Should the Peaceniks Apologize? -- a Personal Journey

Article excerpt

If you are not prepared to take life, you must often be prepared
for lives to be lost in some other way.
-- George Orwell, "Reflections on Gandhi"

That's not just masonry, steel and dead bodies in the streets of New York and Washington, of Jerusalem and Tel Aviv. In the ruins are also the illusions of this generation of doves.

For those of us who care about Israel and passionately supported the peace process with the Palestinians, the disillusionment began a year ago, when Yasir Ararat showed what he thought of Ehud Barak's land-for-peace offer by launching an undeclared and mendaciously disguised war on Israel. Just as the assassination of Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin six years ago presented an opportunity, mostly squandered, for the Israeli fight wing to engage in soul-searching (cheshbon ha-nefesh, in Hebrew), the spectacular failure of the Oslo peace process and the explosion of terror in its wake must now bring about a reckoning among Israel's peace camp and its supporters abroad.

Nobody likes to be told that one's deeply held beliefs are mistaken, and, that put into practice, they have produced results nearly the opposite of what was intended. That is why it is no surprise that to this day there are communists who refuse to admit that the bolshevik revolution and its heirs killed millions of people, created catastrophically unjust societies, and called into question the entire idea of progress in history, while many more people who once supported communism have retreated into a confused or embarrassed quietude.

Of course, there is no comparing the quandary of Israel's peace camp and its friends with the experience of disillusionment with communism. Israeli peaceniks may be accused of naively supporting a mistaken, even a catastrophic policy, but not of massive crimes like those of the Soviet regime. Still, it seems to me that if the Oslo supporters in Israel and abroad refuse to engage in a fundamental self-examination, they risk the political fate of Mikhail Gorbachev, who was bold enough to let freedom come to the soviet Union but failed to find the courage to challenge his own political beliefs and the system that gave birth to them. Like Gorbachev, Peace Now and its allies may find that they have changed the world -- and brought their own house down in ruins.

At the outset, one must distinguish between the peace idealists and the peace pragmatists. It is the former that I am chiefly concerned with in this essay, even though it is the latter group, especially its leaders, Rabin and Shimon Peres, who were the real makers of history in the 1990s in that they actually signed onto the Oslo accords. But the motivations of Rabin and Peres, on the one hand, and of groups like Peace Now, on the other, could not have been more different. Even in the Oslo years, Rabin had little patience for peace activists and sometimes enjoyed saying things to make them wince, such as his sarcastic observation that the Palestinian Authority did not have to worry about groups like B'tselem (the Israeli human rights group). For former Chief of Staff Rabin, making peace with the Palestinians was just another strategy for ensuring Israel's survival. There can be little doubt that in his world view, withdrawing Israeli troops from the West Bank and Gaza Strip was first and foremost meant to get rid of a security liability and to isolate the radical Arab states and Iran.

For it beggars belief to think that the same man who, as defense minister during the first intifada, had given orders to "break their bones," had now been converted into John Lennon singing "Give Peace a Chance," even though Rabin the politician was capable of playing exactly that role, at the rally where he was assassinated. Rabin, and probably Peres too, understood perfectly well that Ararat was not really committed to peace, and that he harbored not-so-secret desires to use the territories awarded to him as a base to continue waging war against Israel by other means. …