evelyn gordon , THE JERUSALEM POST
There must have been something in the air last month: Two prominent Israeli leftists publicly acknowledged fundamental problems in the "peace process" that will make a deal unachievable if not resolved.
Aluf Benn, Haaretz's diplomatic correspondent, articulated one problem in an August 7 column describing a conversation with a "senior European diplomat." Benn posed one simple question: How would a deal benefit ordinary Israelis? The diplomat was stunned. Wasn't it obvious? It would create a Palestinian state! After Benn pointed out that most Israelis care very little about the Palestinians; they want to know how peace would benefit them, the diplomat tried again: "There would be an end to terror." "Don't make me laugh," Benn replied.
When the IDF withdrew from parts of the West Bank and Gaza under the Oslo Accords, Israelis got suicide bombings in their cities. When it quit Gaza entirely, they got rockets on the Negev. But the bombings stopped after the IDF reoccupied the West Bank, and the rockets stopped after January's Gaza operation. In short, the IDF has done a far better job of securing "peace" as Israelis understand it - i.e., not being killed - than the "peace process" ever has.
NORMALIZATION WITH the Arab world is also scant attraction, Benn noted; most Israelis "have no inherent desire to fly El Al through Saudi Arabian airspace or visit Morocco's 'interests section.'" And the downsides of a deal - financing the evacuation of tens of thousands of settlers and "the frightening prospect of violent internal schisms" - are substantial.
Benn's conclusion from the conversation was shocking: Thus far, the international community has never thought about how a deal might benefit Israelis; that was considered unimportant.
But to persuade Israelis to back an agreement, he noted, the world is going to have to start thinking. For Israelis already have what they want most, "peace and quiet," and they will not willingly risk it for "another diplomatic adventure whose prospects are slim and whose dangers are formidable."
A week later, Prof. Carlo Strenger - a veteran leftist who, as he wrote, thinks "the occupation must end as quickly as possible" - addressed a second problem in his semi-regular Haaretz column. Seeking to explain why Israel's Left has virtually disappeared, he concluded that this happened because leftists "failed to provide a realistic picture of the conflict with the Palestinians."
For years, he noted, leftists claimed a deal with the Palestinians would produce "peace now." Instead, the Palestinian Authority "educated its children with violently anti-Israel and often straightforwardly anti-Semitic textbooks," failed to prevent (or perhaps even abetted) repeated suicide bombings in 1996, torpedoed the final-status negotiations of 2000-2001 and finally produced the second intifada.
But instead of admitting it had erred in expecting territorial withdrawals to bring peace, Strenger wrote, the Left blamed Israel: The 1996 bombings happened "because the Oslo process was too slow"; the talks failed because Israel's offers were insufficient; the second intifada began because Ariel Sharon visited the Temple Mount.
In short, the Left adopted two faulty premises: First, "anything aggressive or destructive a non-Western group says or does must be explained by Western dominance or oppression," hence "they are not responsible for their deeds." Second, "if you are nice to people, all conflicts will disappear"; other basic human motivations, like the desire for "dominance, power and... self-respect," are irrelevant.
Strenger concluded that if the Left "wants to regain some credibility and convince voters that it has a role to play, it needs to give the public a reasonable picture of reality."
But the same could be said of the international community, which has also blamed every failure of the peace process on Israeli actions: settlement construction, "excessive force" against Palestinian terror, insufficient concessions, etc.
THOUGH BENN and Strenger were ostensibly addressing different issues, they are closely related. Leftists reinforced the West's habit of blaming Israel for every failure, because they are the only Israelis that Western politicians and journalists take seriously. And this habit contributed greatly to mainstream Israelis' view of the peace process as all pain, no gain.
First, because the world placed the onus on Israel, Palestinians never felt any pressure to amend their behavior, whether by stopping terror or by making concessions on final-status issues vital to Israelis. Israel has repeatedly upped its offers over the past 16 years, but the Palestinians have yet to budge an inch: Not only will they not concede the right of return, they refuse to even acknowledge the Jews' historic connection to this land.
Second, while Israelis care very little about relations with the Arab world, they care greatly about relations with the West. Thus a major attraction of the peace process was the prospect of enhancing this relationship.
Instead, Israel's standing, especially in Europe, has plummeted since 1993. Europeans now deem Israel the greatest threat to world peace. Anti-Semitic violence in Europe has surged. European and American leftists routinely deny Israel's very right to exist, and calls for sanctions and divestment are gaining momentum. All this would have been unthinkable 16 years ago.
And this nosedive in status is directly connected to the fact that every time something goes wrong with the peace process, most of the West blames Israel. Indeed, the fact that Washington (pre-Barack Obama) was the one exception to this rule goes far toward explaining why Israel's standing remains strong in America.
Because this knee-jerk response has remained unchanged for 16 years, Israelis are now convinced it will continue even after a final-status agreement is signed: The moment Palestinians voice a new demand post-agreement or engage in anti-Israel terror, the West will insist that Israel accede to the demand or refrain from responding to the terror, and vituperate it for not doing so. In short, Israel is liable to make all the concessions entailed by an agreement and still see its relationship with the West deteriorate.
The bottom line that emerges from both Benn and Strenger is that no peace deal is likely unless both the West and Israel's Left radically alter their behavior. The million-dollar question is whether anyone in either camp is listening.