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Brit Tzedek v'Shalom
Jewish Alliance for Justice and Peace
Perspectives from the President
July 1, 2004
New Priorities for the Peace Movement
By Marcia Freedman
I was present at the recent demonstration in Tel Aviv, where 150-200,000 people came out to show their support for the peace camp in Israel. It was the largest event of its kind since the outbreak of the Second Intifada. I heard participants say over and over that they had come, because "one had to." The settlers had successfully flexed their political muscles, and now they had to be opposed en masse.
The demonstration, one hopes, was the outward expression of a re-energized peace camp with a new sense of what's possible. It was also a positive response to the formation of a coalition of the largest of the movements, organizations, and parties from center to left. And it was a celebration, though low-key and somewhat cautious. The Geneva Accord gave rise to the Sharon disengagement plan, which, with all its shortcomings, represents a major shift away from the extremist right and therefore toward the moderate left. Moreover, the government has adopted one of the principle tenets of the peace camp--bring the settlers home to Israel. Given Ariel Sharon's historic staunch support of the settlement movement, it is almost inconceivable that it is he who has established a new government office, the Alternative Compensation and Alternative Settlement Committee.
Though the demonstration was a rare show of unity within the Israeli peace camp, there is deep disagreement about tactics and strategy, which can be expected to deepen as the Labor Party prepares to enter a unity government with the Likud. Those who side with the Labor leadership emphasize support for the Gaza withdrawal as a first step. Those who oppose a unity government emphasize the need to return to the negotiating table and a lack of conviction that Sharon will actually carry out a withdrawal.
The American Jewish peace movement will also have to grapple with the possibility of a unity government (Likud, Shinnui, Labor) with Peres as Prime Minister. And, like the Israeli peace movement, we must be able to join forces despite our disagreements.
That being said, if there is a certain degree of upheaval characterizing contemporary Israeli politics, it is affecting the right more than the left. Sharon has lost the support of the majority of his own party members, as well as his status as darling of the extreme right for three decades. As a result of his disengagement proposal, the messianic nationalist settlers and their supporters have been forced to give up their place at the table.
The government of Israel, whether it be under Sharon's leadership or not, is obliged by international consensus to implement its new peace initiative. The Prime Minister has declared that by the end of 2005 there will be no settlements in Gaza. Most (but not all) of those with whom I spoke when I was in Israel believe that Sharon is sincere in his intention to withdraw from Gaza. It is widely understood, on the right and the left, that his new strategy is to give up Gaza, which he never intended to keep, in order to consolidate his hold on the as much West Bank territory as he can secure for Israel. With the separation barrier, he will succeed in de facto annexation of 15-20% of the West Bank. Whether he is willing to stop there is yet unknown, but, certainly not if he can help it.
The disengagement proposal and the subsequent upheaval on the right have their source in the Geneva Initiative. Sharon has explained that he felt he had to put forward an alternative to Geneva, and for him the alternative is not yet about specific borders, but rather about whether they will be determined through negotiations or unilitateral actions. Negotiations are the last thing that Sharon wants, for he knows that post-Geneva, the Palestinians will have a reasonable claim to 97% of the West Bank, all of the Gaza Strip, and Arab East Jerusalem. Sharon is prepared to 'give' much less than this, and he knows that he does not have a strong hand diplomatically.
For the American Jewish peace camp, the next six months are critical. It is the window we have to unify our forces and to grow our numbers so that we can be ready for the challenges that will be facing the next President of the United States, no matter who he is. Six months from now, when the next president takes office we must be ready to demonstrate that, like the Israeli peace movement, we too represent the majority of Jews. Whether it be Bush or Kerry, we must do all that we can to ensure that the next president puts the Israeli-Palestinian conflict at the head of his A-list of priorities, and that the goal of the new administration's efforts must be to bring the parties to the table in order to negotiate a final status agreement.
American-born Marcia Freedman is a Former Member of the Israeli Knesset and president of the American Jewish organization Brit Tzedek v'Shalom, the Jewish Alliance for Justice and Peace.