Israel's Changing Political
Commentary By Diane Balser and Marcia
The nearly four months that have passed
since Israel's historic withdrawal from the Gaza Strip have been
turbulent ones, full of upheavals and surprises. The political
landscape has been transformed nearly overnight -- but whether
these changes bring new hope for the peace process or signal a
return to the status quo is not yet clear. For analysis of these
pivotal events, we turn to our leadership.
Diane Balser discusses the significance to our work of the
border crossing deal brokered between Israelis and Palestinians
by Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and of the election of
Amir Peretz to lead the Labor party [read], and President Marcia Freedman offers
insight on the hazards of unilateralism to the pursuit of a
tenable Israeli-Palestinian peace [read].
Brit Tzedek's Message Echoed in Recent
By Diane Balser, CEO [bio]
Though some would say this is a question of
perception, I truly believe that the glass is almost always half
full when it comes to resolving the Israeli-Palestinian
conflict. Whenever we're ready to believe that any real
possibility for reconciliation has died, along come new
developments, and hope for the peaceful creation of two states
for two peoples returns.
November brought two additional
reasons for the American Jewish peace camp to be optimistic,
events that may prove to be turning points on the road to peace.
The first was the border crossing deal brokered by Secretary of
State Condoleezza Rice; the second, the election of long-time
labor leader Amir Peretz to head the Labor party.
The agreement to coordinate greater freedom
of movement for Palestinians in Gaza will allow expanded work
opportunities and increased exports for residents of Gaza, and
remove one more piece of the occupation -- thus returning to the
Gazans a portion of control over their own destiny. Beginning in
mid-December, Palestinians will also be able to travel between
the West Bank and Gaza for the first time in five years.
Construction is set to begin on a Gaza seaport, and the United
States has urged Israel to reach a quick agreement with the
Palestinians on reopening Gaza's international airport. Just
this morning the US Administration announced that it would send
a high level envoy to monitor the implementation of the deal and
to discuss upgrading the Karni and Erez crossings from the Gaza
Strip to Israel as well as running trade convoys between Gaza
and the West Bank.
More than that, perhaps, the
Secretary of State brought the two sides together for real,
substantive negotiations for the first time since before the
beginning of the al-Aksa intifada, and this may yet set the
stage for broader negotiations down the line.
many pieces of the deal were in place before the Secretary
arrived, the sides had been unable to achieve an agreement on
their own. The transportation arrangement thus proves one very
simple fact: when the US government puts weight behind its
words, it can make an incalculable difference.
notion has stood at the heart of Brit Tzedek's message since our
inception; the Secretary of State's actions should give us
ever-greater confidence in our work. So far the Administration
hasn't gone significantly beyond what the two parties said
beforehand that they were willing to do, but Secretary Rice was
able to steer them around stumbling blocks and achieve a
solution the sides would not have been able to reach alone.
The election of Mizrachi (meaning
"eastern," referring to Jews of Middle Eastern or North
African descent who comprise approximately fifty percent of
Israel's population) labor organizer Amir Peretz as head of
Israel's Labor Party is further reason for real hope. His
leadership is likely to have a tremendous impact on Israeli
politics, as well as the make-up and direction of the peace
camp. It is far too early to predict the eventual outcome, but
the results of Israel's next elections have the potential to
create a sea change in Israeli society.
importantly, Peretz has pulled the Labor Party out of Sharon's
coalition. He has made no bones about his support for
substantive negotiations and a resolution of the conflict with
the Palestinians based roughly on '67 lines with some negotiated
land exchanges. With Peretz at the head of the Labor Party, this
position will be brought firmly into the center of political
dialogue in Israel, with Labor finally providing a real
alternative to the status quo. Moreover, Peretz's critique of
the occupation -- that economic justice and the resolution of
the conflict are inseparably linked -- echoes Brit Tzedek's own
longstanding contention that reconciliation with the
Palestinians is, first and foremost, good for Israel. He
believes that the unresolved conflict with the Palestinians has
also been a hindrance to the solution of some of Israel's most
pressing social ills, including an ever-rising tide of
inequality. Today approximately one and a half million Israelis
live below the poverty line, making do with less than $500
dollars a month. Peretz has pointed out that while Israel's
working poor gave the first Likud Prime Minister, Menachem
Begin, "a train ticket" by voting for him, Begin used his ticket
not to get to their neighborhoods, but to the settlements. "The
money didn't go to the slums," as Peretz puts it, "it all went
to the settlements. We should end the cruel occupation, we
should disengage from Gaza, but that is not all; we should
re-engage with Israeli society, with the values of humanity and
His election has brought a
representative of the Mizrachi population into the leadership of
mainstream Israeli politics, under a socially progressive peace
banner. The hope is that this will lead many Mizrachi voters --
who in the past have often voted Likud in protest of
discrimination at the hands of the Labor Party -- to shift their
support to a peace agenda, under Peretz's leadership.
Brit Tzedek continues its work, these two events give us further
confidence in the message we have promoted from the beginning:
that to be pro-Israel requires us to work for peace.
This is a wonderful opportunity to energize Brit
Tzedek's efforts and to become more assertive in spreading our
In order to take advantage of the momentum
created by these events, we need to encourage honest dialogue
within the Jewish community. Serious discussion of the political
realities within Israel will expose the lively debate there and
provide the space necessary to allow greater flexibility of
thought in the American community as well.
We must not
forget, however, that hope is not enough. Without concrete
action, Israelis will continue to live in fear and insecurity,
and Palestinians will continue to be denied their most basic
rights. We must persist in our efforts to put pressure on the
Administration and Congress to make resolution of the
Israeli-Palestinian conflict a top priority.
have seen indisputable evidence that if we are to see peace
sooner rather than later, the US government and people must be
fully involved in the process. Expressing good will cannot
suffice; this and any subsequent Administration will have to
take bold, tangible steps -- the Secretary of State established
that beyond any doubt this month. We need to stress this to our
representatives in Washington, both as an organization and as
individual constituents: The US can, and must, make a
The Pitfalls of
By Marcia Freedman, President
There seems to be a growing acceptance that
a unilateral end to the occupation through continued Israeli
evacuations of the West Bank, though maybe not the preferred
way, is nonetheless an acceptable way for Israel to resolve its
conflict with the Palestinians.
It may be true that any
end to as much of the occupation as possible is better than what
we have now: no end in sight. But if so, the price is very high.
There are predictable pitfalls to continued unilateral moves on
Israel's part, accompanied by the tacit or explicit consent of
the international community and with or without the concurrence
of the Palestinian Authority.
If Israel alone determines
the border between itself and the Palestinian entity, one has to
assume that the long-term intention is to turn the "security
barrier" into Israel's de facto final border. To assume that
Israel is investing $2 million per kilometer to build anything
but a permanent dividing line defies common sense.
the planned route of the security barrier becomes the border,
Israel will annex 8-10% of the West Bank, effectively cutting
the Palestinian entity into four enclaves with freedom of
movement between them largely dependent on Israeli politics and
the military command. The hazards to Israel of such a course of
action may not be immediately apparent, but in the long term it
spells a very bleak future.
The planned route of the
fence will seal off the West Bank from East Jerusalem, isolating
the Palestinian East Jerusalemites from all but
Israeli-controlled access to the West Bank. It also extends 15
miles into the West Bank to incorporate Ariel, effectively
cutting the West Bank into a northern and southern enclave, with
travel between them restricted to a narrow passage easily
controlled by Israel.
The overall effect of these
consequences will be to divide the Palestinian entity into four
enclaves: the Gaza Strip, which will have Israeli-controllable
land access through Egypt, and marine and air access only by
Israeli sufferance; East Jerusalem, whose residents will either
remain stateless or become Israeli citizens; the Northern West
Bank; and the Southern West Bank.
If Israel's intention
is to create what some see as optimal borders for itself under
existing circumstances, without regard to the effect of its
actions on the Palestinians and Palestinian statehood, then the
unilateral approach is just the ticket.
consequences of not securing a negotiated agreement prior to any
further evacuation portend an infelicitous future for the Jewish
The Palestinian entity will languish on Israel's
borders neither a viable state nor an occupied territory. While
it will likely continue to have a government, in all critical
respects it will remain subject to Israeli military and
political control. The Palestinian people will of necessity be
left impoverished, in civil chaos, and largely, still, a client
of UNRWA (United Nations Relief and Works Agency). Oppression
weakens resistance in many, but for another many it steels it.
With each new generation, Israel will be cultivating, by
not-so-benign neglect, a dangerous enemy along its border.
By following a policy of unilateralism, Israel will be
in danger of becoming a modern-day Sparta -- dependent in
perpetuity on maintaining an overwhelming military advantage,
with citizenry of all the generations compelled to serve in a
trained army ever on guard, plagued by terrorism, its army and
security forces attempting to control the Palestinians from a
distance. Even Sparta can only win so many wars.
now, this is only one possible future, but it is a likely one if
Israel chooses to determine its borders unilaterally and, in so
doing, creates impossible borders for a "provisional"
Palestinian state. Furthermore, determining these borders
outside the framework of negotiations, will mean that Israel's
borders will likely never be recognized as legitimate by the
It is an unchallenged truth
that there is only one superpower in the world, and that
superpower is the United States. Fortunately, our government has
given some indication that it understands that a just,
negotiated settlement to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict under
the aegis of US diplomacy would benefit Israel, the
Palestinians, and the security of the United States and the rest
of the world.
With both Israeli and Palestinian elections
scheduled to take place, the year 2006 will be a crucial one for
Israel and the future of its relationship to the Palestinians
and the rest of the Arab world. And this is where we American
Jews come in. Our work is to mobilize the American Jewish
community to press our government to intervene definitively,
vigorously urging the return of both parties to substantive
negotiations in order to prevent the grim scenario that
Though we cannot expect, in an
election year here and in Israel, that there will be any bold
new diplomatic moves, history suggests that the Israeli
government will seek to create new facts on the ground, either
through new construction and other unilateral moves that
prejudice final status negotiations. The Palestinians, for their
part, will likely continue to drag their feet in putting an end
to terrorism and disarming militants.
Those who seek
peace and security for Israel will need to keep a critical eye
on the actions of all parties, but particularly on our own
government. Is it doing enough to prevent unilateralism from
determining the future? What is it doing to keep both parties on
track toward a resumption of negotiations? Is it really
supporting the moderate Palestinian leadership enabling them to
stay in power with a strong mandate? Is it holding Israel's feet
to the fire in fulfilling its initial commitment under the Road
In short, we must, at every opportunity, support
stated U.S. policy, which envisions a negotiated solution to the
conflict that ends with the establishment of a viable
Palestinian state and a secure Israel.
Brit Tzedek v'Shalom, The
Jewish Alliance for Justice and Peace
11 E. Adams Street,
Chicago, IL 60603
Phone: (312) 341-1205
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