Thursday, May 06, 2010

What's left of the peace camp?
I’m not sure that I learned much from yesterday’s IPCRI meeting on rebuilding the Left in Israel (at least that was the original title, but it was changed to rebuilding the ‘peace camp’ after media protests from as far afield as New York questioning why the Finnish government was paying for such events).

Although all claimed to be speaking in a private capacity, there were representatives from Meretz (Mossi Raz), Kadima (Ran Feingold), the Greens (Rami Livni) and Young Labour (Erez Abu) as well as two Palestinians: Iskander Najjar (al Quds University) and Hanna Siniora (journalism).

The main themes that I got from the presentations was that the Left is in crisis, especially following last year’s electoral defeat. Abu was especially forceful in flagging up the need to rebuild the movement as a whole, including paying greater attention to the social agenda (which Labour has neglected in recent years). Livni made similar points, noting that the Left has largely failed in terms of its ideology, level of activism and organisation and funding (as an aside Gershon Baskin noted that the Right has plenty of dynamism through think tanks and ideas whereas the Left doesn’t).

Beyond these themes, there seemed to be plenty of debate about whether or not the Left – and whether Kadima constitutes a part of the centre-left in this respect – has sufficient numbers in the Knesset to make a difference.

That said, all seem agreed that unity between the different political groups and movements is necessary, although to my mind it was not entirely clear on what basis this should be. Where I wanted specifics I found the presenters to be lacking, largely limiting themselves to lip service references to the ‘two-state solution’. But this was precisely where I wanted them to expand. Indeed, it seemed that only Livni tackled this in part, by highlighting some commonly-held assumptions that he wanted to see overturned as ‘myths’: that there is no Palestinian partner for peace, tackling the issue of right of return for refugees and Jerusalem, Hamas’s influence (or not) among Palestinians and the supposed gaps between the two sides.

During the discussion I asked what each of the Israeli parties thought about the points that Livni raised. Through a combination of political point-scoring and justification none answered my question. Which was a shame, since (at least to me!) if you’re going to build a consensus you should at least agree broadly over these points.

As for the other side (the Palestinians), I was similarly disappointed. Both Najjar and Siniora claimed that all Palestinians were in the ‘peace camp’, but only the latter really distinguished between Fatah, Hamas and intellectuals’ positions. Both also said that growing frustration that peace wasn’t being realised was leading to re-evaluation of the two-state solution in favour of demanding their civil (and later political) rights from the Israelis in a bi-national state. While I would hardly claim to have my finger on the Palestinian pulse, that claim seems to be stretching the truth somewhat; I’m sure there is discussion going on about it, but I don’t yet see it as a generally accepted maxim. Perhaps it was just for Israeli public consumption to encourage a speedier solution?

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