadmap" plan for Israel/Palestine has almost no chance of success. There is no point speculating about details, but there is one fundamental reason.

Those who drew up the "roadmap" - even George W Bush - understand that peace is impossible without an immediate halt to Israeli settlements in the Occupied Territories. But we have an Israeli government dominated by settler interests. One led by Ariel Sharon, who has said that the "priority for the coming years" is to increase settlements. And no previous government, not even those most favourable to peace, has stopped settlements.

Bush's calculations seem to be that it is the "process", the momentum, that counts. He won military victory in Iraq cheaply, but the political follow-up will not be so easy. In order to secure that political follow-up, he needs to show some "process" developing on Israel-Palestine. Whether it achieves solid results is another matter.

In the meantime, many in the Israeli government want to provoke Palestinian suicide-bombings so that then they can be sure that there will be no US pressure on Israel.

However, there may be two positive effects of the "roadmap".

It may limit the violence of the occupation of the West Bank and Gaza, and give the Palestinians a breathing space.

And it may allow a part of Israeli society to think about alternatives to the occupation.

For two and a half years almost all of Israeli society has been united behind an old slogan: "We have no choice".

The Israeli Labour Party people say that they would make concessions to the Palestinians if real negotiations were possible, but that the Palestinians won't make any agreement. Calls for negotiation are only ruses and traps, because in the end the Palestinians will not agree.

The reality is different. It is not that Israel will make concessions, and the Palestinians will never agree. The Palestinians have made many concessions, and Israeli governments have not been willing to do what was necessary for peace.

In the meantime we have the suicide bombings. They were not the cause of the collapse of the peace movement and Israel's swing to the right. Those things happened earlier. But they have made reversing that swing much more difficult.

Today maybe there is a small chance for a positive break in the situation. Israeli society is tired. There are still many people in Israeli who want compromise and who don't want to defend the settlements.

Now they may feel more confident about the "risk" of seeking peace.

It's a terrible way to talk - the "risk" of seeking peace - but that is how it is seen.

There has been some resistance in Israel. Not on the scale of the movement against Israel's Lebanon war, which won a majority in the country. Nor on the scale of the movement during the first intifada, which forced Israel to recognise the Palestine Liberation Organisation.

But a minority resistance remains, a minority who say that it was the Palestinians who made the generous compromise offer that was refused, and that it is the Israeli government which is responsible for the war.

To go forward, we have to pose the question in terms of rights, not of compromise.

A lot of Israelis are for peace and compromise. There are not so many who see the issue as one of Palestinian rights rather than Israeli generosity - that it is not a matter of settling the Palestinian question because it causes trouble, or because the occupation "corrupts" Israeli society, but fundamentally of Palestinian rights.

But there are some, movements like Tayush, Women in Black, and Gush Shalom. They also call for the "de-Zionisation" of Israel, and build Israeli-Palestinian links. They desolidarise with the occupation, and solidarise with the Palestinians.

The jewel of the resistance is the refusenik movement. These are people who are usually not pacifists in general, but who refuse to serve in this dirty colonial war.

These conscripts, often only 18 years old, face punishments of indefinite scope. It is not the Gulag. They may get off lightly. But potentially they can face repeated jail sentences for three years on end. They have had support from the Palestinians, and they need international support.

All these dissident movements have fought hard, even feverishly, over the last two years. Even when they could see no immediate results, they put down markers for the future.

Now the Israeli dissident movement needs to expand greatly.

The social and economic situation in Israel is very bad, worse than ever. Twenty-nine per cent of children are living under a very low poverty line. Inequality has increased sharply.

But the Labour right-winger Ben Eliezer was wrong to think that he could beat Sharon by playing on the social issues while agreeing with Sharon on essentials as regards the Palestinians. Lots of people oppose Netanyahu as minister of finance yet support Sharon as prime minister. They see no link between the social-economic issues and the war. And so far many leftists have failed to make the link, too.

Some say that Zionism was the worst thing to happen to the Jews. It was not. The Holocaust was. But Zionism has had bad effects:

First, in creating a mono-ethnic state, which has an organic tendency towards wanting to limit or get rid of minorities;

Second, in enclosing. It was supposed to get rid of the ghetto. But now it is recreating a ghetto, as we can see with the new wall being built by the Israeli government.

Thirdly, it pulls along Jewish communities around the world, and makes them hostage to Israeli government policy.

What about the Palestinians? The surprising thing when you visit the Occupied Territories is not the horror of the occupation. If you read the press, you know that, in outline anyway. It is not Chechnya. It is not genocide. But it is "societocide" - an attempt to reduce the Palestinians to the atomised, helpless condition of the 1950s.

The surprising thing is the resistance. Not the armed resistance, but the resistance of students, teachers, and parents. Just getting children to school, in the conditions of the Occupation, is a great struggle, a risky act of resistance. It requires courage. Yet they do it.

In the same way, they maintain the Palestinian medical services, against great difficulties.

This resistance is enough to stop Israel "pacifying" the Palestinians. It is not enough to defeat Israel. That requires some element from outside. Maybe diplomatic negotiations will help the process.

Will the Arab regimes help? No. They are mostly in hock to US imperialism, and will not help the Palestinians.

They play a double game. They demonise Israel and blame it for all the ills of the Arab world. And at the same time they do underhand deals with Israel.

The Arab peoples? The Arab working classes? Maybe. There is some revival of an autonomous public opinion in some Arab countries. But it will take time to develop.

The world-wide solidarity of many peoples with the Palestinians is also important. And it is growing, outside the traditional politicised circles, for example in the Arab and Muslim populations in countries like France.

At the anti-war demonstration at the European Social Forum in Florence, there were large Palestinian solidarity contingents, including Jewish groups - but also large numbers of Palestinian flags in the trade union contingents. The Palestinian flag is becoming symbolic in international solidarity as the Vietnamese flag was in the 1960s.

For many, the Israel-Palestine question symbolises the relation between North and South. The mainstream media in the North tend to identify instinctively with Israelis as a sort of people familiar to them. But many people in the North now identify and solidarise with the Palestinians.

The task now is to build an anti-Occupation movement in Israel.

  • This is a summary and translation from a speech, and answers to questions, on "The crisis of Israeli society", by the Israeli socialist Michel Warshawski at the Lutte Ouvriere fete, near Paris, on 9 June.

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