Needed urgently: Dynamic movement for peace in Israel

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It isn't exactly in to talk about peace these days. Even among the left, there is that feeling that the previous government could not have done much more, and that the Palestinians, once again, threw away a golden chance of achieving what they have desired for so long. And in return for our efforts, we have been rewarded with a new bout of violence and terrorism.

It is, without doubt, a period of crisis. And it is precisely for this reason that what the country needs right now is the spontaneous growth of a new peace movement, one that can halt the shift of public opinion from the dangerous path of war and the sense that there will never be an alternative to conflict.

Protest and grassroots movements tend to emerge during such periods of crisis, when the public feels that the politicians and the elected leadership are incapable of finding solutions.

Such was Israel in the 1970s, when, in the aftermath of the Yom Kippur War, we witnessed the emergence of public protest to an extent never previously seen in this country.

In 1974, Gush Emunim was established as a protest movement of the right, aimed at ensuring that Israel would not relinquish any control over the West Bank in future negotiations.

Four years later, Peace Now was set up, to promote peace negotiations and remind Menachim Begin's government that nothing was as important as reaching a final agreement.

Twenty-five years down the road, both movements have registered significant successes and failures.

On the success front, Gush Emunim can point to the 200,000 settlers throughout the West Bank and Gaza Strip. The settlements have proved to be a major obstacle to reaching a final territorial agreement between Israel and the Palestinian Authority, playing no small role in the breakdown of the talks during the past year.

For its part, Peace Now can point to the pressure brought on the Begin government to conclude the peace agreement with Egypt, its mass opposition to the war in Lebanon and the continual promotion of the Israeli-Palestinian talks during the past decade.

On the failure front, Gush Emunim and its followers have had to accept the fact that the dream of a Greater Israel has been lost. Much of the West Bank is under direct Palestinian Authority control as a result of the Oslo agreements. If and when the sides ever get back to the negotiating table, additional territories will be handed over to a future Palestinian state, entailing the evacuation of a significant proportion of the existing settlements.

As for Peace Now, it can only sit and bemoan the breakdown in the peace talks with the Palestinians, the return to the path of terrorism and violence and, what seems to be obvious to all, a significant step backward in the chances of reaching a final peace accord soon.

The leaders of both movements have grown older, with many of them co-opted within the mainstream political system.

What began as protest movements largely became institutionalized and, in turn, spawned offshoot organizations, such as the right-wing Zo Artzenu and Women in Green, which have been at the forefront of the anti-Oslo campaign, or Gush Shalom, the Four Mothers and Women in Black, which campaigned tirelessly for Israeli withdrawal from Lebanon.

But the comparisons stop there.

While Gush Emunim has its settlements and a younger generation of settler children and yeshiva-educated youth to actively protest attempts at peace talks and possible settlement evacuation, Peace Now has all but disappeared from the political map.

While the right wing has its Arutz 7 radio station, the Voice of Peace closed down soon after the beginning of the Oslo accords.

And while the right-wing protesters are prepared to demonstrate against their own politicians even when they are in power, the left wing has continuously fallen into the trap of believing that when politicians of the left make it to the prime minister's residence, all they have to do is to go quietly home and wait for everything to turn out as they desire.

The current breakdown of the peace talks is, for the peace camp, the worst crisis since the invasion of Lebanon in 1982. Surveys show that the Israeli public, including many of those who actively supported the Oslo peace process, no longer believes that a peace agreement with the Palestinians is possible.

There is no grassroots movement out there on the streets to make its voice heard, to win back public opinion and to try, however difficult it may be, to convince the average Israeli that peace negotiations are still important — if and when the terrorism and violence are brought to an end.

What is urgently needed is a new peace movement — one that begins from the grass roots upward, mobilized and supported by the country's young adults and yuppie populations of Tel Aviv, Herzliya and the kibbutzim. A peace movement that was set up 25 years ago and that is run by middle-aged, tired activists will not be able to muster the public support that is so critical in this period of frustration and despair.

A new movement cannot be a Peace "Now," because now is clearly not the time, but a peace movement notwithstanding, one that will remind the population at large that the final goal must be stability, security and normalization, not continuous conflict, violence and settlements.

Somewhere out there, there must be motivated people ready to take up the challenge. For without a new public pro-peace movement making its voice heard on the streets, in the media and at public demonstrations, the present government will not return to the negotiating table — with or without the cessation of violence. Such a scenario would bring to an end the hopes and dreams of the past 10 years for a future in which the conflict is no more than a historical memory.