American Jews Israel Israeli Labor Party Israeli occupation Israeli settlements

The Labor Party’s new flirtation with the settlers

I don’t think there is much chance of resolving the Israeli-Palestinian conflict without a revival of the parliamentary left –or at least left-center– in Israel, the development of a powerful and consequential counterweight to the aggressive right. (Of course, there is not much chance of resolving it even if there were such a revival, but a more powerful peace camp would certainly increase the odds of a breakthrough).

That is why Noam Sheizaf’s article in about the new, official face of the Labor Party is so sad. The piece is entitled “Here is your peace camp: Labor’s supportive visit to the settlements:”

Last week, members of the Labor party, including the party’s Secretary-General Hilik Bar and several advisers to Knesset Members and ministers, went on a visit to the West Bank. Labor members visited the Barkan industrial park, the Ariel academic center and several settlements in the area of Nablus, east of Israel’s security barrier and well outside what is sometimes referred to as “the settlements blocks”. The tour was hosted by the head of the Yesha Council (the settlers’ representative body), Danny Dayan.

The article then cites a report by right wing journalist Hagai Huberman, who covered the visit:

Hilik Bar, the new secretary general of the Labor Party, surprised his hosts by saying: “Judea and Samaria is the land of our fathers and the Bible, and the Labor Party and its members are not disconnected from what this region represents, historically and religiously. We should all stay true to the legacy of the nation’s Fathers and Mothers, and pass it on from generation to generation. Labor belongs to the center and not to the far left […] we feel closer to the settlements’ people here than to the far left.”

While Mr. Bar’s hosts might have been surprised by these remarks, those who know Labor have given up hope on this party a long time ago. Labor, it should be reminded, never evacuated a single settlement. In fact, the colonization of the West Bank started on the party’s watch back in the seventies, and a decade ago, under Ehud Barak’s short lived government, the settlements prospered in ways Binyamin Netanyahu could only dream of. Mr. Bar – a former adviser to Labor’s strongman Binyamin “Fuad” Ben-Eliezer – is right: in visiting the West Bank’s settlements, he simply follows the party’s line.

I think Sheizaf is being a bit harsh and simplistic by calling settlement expansion the “party line” of Labor. Labor Party leaders didn’t want the settlements to expand in the 1990s. Some, notably Yitzhak Rabin, stood up to the settlement movement. But for a variety of reasons, mostly having to do with political expediency, Labor acquiesced. They caved in.

That’s all dirty water under the bridge. It really doesn’t matter, at this point. What matters is that, while a few brave souls are trying to reconstitute the left wing of Labor and calling for the party to leave the coalition government, others appear to be leading it steadily to the right. In another post, Sheizaf points out that most Labor MKs were conspicuously absent when the Knesset recently voted to probe human rights NGOs.

Who in the world is going to vote for that party? Why –other than the perks of power that are enjoyed by a dwindling number of Knesset members– does it exist?

6 thoughts on “The Labor Party’s new flirtation with the settlers

  1. And what is the difference between Labor and Kadima? And, most importantly, how does this Hilik Bar character think the Labor Party is going to raise money in the States????

  2. I think it is important to remember some historical facts:
    The Labor Party was created as a Zionist party. Zionism’s basic philosophy was (1) Settlement of the Land, (2) Absorption of Immigrants (Kibbutz Galuyot), (3) Security.

    These things were the ABC’s of the Labor Zionist movement. That’s why it was natural for them to support the initial settlement drive in Judea/Samaria after the Six-Day War. After all, there were Jews living in those areas before 1948, including both “old yishuv” communities like those in Hevron, Gaza, Shechem, etc, but pioneering Labor Zionist settlements in Atarot, Beit Ha’arava, Gush Etzion, etc.
    The Labor Party, when in power up to 1977 never recognized a “Palestinian people” (neither did anyone else-the UN Security Council Resolutions 242 and 338 which regulated Israel’s presence in Judea/Samaria after the Six-Day war don’t mention the Palestinian either). It was Begin and the Likud that was the first to recognize the “legitimate rights of the Palestinian people”.
    The Labor Party viewed the 1949 cease-fire lines as just that, not an “international border”, just as the Arabs view them. Arabs live on both sides of this line, so why can’t Jews?-this was the view of the Zionist Left.

    MOST ISRAELIS TODAY STIL SUBSCRIBE TO THESE VALUES. Apparently, Labor Party people have come to realize this…that the new post-Zionist and anti-Zionist views of radicals like those at “972” do not reflect Israeli reality, including those of the moderate Left. The further Left the Labor Party went the lower it dropped in Knesset representation.

    Thus, instead of feeling an urge to vomit as Israeli Leftists the playwright Sobol (forgot his first name) when seeing a new Jewish community go up in Judea/Samaria, it is more natural for old-style Zionists to feel pride and accomplishment and it seems this is what the Labor Party is apparently trying to tap into, especially as the realization that the prominence of the post-Zionist and anti-Zionist ideology on the Left has only encouraged the Arabs not to negotiate, figuring they will get everything eventually without having to make any compromises.

  3. I think Labor just remembers the result of Rabin’s “the settlers can spin like propellers” talk and is determined not to repeat his mistake. Everybody knows that Labor will sell them out the first chance they get for a peace agreement. It’s not as if anyone’s being fooled. But if the chance of a peace agreement is close zero, and the chance of real peace is about a hundred times closer to zero than that, with or without the post-1967 settlements, and everybody knows it, then what does Labor have to lose by this sweet talk now? Who says the Israelis are too rude to understand the importance of polite, superficial gestures?

    The real Zionist left disappeared in September 2000, so it’s not like Labor has that many options.

  4. Teddy,

    The difference between Labor and Kadima is that the former is a real party with a coherent ideology and history. Kadima is just the latest appearance of the Dash phenomenon–a centrist party that is put together by taking opportunists or rebels from the two main parties along with a few from the private sector and throwing together a platform that no one takes seriously. Kadima was organized around the personality and electoral charisma of Sharon. He went away after decades of dietary indulgence and was replaced by a corrupt former mayor. Olmert quickly lost electoral value and was replaced by Livni. But because Livni, like Obama, is a new inexperienced politician she faces considerable challenges from Mofaz. Kadima is as divided today as Labor was between Rabin and Peres from 1974 to 1993.

    The fate of the liberal Center-Left can be expressed by the type of mathematical formula that social scientists love.

    L2 + M2=L1

    That is the combined strength of Labor and Meretz in the Knesset after an election is equal to the strength of Labor alone before the election. This has generally been the rule since 2000.

    The only possible solution to Labor’s problem would be to adopt and adapt the solution that the antislavery forces used in the mid-1850s. The Free Soil Party merged with the Northern Whigs to form the Republicans and combined the Whig economic policy with the antislavery approach of the Free Soilers. This worked because the North was ripe for this following the passage of the Kansas-Nebraska Act in May 1854 that nullified the Missouri Compromise of 1820 that had been the gold standard of compromise.

    For the situation to be ripe, Labor and Meretz would have to be able to agree on a common peace policy that would not be dependent on the good will of Fatah and Hamas. Hamas doesn’t want a final solution at this time and demands terms for a temporary solution that are too high to pay. Essentially for the Center-Left to make any real progress with the electorate the Right’s approach of imposing Israel’s will on the Arabs has to be exposed as a fallacy. Until that happens the Center-Left cannot prosper.

    As Ya’akov points out Labor flourished when it fulfilled the early Zionist imperatives. This was at a time when there was no serious hope for peace. The PLO’s agreement to Oslo changed the equation. The Al-Aksa Intifada changed the equation back again, but the Center didn’t make the adjustment.

    But the problem isn’t just the weakness of Labor in Israel, it is also the weakness of the Fatah moderates within their own party and within the Palestinian polity. As long as the Palestinians are divided between Gaza and the West Bank, Fatah cannot appear to be less nationalist than Hamas. Fatah cannot appear to compromise.

    A solution for Labor would involve a policy of hawkishness on terrorism while being open to settlement freezes and compromise.

    But this also presupposes a functioning party system that allows for coalitions with a viable policy. Israel has always been in the same situation as the French Fourth Republic in the 1950s. France withdrew from Indochina only after suffering a major defeat at Dien Bem Phu in 1954. It withdrew from Algeria only after a coup d’etat put De Gaulle in power and allowed him to change from a parliamentary system to a semi-presidential one. Which will Israel suffer first: a major military defeat or a coup d’etat?

  5. Tom (and everyone else):

    What I omitted from my post has also been excluded from the comments: Labor also has a domestic, social agenda, and one of the main reasons why Herzog and Braverman have defended staying in the government has been to minimize an assault on the social safety net. But my impression (and it’s just that, not based on research) is that Labor is confused in this regard, because, like the Democratic Party in the States, it wants to have it both ways: free up the energy of entrepreneurial capitalists and attract foreign investments while still somehow preserving ties with the Histradrut and maintaining its commitment to the welfare state…

  6. Dan,
    When I studied Israeli politics in Israel, the professor referred to Labor as a “supermarket party” like the American parties–something for everyone. This is what results in what you term “confusion.”

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