THERE is a common misconception among liberals worldwide that when Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu and his right-wing Likud government finally lose power, a revived Israeli left will actively pursue a fair and just peace with the Palestinians. This wishful thinking, however, represents a fundamental misunderstanding of Israeli politics and of what it will truly take to reach a just resolution to the conflict.
For decades, the faithful belief in the inevitable arrival of an Israeli leftist peacemaker has persisted, even as successive left-wing Israeli governments have perpetrated the same crimes and injustices as the Likud.
The left was the dominant political force in Israel for most of its history, with uninterrupted control over the government until 1977. During this period of left-wing hegemony, Israel forcibly expelled over 750,000 Palestinians in the Nakba, systematically bulldozed and expropriated Palestinian land, and began a fifty-year illegal military occupation that continues to this day. During its decades of political control, the goal of the Israeli left was never equality, human rights, or a just peace with the Palestinians. It was to expand and entrench Israeli domination across historic Palestine.
Many believe that former Labor Party prime minister Yitzhak Rabin, who negotiated the 1993 Oslo Accords, would have achieved a final and lasting peace with the Palestinians had he not been assassinated by a right-wing Israeli extremist. In reality, however, Rabin was never fully committed to the concept of a Palestinian state and exploited the seemingly dovish years of the Oslo process to expand Israel’s illegal settlement enterprise. In fact, the rate of settlement building increased both during and after Oslo. According to Steven Rosen, a former official for the American Israel Public Affairs Committee, Israel established 30,000 dwelling units in the occupied Palestinian territories during the four years of the Rabin administration.
Today, the Israeli left has failed to maintain even the pretense of interest in a just resolution to the conflict. In a December interview with the Israeli paper Maariv, rising Labor politician Amiram Levin, a retired IDF general, argued that, in a future Israeli-Palestinian war, Palestinians should be forced out of the West Bank and into Jordan — an explicit call for violent ethnic cleansing, in effect, a second Nakba. Levin likewise rejected the idea of a Palestinian state along Israel’s 1967 borders, which is the internationally recognised basis for a two-state solution, arguing instead for a tiny, unviable Palestinian statelet. ‘We will give [the Palestinians] a carrot in the form of a state,’ Levin declared, ‘and if they don’t want it, we will tear them apart.’
While not every Labor leader is as vocally bellicose as Levin, the party’s new head, Avi Gabbay, said in October that he would refuse to evacuate Israel’s illegal West Bank settlements as part of a peace deal with the Palestinians. More recently, in the wake of US president Donald Trump’s decision to recognise Jerusalem as Israel’s capital, Gabbay declared that ‘a United Jerusalem is even more important than peace.’ While he may not advocate a second Nakba, Gabbay is also not interested in pursuing a just peace with the Palestinians.
Despite the clearly stated beliefs of the Israeli left, liberals abroad are somehow still holding out hope for a peace-making, Israeli savior. This irresponsible expectation allows governments worldwide to profess a desire for a just resolution, without taking any action to bring one about. In the meantime, Israel continues to colonise and cantonise the occupied Palestinian territories.
Contrary to the hopes of the international community, Israeli politicians across the political spectrum will not willingly give up their supremacy over the lands and peoples of historic Palestine. Only sustained pressure — from international institutions, foreign governments, and global civil society – will bring about an end to injustice, occupation, and apartheid in Palestine. Pretending otherwise is simply ignoring reality.
Muftah.org, December 22. Joseph Leone is co-editor of Muftah’s Israel/Palestine & Levant pages. His research interests include communal and human rights movements, democratic governance, and conflict prevention. A native of Philadelphia, Joseph has spent significant time in Jordan, Israel/Palestine, and Morocco. He has worked for the International Crisis Group, the Middle East Institute, and the Identity Center for Human Development in Amman, Jordan.
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