Our Israeli colleague, Susie Becher, writes, in the Sept. 7 issue of Ynet News, of a new Arab League peace initiative:
The London-based al-Hayat was the first to report on the plan, which calls for convening an international conference under the aegis of the UN Security Council to launch negotiations between Israel and Syria, Lebanon, and the Palestinians with the aim of reaching peace agreements with all three within a year.
But Becher, a member of the Meretz-Yahad party national executive, fears that Israel under Olmert will not respond. Meretz-Yahad chair Yossi Beilin advocates such a conference, which he calls “Madrid II,” after the Madrid conference convened under the auspices of the first President Bush in 1991, which paved the way for the Oslo peace process of the 1990s. Moving toward peace is the one thing that Meretz and others of the peace camp do agree upon, but not the strategies required. The following is most of an analysis that appeared in Haaretz on September 6 (“One big bang was apparently not enough”):
Members of the peace coalition, who gathered for the first time since the end of the war last Thursday in Tel Aviv, harbor an abiding sense of frustration and bewilderment. Anyone who assumed that the bungled administration of the war, the protests that came in its wake, and the passing of Olmert’s plan to withdraw from West Bank territories would create a less equivocal “voice of the left” and breathe new life into a political camp that has a difficult time finding itself and its leaders – was disappointed.
Ministers Yuli Tamir and Ophir Pines-Paz of the Labor Party, who used to be leading figures in the peace coalition, did not even show up. In Meretz, strong differences of opinion were voiced between those calling for the wartime leaders to resign – headed by Knesset member Zahava Gal-On – and those claiming there was no need to do so.
The latter group believes that Olmert and Peretz’s weakness should now be exploited to pressure them into establishing a new diplomatic initiative, and includes party chairman MK Yossi Beilin and MK Haim Oron.
The executive director of Peace Now, Labor Party member Yariv Oppenheimer, incensed some of those at the meeting when he said they should not call for early elections now.
“If we go into elections against the background of the war,” said Oppenheimer, “we will be hit hard. We would bring about the rise of Bibi and Lieberman.” Oppenheimer also angered the audience when he came out against the protest of the IDF reservists, calling it an “orange protest” and saying that it was largely a “nationalist political protest” of those who felt “the Israeli army wasn’t given the opportunity to win. We mustn’t cooperate with them.”
“That is a defeatist approach,” responded Gal-On. “We must not wait for the results of the commission of inquiry to demand that Olmert and Peretz draw the proper conclusions. Maybe some people are afraid that the people who would replace them would not be from our political camp. But I say to them that this worry is dangerous to us. How can they not see that this is the last opportunity to take control of the agenda and propose an alternative? Large segments of the left are disappointed that Meretz did not take a clear stand against the war. I don’t know that it would be worse with Bibi and Lieberman. Because there are two people in power who calmly and coolly failed when it came to making life-and-death decisions. What could be worse than that?”
“Besides which,” added Gal-On, “there are other options. An alternative coalition could form for the purpose of governmental continuity. Kadima could select another candidate in place of Olmert. It wouldn’t be the first time. In 1974, Golda resigned and Rabin and Peres formed a caretaker government.”
The left’s bewilderment and confusion was summed up by former MK Mussi Raz, who noted: “Hold on, I want to understand something. If there is a vote of no-confidence, Meretz would vote against it?”
Only five seats
The differences of opinion at the meeting reignited criticism of Yossi Beilin’s leadership and the leadership crisis in the left in general. Beilin was not present at the meeting, but he is thoroughly familiar with the criticism voiced by Gal-On, who has already made it clear she plans to run against him for the party leadership. “We’re going to call on Olmert to resign, and he’s going to resign? You shouldn’t forget that we only have five seats,” says Beilin, dismissively.
Now, as well, after the death of Olmert’s “convergence plan,” Beilin believes that Olmert can be made to undertake a diplomatic initiative. This was his approach during the Sharon era, as well. “Olmert is not a lost cause,” he says. “He is looking now for an agenda. If he doesn’t go in a direction suited to us, we will vote no confidence. I am not afraid of Bibi with his twelve seats taking over tomorrow.”
Beilin’s sentiments, well known in Meretz, only deepen criticism of his passive brand of leadership. Off the record, party sources say that Beilin is doing damage to the party, because under his leadership the public cannot distinguish between Meretz and Labor. “This is not the leadership of Aloni and Sarid, of strong positions, of diplomatic uniqueness and struggle for human rights. This is a leadership that is dragged into the lap of the consensus. There is a leadership failure here, because on the bottom line, Beilin is a Mapainik. And when he was tested, he became a Shimon Peres. Which is how we found ourselves with five seats.”
This criticism doesn’t ruffle Beilin’s feathers, either. “Maybe it’s true,” he says, “and by the same token, it may be that if I wasn’t me, we wouldn’t get even five seats. My type of leadership does not force a position.”
Dr. Gary Sussman of the Tel Aviv University School of Government and Policy, a former member of the academic staff of the Economic Cooperation Foundation (the research institute run by Beilin and Yair Hirschfeld) and who has been on the inside of political processes in the Israeli left, claims that Meretz has not succeeded in digesting Beilin, and that Beilin has not succeeded in digesting the party. “It may be that Beilin made a mistake when he left the Labor Party, because his advantage and his strength lay in behind-the-scenes activity. As a party leader, he has a hard time generating power.”
In Sussman’s opinion, the process that Meretz and the Israeli left has undergone in the past few years has a great deal to do with Ariel Sharon. “Sharon adopted a few parameters of the left and sowed confusion,” he says. “Beilin believed that he was all set to put the right wing on the right path. When Sharon demonstrated seriousness with the disengagement, Beilin believed that eventually the process would be bigger than the man, and that it would not end in Gaza. This is largely a passive approach. It caused a loss of self-confidence of a large share of the left, and Beilin is a prime representative of it. It is also part of the approach that has in recent years characterized the left – let others do the work. It is an avoidance of taking responsibility.”
Sussman also believes that the left has stumbled across an opportunity to lead, but he is afraid it will again miss the boat, partly due to a leadership problem. “Beilin has good conditions, but I’m not sure he can lead the struggle. On the one hand, there is demand right now for Beilin’s approach, because the unilateral paradigm has collapsed. But I’m not sure there is demand for Beilin. After Oslo, the public isn’t about to buy the goods from him again. Beilin is the man who is most identified with Oslo.”
On the plus side of Beilin’s leadership, says Sussman, “at least he is consistent and diligent in his mission. If you take a look at the political landscape, he is still a man of ideas.” Beilin himself believes that the political establishment and the left could surprise the public, by effecting structural changes to the system. He of course rejects the notion of going back to the Labor Party, but does see a possibility of MKs from Labor and Kadima making their way into a new left-wing body in which Meretz would form the center.
“How could anyone think of my joining Labor? With whom would I join? With the great social leader [Peretz]? The Labor Party is history. Peretz has turned his back on the two agendas, the diplomatic and the social, and through its long partnership with Sharon, the Labor Party has liquidated itself. The time has come to construct a new framework with people from Labor and from Kadima.”