Tuesday, February 5, 2002

A Flicker of Light

Some of us think that we may have discerned a very slight flicker of light coming through the dense forest. There appears to be a serious increase in public reservations regarding Sharon’s policies. I will attempt a short run down on these, but, before doing so, it must be said that on the macro level we are in the midst of one of the most critical phases in the relations between the two peoples. Sharon will decide in the very near future as to whether he can pull off his dream of destroying the Palestinian Authority and removing Arafat from the scene. Bush has certainly helped to create the climate for such a move and there are no real obstacles to such a move ‘on the ground.” Sharon must also fear that delay on his part will enable Arafat to break out of the diplomatic and strategic blockade in which he finds himself.

Sharon’s main difficulty with the public and the media comes from a growing sense that despite his promises and the faith of large sections of the public in him, he cannot fulfill his election promise to bring peace and security. The public, it may be surmised, figured from the beginning that Sharon might not deliver on the peace promise, but it did hope that he would be better at eliminating or reducing the day to day effect of Palestinian resistance. The public at large still supports Sharon’s hard line, but it is dawning on it that he cannot provide a semblence of security. At the same time, the state of the economy is increasingly grim. The economic impact of the Intifada has multiplied trends linked to the dismal state of the international economic scene.

The peace movement, especially its more radical wing, has been reinvigorated. One of the first signs of the new mood was the relative success of the annual march sponsored by the Women’s Coalition for Peace at the end of last year. In addition, a new protest organization, built around joint activity by Israel Jews and Israeli Arabs grows by the week. Tay’ush ( Partnership in Arabic) leads large convoys into the occupied territories bearing messages of political solidarity along with welcome truckloads of food and clothing. A plethora of NGO’s are a bit more successful in mobilizing activists against house demolitions, against torture and administrative arrests, against cruel and arbitrary actions by Israeli Defense Forces soldiers involved in the imposition of collective punishment such as closures, curfews and the like.

All of the above show that though distinctly a minority, there is a vibrant, growing and dedicated peace community in Israel. A certain amount of progress has even been made on the level of establishment politics. Ben Eliezer, if only because of the requirements of his new post as the leader of the Labor Party, has had to stake out a bit of independent political territory. This is the ratio behind his meeting last week with Mubarak. It is of course highly premature to hope for any good news from the Labor Party. Peres, who is supposed to keep the peace process alive by virtue of his prominence in Sharon’s national unity government, is obviously obssessed with diplomatic perquisites and frequent opportunities to hobnob with world leaders. No one seems to believe that he would pay the smallest price in the defense of principle. A full report should include an analysis of a the Zionist dove coalition headed by Beilin of the Labor party and MERETZ leader Sarid, who is the titular head of the opposition in the Knesset. I hope to return to the subject, but meanwhile, the interesting story from the dove wing of the establishment is the declared intention of Knesset Speaker, Avrum Burg to address the Legislative Council of the Palestinian Authority. Sharon, with the entire right, as well as Ben Eliezer, have come out hysterically against the visit, thereby imparting it with quite a bit more importance than it had originally. It all adds up to a sense that Sharon is still strong but there are real cracks in his image of invincibility.

The biggest story and the most fabulous development in Israel today is the very recent declaration by more than a hundred and seventy IDF reservists from combat units. They insist that they are ready and willing to serve their country, but not the occupation of the Palestinian territories. Stressing their patriotic and Zionist motivation, the reservists have stirred up a virtual storm in the media and the public. A surprisingly large section of the public seems to, at the least, understand the legitimacy of the reservists complaints, though, each and every branch of the establishment naturally enough rejects the very idea of linking military service to any political issue.

It is important to understand that the new group (still expanding), is proceeding along a path trail blazed by more radical sections of the peace movement, such as Yesh Gvul and more than a hundred high school students who have announced that they will refuse induction. Two of them are already serving time.

So there is a bit less doom and despair and a bit more of a sense that protest pays off. But I better date this communication and get it out. This is the place where yesterday’s commentaries sound as if they appeared a year ago.