The key to an election victory for the Israeli Left

The Right in Israel will not fall over economic issues, period. It will fall only if its lies about political solutions are disproved.

By Eli Shmueli

The Nobel Peace Prize laureates for 1994 in Oslo. (From right to left) Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin, Foreign Minister Shimon Peres and PLO Chairman Yasser Arafat. October 12, 1994. (Photo by GPO/Ya’acov Sa’ar)
The Nobel Peace Prize laureates for 1994 in Oslo. (From right to left) Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin, Foreign Minister Shimon Peres and PLO Chairman Yasser Arafat. October 12, 1994. (Photo by GPO/Ya’acov Sa’ar)

No one in the Israeli public dares convey three simple messages: 1) There is a resolution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict; 2) We have a partner for peace; 3) The Israeli Right, not the Palestinians, are preventing the solution. No one in the Left is trying to explain to the public, step-by-step, why these messages are correct. No one is trying to debunk the lies of the right wing. Instead, they speak about economic issues.

The Right will not fall due to economic issues, period. It will fall only if its lies about political solutions and security issues are disproved. Tell me that many years will have to pass before people can hear the words “an agreement with the Palestinians” without it being automatically translated to “these damn leftists want thousands of people to be murdered here – just like what happened during the Oslo accords.” But this is exactly what I mean. The Left must debunk the story told by the Right about Oslo.

Fighting extremists on both sides

The Right’s story about Oslo began in 1994. Before this story, every terrorist attack by Hamas (which was a small organization at the time) was seen in the prism of another Holocaust – the first step toward the annihilation of the Jews. A terrorist attack represents all Palestinians, while an agreement on security cooperation represents no Palestinians. In 1993, the Right’s goal was to incite against any compromise in order to prevent the return of the West Bank or Gaza to Palestinian hands. Israel was only the means, and no price was too high: a bi-national state, a dictatorship or the danger of unraveling the state through outside pressure, similar to what happened in South Africa during apartheid.

The Left’s inability to counter that manipulative story was born back in the 1990s. Even back then there were no left-wing politicians who could tell the story of “the moderates and the extremists.” The story about two societies at war, initiatives for compromise — the story that says that if we continue fighting the extremists, peace will be possible. (There is a new war taking place in which the moderates from both sides are taking on the extremists who are trying to prevent a compromise.) The Left was afraid of saying these things, to admit that war, rather than quiet, followed the peace accords.

The fear of telling the story of the extremists and the moderates, where terrorist attacks become almost inevitable, led to the Right to victoriously control the narrative. Someone should have told the Left: fight for the narrative! Explain that attacks that come in the wake of an agreement are neither another Holocaust nor the work of traitorous other side. Rather, they ought to have told the public that these kinds of acts are to be expected, that they represent a minority whose goal is to drive a stake through the negotiations. They should have told the public that it needs to be patient. Instead, media consultants told left-wing politicians: “the word ‘Oslo’ pushes away voters. Avoid using it.” And that’s just what they did in every election.

There are two problems with this tactic. First of all, as long as no one fights over the word Oslo, or tries to debunk the lies of the Right, it will continue to push voters away. This leads to the second issue: the public knows that Oslo belongs to the Left. To avoid defending this fact is equivalent to the Left’s death knell. This leaves the public thinking that the Left made a “mistake” or lead to a “catastrophe.”

Election after election, something whispers into the politicians’ ears: “Oslo keeps the voters away.” Once again they avoid debunking the Right’s narrative, once again the Left is seen as the ultimate loser and once again it loses elections.

The day they beat Hamas

But defending Oslo is possible. Defending Oslo requires a well-reasoned argument that bears repeating over and over again. It includes explaining that extremists on both sides have tried to sabotage every single historic compromise that sought to put an end to hostilities. But it also includes explaining that fighting the extremists while maintaining restraint between the signatories has lead to the victory of the moderates. There are plenty of historical precedents: The Good Friday Agreement between England and Northern Ireland, after which dozens were murdered before calm took root; or the negotiations between black representatives and the white leaders of South Africa, where similar violence followed the agreement. And yes, the same happened after Oslo.

While the Right was busy inciting against Oslo to prevent the return of territories, Israel and the Palestinians were able to defeat Hamas. March 3, 1996 marked the final suicide bombing of the Oslo era. Apart from a few shooting attacks, most of which took place near West Bank settlements, the terrorist attacks ceased. The Right loves to gloat over the fact that the attacks ceased on May 29, 1996, three months after Benjamin Netanyahu was elected prime minister. This, of course, is a complete distortion of what happened: the attacks actually ceased when Shimon Peres was prime minister. This was the result of the fact that the Palestinian Authority and the Israeli government fought side-by-side against Hamas and Islamic Jihad.

The suicide attacks continued a year later, in March 1997, under the leadership of Netanyahu, who halted the peace process, opened the Western Wall Tunnels and sparked another round of violence.

Defending Oslo is possible. It requires explaining, time after time, the need for Oslo. Many Israelis believe that Oslo was merely a whim of bleeding-heart leftists, when in reality it was a necessity – a solution to the First Intifada in which 155 Israelis were murdered, and which no one knew how to stop. Oslo, in the middle of 1996, brought about calm and an end to the Intifada. Had right wingers not sabotaged the process – whether from the Knesset chambers or from the city square – chances are that the quiet would have continued until today.

The Left must explain this to the Israeli public. There is no point in waiting. The Left has been waiting for the last 20 years. No one will “forget” Oslo, the Right made sure of that. But the Right’s narrative vis-à-vis Oslo is a central tenet of its indoctrination. Without it, its worldview crumbles.

Eli Shmueli is a resident of Jerusalem, writes research proposals for a living is the founder of the “Leibowitz Was Right” page on Facebook. This article was first published on +972′s Hebrew-language sister site, Local Call. Read it in Hebrew here.

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