By Moshe Phillips and Benyamin Korn
Those who follow Israeli politics never would have imagined a day when the leading voices of the Israeli Left would praise Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, call for crushing Hamas, and admit that the Palestinians in general do not really want peace with Israel. But that’s exactly what’s happening.
On July 6, just before the Gaza war began, Tzipi Livni, leader of the leftwing Hatnuah Party and current Minister of Justice, told Israel Army Radio: “There is no hope for peace [with Hamas], it is an organization that does not accept our existence here and has terror against Israeli civilians as part of its worldview.”
Her remark was no aberration. On July 22, in the midst of intense U.S. pressure on Israel for a cease-fire, Livni spoke out against agreeing to any cease-fire “before we really finish the tunnels project which was laid out as a strategic objective.”
Another leftwing minister in Netanyahu’s broad coalition, Science Minister Yaakov Peri (of the Yesh Atid party), has likewise changed his tune. “I can only compliment him [Netanyahu], unfortunately,” Peri, a former head of the Shin Bet (General Security Services) told the New York Times on July 27. “It seems the steering is in the right hand in this conflict.”
Moving even further to the left, one finds Barak Ravid, diplomatic correspondent for the harshly anti-Netanyahu newspaper Haaretz, now taking the prime minister’s side and harshly criticizing Secretary of State John Kerry. In a July 27 dispatch, Ravid said Kerry’s proposal for a cease-fire “might as well have been penned by [Hamas leader] Khaled Meshal. It was everything Hamas could have hoped for.”
According to Ravid, Kerry’s plan “Recognized Hamas’ position in the Gaza Strip, promised the organization billions in donation funds and demanded no dismantling of rockets, tunnels or other heavy weaponry at Hamas’ disposal. The document placed Israel and Hamas on the same level, as if the first is not a primary U.S. ally and as if the second isn’t a terror group which overtook part of the Palestinian Authority in a military coup and fired thousands of rockets at Israel.”
Ravid noted with dismay that the State Department “distributed photos of Kerry’s meeting with Qatar and Turkey’s foreign ministers in Paris. The three appear jovial and happy-go-lucky. Other photographs show Kerry carousing romantically with the Turkish foreign minister in the pastoral grounds of the U.S. ambassador’s home in Paris, as if the Turkish official’s prime minister didn’t just say a few days ago that Israel is ten times worse than Hitler.”
Kerry’s “conduct in recent days over the Gaza cease-fire raises serious doubts over his judgment and perception of regional events,” Ravid wrote. “It’s as if he isn’t the foreign minister of the world’s most powerful nation, but an alien, who just disembarked his spaceship in the Mideast. For a few moments Friday one could not avoid recalling the things Defense Minister Moshe Ya’alon said about Kerry, and admit that despite the fact that it wasn’t appropriate, he may have had a point.”
Ravid was referring to Ya’alon’s characterization of Kerry, last March, as “obsessive” and “messianic” in his drive to get Israel to make more concessions to the Palestinians. Ya’alon said Kerry “should take his Nobel Prize and leave us alone.”
Perhaps the single most stunning instance of an Israeli leftist changing his tune is that of Prof. Shlomo Avineri, widely regarded as one of the intellectual pillars of the Israeli left. Avineri has mainstream credibility both because he is a scholar rather than just a pundit, and because he has been affiliated with the moderate-left Labor Party rather than the more extreme parties. His stint as director-general of the Israeli Foreign Ministry further burnished his credentials.
Writing in Haaretz, July 10, Avineri bluntly conceded: “We were mistaken.”
The Israeli left was mistaken to believe “that we were talking about a dispute between two national movements, and that the other side felt the same way,” Avineri wrote. “The Palestinian side does not believe that we are talking about a dispute between two national movements: It believes that we are talking about a dispute between one national movement–the Palestinian–and a colonial imperialistic entity that will eventually die off.”
“The Palestinian title for the two-state solution is different than the Israeli version,” Avineri pointed out. “The Israeli stance talks about ‘two states for two peoples’ but in the Palestinian version the phrase ‘for two peoples’ does not appear. It only talks about ‘two states.’ If someone thinks that this is just poor phrasing, he should ask his Palestinian counterpart to express an opinion about the ‘two states for two peoples’ version and he will sooner or later get the answer that there is no Jewish people…in the Palestinian narrative, the Jews are not a people or a nation, but only a religious group, and therefore they are not entitled to a state.”
Avineri concluded: “The source of the dispute is not borders, settlements or even Jerusalem…”[T]o ignore these deep-seeded views constitutes a lack of intellectual honesty.”
Lesson Twelve from the Gaza War: The Israeli Left is going to have a lot of soul-searching to do. And it’s starting already.
Moshe Phillips and Benyamin Korn are members of the board of the Religious Zionists of America. This article is part of a series.