Appreciate this article? +972 depends on your support.

Click here to help us keep going

Analysis News
Visit our Hebrew site, "Local Call" , in partnership with Just Vision.

The life and death of the Israeli peace camp

Labor Party leader Isaac Herzog is channeling the same tropes and spin Ehud Barak used to destroy the peace process 15 years ago. Will we have to wait another decade and a half for him to admit what he’s done?

Ehud Barak (photo: Yotam Ronen / Activestills.org)

Former Prime Minister Ehud Barak. (photo: Yotam Ronen / Activestills.org)

On a balmy evening in October of 2000, Ehud Barak, then the Israeli prime minister and Labor Party chairman, held a press conference in Tel Aviv where he made a rattling announcement that would leave its imprint on the Israeli establishment for years to come. Israel, he said, has no partner for peace.

It had been only several months since the Camp David peace talks came to a stuttering halt, and like every politician worth his salt, Barak realized that his political future depended on convincing the Israeli public he was not at fault for the failure of the talks. So he and his political advisors devised a mantra that would come to define the last decade and a half, and haunting the Israeli peace camp.

The spin worked, and for good reason. One week earlier, Palestinians in the occupied territories had launched the Second Intifada. Israel’s Palestinian citizens were taking to the streets en masse to protest in solidarity with those in the West Bank and Gaza. All of a sudden Barak, who defeated Benjamin Netanyahu in the 1999 elections and received a mandate to reach an “historical agreement” with Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat, found himself in a bind.

His government had collapsed even before the talks launched, and he knew he would be facing inevitable elections regardless of the talks’ success. While the “no partner” spin may not have been good for the future of peace talks — which resumed in various constellations after Camp David — or even in the general interest of the country, Barak saw it as his political lifejacket.

Israelis, for their part, had good reason to believe Barak. Deep distrust of Arafat coupled with a brewing uprising that would go on to become far deadlier than its predecessor undid much of what the peace camp had achieved over the previous decade during the heyday of the Oslo years.

Ehud Barak, President Bill Clinton and Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat meet in 1999. (photo: Sharon Farmer)

Ehud Barak, President Bill Clinton and Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat meet in 1999. (photo: Sharon Farmer)

Yet Barak’s insistence on turning dictum into common sense gave his “no partner” spin near-mythical powers, so much so that it essentially set the tone for successive Israeli governments over the next 15 years. From Ariel Sharon’s one-sided Gaza disengagement — Sharon’s top political advisor, Dov Weissglas, would famously admit that the disengagement supplied “the amount of formaldehyde necessary so that there will not be a political process with the Palestinians” — to Shelly Yacimovich’s insistence on speaking about the cost of living rather than the cost of occupation to the Netanyahu government of today, the Israeli consensus has been molded around the idea that conflict cannot be solved, it can only be managed.

Years later Barak’s top advisors would come to lament the role they played in creating that spin. As Peter Beinart notes in his book, The Crisis of Zionism, Barak aide Tal Ziberstein admitted that the “no-partner” campaign was one of the things he regretted most. Eldad Yaniv, Barak’s former campaign adviser and well known politico who has worked closely with politicians of all stripes added: “Ten years later, there are still people who say, ‘We gave them everything at Camp David and got nothing.’ That is a flagrant lie… I was one of the people behind this false and miserable spin. It may have been justified to a certain extent to stir the Palestinians to revive the negotiations, but it’s false.”

But by the time Barak’s aides came clean, it was too late. The death knell of the Israeli peace camp, whose entire raison d’être was to take part in negotiations in good faith with a Palestinian partner, had been sounded.

The “no partner” motto reverberates to this very day. Just weeks ago, Zionist Union Chairman Isaac “Buji” Herzog presented his party’s new diplomatic program at Tel Aviv’s Institute for National Security Studies. According to the plan, Israel would complete the separation barrier first erected by Ariel Sharon in the early 2000s, building it around existing settlement blocs so as to annex them to Israel. It would also give more autonomy to Palestinians in Areas A and B of the West Bank (Area A is under full control of the Palestinian Authority, Israel handles security control in Area B), and push off East Jerusalem neighborhoods such as Issawiya and Shuafat — which have been under Israeli control since 1967 — to the Palestinian Authority.

Opposition leader Isaac Herzog addresses the annual Herzliya Conference, June 7, 2015. (photo: Erez Harodi/Herzliya Conference)

Opposition leader Isaac Herzog addresses the annual Herzliya Conference, June 7, 2015. (photo: Erez Harodi/Herzliya Conference)

Herzog also criticized the Netanyahu’s government for being too soft on the Gaza Strip, where he claims the government is only bombing empty spaces rather than human beings.

“That is the kind of co-existence that is possible right now,” Herzog told the crowd, as if Zilberstein and Yaniv themselves wrote the speech. There is nothing “new” in Herzog’s vision — upon closer examination it looks to be the Netanyahu doctrine on steroids. More than that, however, it is reminder not only that the Israeli Left has never fully recovered from Barak’s self-sabotage, but that it has played a crucial role — perhaps just as crucial as the Right — in burying any chances for the two-state solution.

One couldn’t help but laugh along with Prime Minister Netanyahu last week when he mocked Herzog in the Knesset plenum: “Good morning Buji, I’m glad you have woken up. Good morning Labor, welcome to the Middle East. The alarm clock has rung and maybe you’re beginning to understand where we live.”

In some sense, one can chalk up Netanyahu’s seemingly endless grip on the premiership to the groundwork laid years ago by Herzog’s own party. Instead of proposing a real end to Israel’s military dictatorship in the West Bank, Herzog proposes a plan built on 15-year-old stilts made of spin that should have collapsed long ago. Instead of calling on his opposition to put up a fight against ethnic separation, Herzog and his party have doubled down and adopted the “no partner” adage in a cynical attempt to sway voters away from Netanyahu.

When it comes to received political wisdom, narrative nearly always wins over facts. But for those who believe Palestinians and Israelis can live in this land as equals, the truth is essential. And when our so-called leaders — the ones who call themselves “leftists” — try to convince us otherwise with spin and lies, it’s on us to fight back.

Newsletter banner

For additional original analysis and breaking news, visit +972 Magazine's Facebook page or follow us on Twitter. Our newsletter features a comprehensive round-up of the week's events. Sign up here.

View article: AAA
Share article
Print article
  • LEAVE A COMMENT

    * Required

    COMMENTS

    1. Bruce Gould

      “The Truth About Israel’s National Security”:

      http://www.theglobalist.com/the-truth-about-israel-national-security/

      That said, no military might or even the expropriation of the entire West Bank will guarantee Israel’s security. Nothing short of a sustainable Israeli-Palestinian peace can…The Netanyahu government’s linking of national security to the so-called “defensive borders” is disingenuous and misleading. It is designed to provide a cover for his and his cabinet’s continued intoxication with seizing Palestinian territories…In the age of rockets and precision missile technology, territorial depth can no longer guarantee Israel’s core security. Hamas has been able to rain thousands of rockets on Israel, some of which have reached Jerusalem and Tel Aviv…The current “knife Intifada” also reveals the absurdity of the argument that borders, any border, can provide airtight security…The occupation and the continuing expansion of the settlements are behind these violent and low-tech outbursts. As long as the occupation persists, Israel will not know a day of rest…The occupation and the continuing expansion of the settlements are behind these violent and low-tech outbursts. As long as the occupation persists, Israel will not know a day of rest.

      Reply to Comment
      • Whonoze

        1. “no military might or even the expropriation of the entire West Bank will guarantee Israel’s security”.

        So far all the wars of extermination your Muslim Arab people have forced on us to destroy us have failed. We defeated you. We won and you lost. We have survived, because of our military might. Our military might guaranteed our security. Nothing will change that.

        2. “Nothing short of a sustainable Israeli-Palestinian peace can…”

        All Israelis agree on that! That is why Prime Minister Ehud Olmert offered your people a state of their own in ALL of Gaza and on the equivalent of ALL of the West Bank. Your people rejected that offer and the ones before that from Ehud Barak, etc. The solution to the conflict is a 2-states-for-2-peoples: an ARAB state and a JEWISH state – as also called for by UN Resolution. Your people have so far rejected that. Until they accept that, we will manage the status-quo.

        3. “The Netanyahu government’s linking of national security to the so-called “defensive borders” is disingenuous and misleading. It is designed to provide a cover for his and his cabinet’s continued intoxication with seizing Palestinian territories…”

        Blah, blah, blah!

        4. “In the age of rockets and precision missile technology, territorial depth can no longer guarantee Israel’s core security. Hamas has been able to rain thousands of rockets on Israel, some of which have reached Jerusalem and Tel Aviv…The current “knife Intifada” also reveals the absurdity of the argument that borders, any border, can provide airtight security…

        See above. You posted essentially the same nonsense yesterday. Today you are repeating yourself again. All your people have to do is accept a 2-states-for-two-peoples solution. As long as you continue to reject that, we will defend ourselves. Operation Defensive Shield, Operation Cast Lead, Operation Protective Edge, etc. tell ya something? That’s just a fraction of 1% of what can happen.

        5. “As long as the occupation persists, Israel will not know a day of rest…

        Compare Israel pre-1948 (when it did not exist yet as a state), after 1948 and NOW. Make the same comparison re your people in Gaza and the West Bank and tell us the result. We are a prosperous, feared and respected Nation! As you make your bed, so you will lie on it.

        Anyways, don’t worry about us: “Israelis are the happiest people in the Middle East and the 11th happiest people in the world. http://www.haaretz.com/israel-news/1.653416

        Reply to Comment
        • robb wexler

          what exactly have you won? an area even samller than new jersey a place where no one in the world cares to go. you are looked upon as specks of shit by the entire world. you have won a fool’s paradise. victory exists in only your realm for the rest fo the world sees zombie demons where you see sunshine. you so sad and pathetic, a lauging stock. and you don’t even know it. #isrealwillburn

          Reply to Comment
          • Whonoze

            Inadvertently the truth just slipped out of your mouth and exposed the greed, the envy and the hate in your and your ilk’s heart against Jews. Indeed, Israel is a very small country that occupies just LESS than 0.1% of 1% of the total landmass of the region called the ME. The rest is in the hands of your Muslim (Arab) brothers, “Robb Wexler” (any specific reason why you use Jewish sounding names?)! Yet, you deny our RIGHT to be on that 0.1% and fight genocidal wars to usurp our land. You want it all, but it will not happen. That much I can guarantee you.

            Israel is a true miracle that is feared and respected by both the good guys and the big bad boys in the Middle East and beyond. That’s a big part of why we are able to exist here. That’s all that matters at this time. It is not news that 300milion Muslim Arabs and over 1.2billion Muslims worldwide will always out-scream about 7mil Jews in the anti-Israel/anti-Semitic propaganda war your people imposed on us. That is your consolation prize. You may keep it!

            Reply to Comment
        • Ben

          “Years later Barak’s top advisors would come to lament the role they played in creating that spin. As Peter Beinart notes in his book, The Crisis of Zionism, Barak aide Tal Ziberstein admitted that the “no-partner” campaign was one of the things he regretted most. Eldad Yaniv, Barak’s former campaign adviser and well known politico who has worked closely with politicians of all stripes added: “Ten years later, there are still people who say, ‘We gave them everything at Camp David and got nothing.’ That is a flagrant lie… I was one of the people behind this false and miserable spin.”

          So how many more stupid right wing Internet troll attempts to push the flagrant lie that Silberstein and Yaniv plainly confess to–right here on this page!–will we see here? Usually these trolls try to push this stuff at some remove from the article they are responding to, but not the aptly named “Whonoze.” He thinks he’ll just directly contradict Zilberstein and Yaniv. “What’s the problem? We’re Israelis. Anything else?”

          Who could make this stuff up?

          Reply to Comment
          • Whonoze

            Nonsensical mumbo jumbo!

            Btw: You want to reference leftist opinion makers with credibility? Start with Israeli center leftists, not far/radical leftists who have admitted that they are “liars” (e.g. Yaniv) and certainly NOT some (far) leftist publicity-seeking American dudes who have no firsthand knowledge of the reality on the ground, whose qualifications are that their parents are Jews and have an anti-Israel opinion based on what they claim an “Israeli official” told them “on the condition of anonymity” or “off record” – regardless of which government is in power in Israel. Leading figures from the Israeli center left have come to realize that the reason the “Peace Camp” failed is because it has got nothing to do with “peace”, but is an ‘ideology’ that refuses to acknowledge the facts right under its nose: Muslim Arabs recognize our MIGHT, not our RIGHT to be here and will never ever recognize that RIGHT and accept two states for two peoples: one ARAB, one JEWISH, living side by side in mutual acceptance and recognition.

            Reply to Comment
        • carmen

          ‘Anyways, don’t worry about us’. The only israelis I’m worried about are the +20% who aren’nt Jewish.

          “Israelis are the happiest people in the Middle East and the 11th happiest people in the world.”
          Yes, the faux ‘gentlemen’ and ‘ladies’ of the glorious south – antebellum and up to the mid to late 1960s put out that propaganda piece too. They even tried to convince civil rights workers that ‘our negroes were happy until you misceginatin’ communists started stirrin’ things up’. I imagine you couldn’t find happier people than white south Africans prior to the end of apartheid. Life is good in apartheid! It’s no surprise that in a system where the few rule the many, with violence, murder and stealth, and get quite a hefty allowance from their dear uncle sam and the extortion continuing to be paid by germany, if you were’nt happy with that set up, then you’re ziocaine prescription isn’t nearly strong enough. And again, to be crystal clear, your happiness and the happiness (real or imagined) of your fellow zionists isn’t the issue and never was. We don’t care about you, at all.

          https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2Sj6achyA24&feature=player_detailpage

          Reply to Comment
          • Whonoze

            Your apartheid rants is a slander and an expression of anti-Semitism. You preach against racism and hate, while practicing virulent racism and hate against Jews.

            https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=AcEL-NlxBk0

            Hate is a very destructive emotion. Do not let the hate in your heart get the better of you, because it will destroy you.

            Reply to Comment
          • carmen

            ‘Hate is a very destructive emotion. Do not let the hate in your heart get the better of you, because it will destroy you.’ Look in the mirror while you repeat that phrase again because it’s you all over. As far as ‘apartheid rants’ and of course the antisemitism trope, well you can say that all you want, hold your breath and stamp your tiny feet too but the masks are off and the world is finally waking up to the horrible truths about the zionist enterprise. Lies are being exposed on an almost daily basis and it’s not looking too good for the (stolen) homeland team. It’s not up to me to prove israel isn’t an apartheid state or even little ol’ you. It’s up to Mileikowsky and co. and so far the only thing they’ve managed to do is horrify the civilized world with their uncivilized actions. The latest scheme, Mileikowsky’s desire for ‘Fortress israel’ is so wack even some of his own are scratching their heads. Don’t talk to me about hate whonoze, just look in your mirror.

            Reply to Comment
          • Whonoze

            Yeah, the world is waking up to discover that you and your ilk are full of lies, deceit and hate. Britain is moving toward near complete and comprehensive ban of the BDS. That’s just ONE example of “the world waking up”!

            In the heat of the moment, small truths that matter do get lost. There are tens of thousands of Muslim Arabs who are Israeli patriots and love their country: the State of Israel, and have said so publicly. Some risk their lives and ostracization from the Muslim Arab communities to serve in the IDF. Especially Israeli Arab Christians, the Druze and others love their country: the State of Israel, as well. They know that Israel (unlike ALL other countries in the ME) is the only country where they as a minority can and do exist in- and enjoy the same freedom guaranteed to Westerners in the West and without fear that someday their neighbors will wake up and start chopping off the heads of the fathers and brothers and forcing their women into sexual slavery and eradicating their culture, tradition and religion. Israeli Christians, Israeli Druze, the Circassians and others love their country: Israel, would love to be nowhere else than in Israel and are as happy as Jewish Israelis. This is an example of just ONE Muslim Arab Israeli patriot:

            https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-fbDjpbBHb4

            Say goodbye to your virulent anti-Semitism. Let go of the sickening hate in your heart and stop spreading hate against Israel, else that hate will destroy what is left of you rotten spirit.

            Reply to Comment
          • carmen

            Some African American slaves also fought for the confederacy; did it mean they loved their ‘masters’ and chattel slavery? Absolutely not. They had no choice. I and the rest of the world are well aware that Palestinians love their country; they’re hanging onto every square centimeter they can and it is a monumental struggle but one they willingly die for. The country they love is called Palestine and was called Palestine for centuries. The world doesn’t always respond to those suffering the most at the hands of the wicked – the world did nothing to save the Jews from the holocaust, only handsful of people risked their lives for as many as they could; interestingly though it didn’t include the future prime minister of the state of israel; the world watched and did nothing to save Cambodians from the Khmer Rouge; the world watched and did nothing to save Bosnian Muslims during Clinton’s watch and also did nothing while almost a million Tutsi’s were hacked to pieces by their Hutu friends and neighbors, also on Clinton’s watch and now the world does nothing WRT to the slow and systematic elimination of Palestinians on the watch of America’s first black president – how shameful and how very typical. The world is slow to act but quick to shout ‘never again’.

            Reply to Comment
          • Gustav

            What a stupid rant. I am going to get my violin and play sad music to accompany Carmen’s fantasy story.

            Helloooooo. Earth to Carmen. All your Palestinian Arabs have to do to end the occupation is to sign a peace deal which includes our terms too not just theirs.

            Is that too much to ask from a people who started this war against us back in the 1920s and never stopped waging it since?

            Reply to Comment
    2. carmen

      Yes G – everything you demand is too much because there’s nothing but dishonesty in your demands. The only ‘war’ is the one being waged for the souls of israel’s supposed Jews. And they’re losing that war. There’s this awesome thing called the internet and excellent writers and historians such as Gideon Levy, Ilan Pappe, Miko Peled, to name a few. You aren’t them.

      Reply to Comment
      • Gustav

        CARMEN:”israel’s supposed Jews”

        There you have it folks. SUPPOSED Jews…

        And this silly propagandist has the gall to talk about honesty.

        Reply to Comment
      • Gustav

        “Gideon Levy, Ilan Pappe, Peled…”

        LOL. You forgot to mention Tokyo Rose and Lord Haw Haw.

        You know who they were? One was an American (Tokyo Rose) who was mouth piece for Imperial Japan during WW2. The other (Lord Haw Haw) was a Brit who spread German Propaganda on German radio directed at the British people again during WW2.

        You know what happened to them after they were captured at the end of the war? Nah? Well then I’ll tell you…

        Lord Haw Haw was executed by the Brits. Tokyo Rose was jailed by the Americans.

        Now don’t worry, we won’t do the same to Gideon, Pappe and Peled. They ain’t worth spoiling our democratzia for, let them rant and rave. Only idiots like you take them seriously.

        Reply to Comment
        • Ben

          This does two right wing extremist things at once: vilification of the left as “traitors,” and “occupation/colonialism/apartheid = war.”

          Reply to Comment
          • Gustav

            BEN:”This does two right wing extremist things at once: vilification of the left as “traitors,”

            Not all lefties. Only the idiot lefties who really are traitors.

            Never mind though we just dismiss you lot as curious irrelevancies there to be made fun of and be taunted.

            Reply to Comment
          • Gustav

            Oh and Benny’s comment highlights his smug self centered hypocrisy. Note what he does…

            People who made propaganda against his side during their great war, are traitors, even according to Benny…

            But our crazies who make propaganda against us in our war are to be adulated….

            Anyone senses a bit of double standard here? Hypocrisy anyone? Smug self centeredness which says “my side is always right” but your side is wrong for not even being as harsh on your traitors as we [Benny’s side] are on our traitors.

            As usual, Benny is being subjective. He has not considered the possibility that from our point of view, his heroes are traitors. Why? Because according to Benny …. Benny is always right. Benny is never wrong, according to Benny. He is a legend in his own mind. LOL.

            Reply to Comment
        • Ben

          One plays into the game even by using the word “occupation,” which at this point is false, and allows rightists to claim (falsely) that this is an unpleasant necessity. Occupation is temporary, militarized control, external to the state’s sovereign borders. Israeli rule in the West Bank and Gaza is the opposite: Control is civilian, permanent (according to Israel’s own leaders) and internal to Israeli society and politics. The accurate descriptive terms are colonialism and apartheid. That is the reality.

          As Oren Yiftachel explains, “The main harm to human rights and the obstacles to establishing a Palestinian state are not a result of the military occupation, but actually stem from the civil transformation… separation long ago disappeared. Israel created a continuous Jewish civilian space…. But Arabs have inferior collective citizenship…closely linked to their identity as Palestinians…. In international law, a situation whereby a country appropriates and settles territories outside its sovereign borders is called colonialism. Southern Lebanon was an example of military occupation; the West Bank is an example of colonialism, one that seeks to entrench itself over time while preserving the privileges of the ruling population, and incidentally creating an apartheid regime….Apartheid in the West Bank seeps into the entire area between the Jordan and the sea.”

          http://www.haaretz.com/opinion/.premium-1.702597

          Reply to Comment
          • Gustav

            Wanna know why the occupation continues? Ask Hamas…

            “YouTube removes inciting videos portraying murder of Jews, at Israel’s request
            Hamas uploaded one video dramatizing stabbing death of two Jews, while cartoon reenacted murder of Eitam and Naama Henkin in West Bank.”

            You might also ask the PLO why they refuse to sign a peace deal with us Benny.

            Reply to Comment
          • Ben

            But Gustav immediately wants me to play into the game, of course.

            Reply to Comment
          • Gustav

            Nah, Benny, I don’t want you to do anything different. If you are happy with what you are doing, just carry on.

            I’ll just do my bit to counteract your one eyed propaganda. Hey, for all I care you can act as if I am not even here. See how easy I am to please?

            Reply to Comment
    3. Click here to load previous comments
© 2010 - 2017 +972 Magazine
Follow Us
Credits

+972 is an independent, blog-based web magazine. It was launched in August 2010, resulting from a merger of a number of popular English-language blogs dealing with life and politics in Israel and Palestine.

Website powered by RSVP

Illustrations: Eran Mendel