For quite some time, public opinion polls in Israel appear to be contradictory. On the one hand, there is a majority of 60-70% for Sharon and an â€œiron-fistâ€ policy in the occupied territories, and on the other a majority of 60% for immediate unilateral evacuation of most of the territories and most of the settlements.
In fact, it is simple to reconcile this contradiction. Since at least the nineties, a division to three thirds can be observed in Israeli society: The ideological third on the left opposes the occupation on moral and principled ground. The ideological right supports Israelâ€™s policy of expansion and the settlers. The middle, non-ideological, third are people who just want quiet and a normal life. They don’t care about the Palestinians, but also not about the settlers.
The polls reflect the confusion and despair of this middle third: Most likely, their frame of mind is that if it is possible to kill or expel all Palestinians, that’s fine, but if it is possible to simply get out of there, as Israel did in Lebanon they support this as well. Thus, in polls asking about immediate evacuation, the left third plus the middle say yes. In polls regarding support of Sharonâ€™s policies, the right third plus the same middle say yes.
It is impossible to conclude from these polls that Sharonâ€™s victory in the coming elections is guaranteed, as so commonly argued. The winner of the elections will be the candidate drawing more of the votes of the middle third.
A prevailing mistake is to call this middle third â€˜centerâ€™. The word â€˜centerâ€™ has ideological content. It is associated with moderate stands, at the heart of the consensus. The ideological center is afraid of absolute positions, like getting out of the territories immediately, but it also does not like the idea of transfer (-mass expulsion).
However, this ideological center exists only in the political discourse. In real life, the middle third consists of scared citizens whose life has turned to hell – people who watch the collapsing economy and wait anxiously for the next terror attack or for the days of gas masks and sealed rooms. It is reasonable to assume that their instinct will be to vote for whoever offers a clear rescue path.
The â€œiron fistâ€ platform of the right right-wing is indeed sharp and clear. But its drawback, for the middle third, is that it has been tried for two years already, and nothing has changed for the better. The question for them is what the left has to offer.
Up until now, the left left-wing offered only verbal solutions: Letâ€™s sit down and talk and discuss and negotiate – has been their message for years. Thatâ€™s how the Oslo model was born – a model of eternal negotiations, while Israel continues to expand settlements and appropriates more Palestinian lands. By now, everyone in Israel knows where this road leads, and it is impossible to win the elections with this message. But Mitzna has something new to offer – a plan that started, at least, as a clear determination to act, rather than just talk. Its roots are in the resolutions of the Council for Peace and Security of February this year.
As reported in Haâ€™aretz, â€œafter four months of intense discussions, the Council for Peace and Security, a group of 1000 top-level reserve generals, colonels, and Shin Bet and Mossad officials are [sic] to mount a public campaign for a unilateral Israeli withdrawal from all of Gaza and much of the West Bankâ€¦ Unlike some of the other unilateral withdrawal plans, like ‘Life Fenceâ€™, for example, the councilâ€™s plan involves evacuating some 40-50 settlementsâ€ (Lili Galili ,Haâ€™aretz, February 18, 2002).
The Council for Peace and security is definitely a mainstream body, and its plan is heavily backed by business and corporate circles in Israel. They are not necessarily motivated by moral considerations of what Israel is doing to the Palestinians, but by concerns regarding the dangerous implications of this policy to the future of Israel. Although I do not share their world-view, I believe that implementing their plan is a huge step forward.
The conception underlying this plan is that the real disagreement between mainstream Israel and the Palestinians is confined to three matters: The right Right of Return, Jerusalem, and the fate of the big settlement blocks in the center of the West Bank. These center settlements are built on land confiscated from the Palestinians, but the sad reality is that there are already 150.000 Israelis living in these blocks, who cannot be evacuated over night.
However, in territorial terms, the areas under dispute are no more than 10% of the West Bank (1), and there is no reason to occupy the rest of the territories because of this dispute. The 90 percent that are agreed upon can and should be evacuated immediately, and the 40-50 isolated settlements scattered in these areas should be dismantled.
Immediately after the evacuation, negotiations should start regarding the three difficult problems under dispute. Until these problems are solved, there will be no end of conflict, and no one can promise a complete end of terror. However, when in 90% of the West Bank (and the whole of Gaza) people have reason to wake up in the morning, the danger that they will opt for suicide over the Right of Return is much smaller.
If Mitzna sticks to this plan, which offers a real alternative and hope, there is a good chance that he will be the next Israeli prime minister. But there are many dangers lurking on his way. From the right-wing pole, pressure is exerted on him to â€œappeal to the centerâ€ and, thus, become vague and meaningless. But the bigger danger is from the pole labeled left, in his own Labor party. Beilin and the other masterminds of Oslo are working against the idea of immediate evacuation:
-Why evacuate immediately – they say – when we can simply resume the road of negotiations. Letâ€™s sit down with the Palestinians; letâ€™s talk and discuss. In the meanwhile, the IDF (Israeli army) will continue to maintain order in the occupied territories. Perhaps the Palestinians will give up eventually, and allow us to implement the Beilin Abu-Mazen plan, which does not require the dismantling of a single settlement (2).
Mitzna is showing signs of surrender. At the eve of the Labor primaries, he spoke only about immediate evacuation from Gaza. For the West Bank he proposed a year of negotiations, which in practice means negotiations under the supervision of the Israeli army. In other words, he proposed another year of the present lunacy, but with some negotiations in the background. If, in the end, what Mitzna offers to the middle third would turn out to be an Oslo B plan, the middle will vote Sharon.
(1) This is the figure in the maximalist approach of Barak, who demanded to annex these ten percent in Camp David. The actual land that the settlements sit on is much smaller. However, Barak demanded to maintain territorial continuity between the annexed settlements. In the Taba talks the Israeli side set the figure on 8% – â€œ6 percent annexation and additional two percent under lease agreementâ€ (Ambassador Miguel Moratinos report, Haâ€™aretz, February 15, 2002). The Palestinian side acknowledged â€œ3.1 percent annexation [to Israel] in the context of a land swapâ€, (there). For more details on the land percentage and the Taba negotiations see my Israel/Palestine How to end the war of 1948, Seven Stories, 2002.
(2) Here is how Beilin himself described the Beilin Abu-Mazen plan (which was completed in October 1995) in an interview in March 1996: â€œAs an outcome of my negotiatons, I can say with certainty that we can reach a permanent agreement not under the overt conditions presented by the Palestinians, but under a significant compromise [on their side]…I discovered on their side a substantial gap between their slogans and their actual understanding of realitya much bigger gap than on our side. They are willing to accept an agreement which gives up much land, without the dismantling of settlements, with no return to the â€˜67 border, and with an arrangement in Jerusalem which is less than municipality level. (Interview by Lili Galili, â€œI Want to Entangle the Likud with as Much Peace as Possible,â€ Haâ€™aretz, March 3, 1996.
ISRAEL/PALESTINE: How To End the War of 1948 by Tanya Reinhart (Seven Stories Press/ Open Media Series 2002, ISBN: 1-58322-538-2) is available from Booksense.com (the order house of independent bookstores), Amazon.com, or local bookstores. For the publisher’s information click on: http://www.sevenstories.com/openmedia/
This is an expanded version of a column in the Israeli daily Yediot Aharonot, November 26, 2002.