Can the Israeli Left Learn From History?

Nothing demonstrates better the divergence between the programs presented by the Israeli ‘left’ and the views of the mainstream Israeli public in the past 20 years than the steadily declining fortunes of the ‘left.’

Moshe_Arens_cropped-150x150By Moshe Arens

(A version of this column appeared in Haaretz on August 14, 2012.)

Haaretz ran an article by Yossi Verter on August 9 about research conducted by a group of intellectuals aiming to resuscitate the ailing camp of the Israeli “left.” Although the declining fortunes of the “left” since the Oslo agreements are well known, and though it is difficult to fathom how this research will revive the “left,” the graphic presentation of its steady decline over time – when viewed against the backdrop of historical events – is nevertheless instructive.

From the Oslo agreements signed by Yitzhak Rabin with Yasser Arafat; to Ehud Barak’s abandonment of the South Lebanon Army and unilateral withdrawal from the south Lebanon security zone; to his attempted bargain of the Golan Heights for peace with Hafez al-Assad; to his offer of almost all of Judea and Samaria, the Gaza Strip and the Temple Mount to Yasser Arafat – in each case the majority of the Israeli public, initially supportive of the moves that promised to bring peace to the area, demonstrated its disappointment with the results at the polling booth. The failure of the Olmert government in the Second Lebanon War and its plans for uprooting hundreds of thousands of settlers from Judea and Samaria did the rest. “Give Peace a Chance” won the hearts of many Israelis, but this slogan turned in time into “Fool me once, shame on you; fool me twice, shame on me.”

Nothing demonstrates better the continuing divergence between the programs presented by the Israeli “left” and the views of the mainstream Israeli public in the past 20 years than the steadily declining fortunes of the “left,” in its various political transformations, at the polls. The “left” today may claim that it had been right all along, that it was the “right’s” ascent to power which spoiled its well-intentioned plans, but there is no denying the view of the public – vox populi. It seems that in light of the successive failures of actions intended to bring peace to the area, the starry-eyed idealists of the “left” are being rejected by majority of Israelis, who take a more realistic view of Middle East realities. The latest turmoil in the Arab world is likely to reinforce this trend.

It may have been accidental, but in the same issue of Haaretz appeared Ari Shavit’s article “Soul-searching on Syria.” Presenting himself as a past member of the “left” and a supporter of the many attempts made in recent years to reach an agreement with Hafez Assad, and again with his son Bashar al-Assad, at the expense of the Golan Heights, he now recognizes that he was mistaken.

It turns out that the intricate theories presented at the time – that such an agreement would not only bring peace with Syria, but also separate Syria from Iran and put an end to Hezbollah’s terrorist activity – were no more than a web of wishful thinking. Now, that’s no small thing – not everyone is prepared to admit he erred. But they say soul-searching is good for the soul. It may be a good time to reexamine the logic behind some of the other moves of past years. How about the disengagement from Gush Katif and the uprooting of 8,000 Israelis from their homes, which was supposed to bring increased security and progress toward peace – and which was followed by the Hamas takeover of the Gaza Strip and the rocket attacks on southern Israel? How about the unilateral disengagement from the south Lebanon security zone, which brought Hezbollah within spitting distance of Israeli settlements in the north, and which was followed by the second intifada and the Second Lebanon War? And if we can get ourselves to think that far back, how about the peace agreement with Egypt, obtained at the cost of withdrawing from all of Sinai, setting a precedent for all future negotiations and making Israel a convenient one-atom-bomb target for its enemies?

Of course, all of this is spilled milk that has already washed down the Jordan River, but maybe there is something to be learned from past mistakes. What did George Santayana say? “Those who cannot learn from history are doomed to repeat it.”

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