A decade after the day peace died

When I was reading Ari Shavit’s most recent article in Ha’aretz, I was wondering if he recalled his interview with former Israeli foreign minister Shlomo Ben-Ami some ten years ago. Under the title “The day peace died”, the interview was published in the Ha’aretz weekend edition of Friday, September 14, 2001 – which of course was just three days after 9/11; but the date also was close to the one-year anniversary of the then still ongoing “Al-Aksa intifada.”

While Shlomo Ben-Ami and Ari Shavit talked about the negotiations in Camp David and Taba, one of the instigators of the Al-Aksa intifada, Marwan Barghouti, marked the one-year anniversary of the senseless violence by giving an interview to Al Hayat, where he explained that he had seized “a historic opportunity to ignite the conflict. The strongest conflict is the one that initiated from Jerusalem due to the sensitivity of the city, its uniqueness and its special place in the hearts of the masses who are willing to sacrifice themselves [for her] with not even thinking of the cost.”

In his recent column, Shavit argues “that the old peace is dead” and that “we must quickly replace it with a new, realistic peace.” The political implications of his argument amount to an acknowledgement that the right was right, and that Netanyahu’s (and Lieberman’s) view that the conflict with the Palestinians can only be managed is the only realistic approach for the foreseeable future.

Needless to say, Shavit still tries to provide a “balanced” picture, e.g. when he asserts: “The Israelis’ despair of ever achieving peace was no less a blow to peace than the blow dealt to it by Palestinian intransigence.”

But everything else he writes makes clear that the Israelis had every reason to despair of ever achieving peace; indeed, the first few paragraphs of his column provide a concise summary of the process that much of “Middle Israel” has gone through since the mid-1990s:

First the old peace was lightly wounded. After Israel gave the Palestinians most of Gaza, the first bus blew up at Dizengoff Square. After Israel gave the Palestinians Nablus and Ramallah, buses started blowing up in downtown Jerusalem and Tel Aviv. And after Israel suggested that the Palestinians set up a sovereign state on most of the occupied territories, they responded with a wave of terror. And as suicide terrorists were running amok in our cities, it started to dawn on people that maybe there was something defective about the promise of a great peace.

Then the old peace suffered moderate wounds. After Israel withdrew from south Lebanon, a Shi’ite missile base was set up there, which threatens the entire country. And after Israel withdrew from the Gaza settlements, the area became an armed Hamastan that continually attacked the south.

Both of these bold, unilateral and justified withdrawals yielded difficult results. When Qassam rockets fell on Sderot and Grads started landing in Ashdod and Fajr missiles hit Haifa, there started to be butterflies in our stomachs regarding what we might expect after the really big withdrawal.

After that, the old peace was seriously hurt. Tzipi Livni sat with Ahmed Qureia (Abu Ala ) for a full year, but Qureia signed nothing. Ehud Olmert offered Jerusalem to Mahmoud Abbas, but Abbas just disappeared. The fact that the moderate Palestinians were turning their backs on the most generous peace offerings Israel had ever made raised gloomy suspicions about their intentions. Were they really willing to divide the country into two national states that would live side by side with one another?

Finally, the old peace was critically injured. After withstanding an endless number of blows, even reasonable, moderate Israelis lost their faith in reconciliation. Even though they were still prepared to hand over the territories and divide Jerusalem, they sensed that there was no one to hand over the territories to, or with whom to divide Jerusalem.

10 responses to “A decade after the day peace died

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