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The Primary Elections of the Kadima Party and the Bankruptcy of the Israeli Left

Monday 29 September 2008, by Sergio Yahni

In the wake of the resignation of Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert over a corruption scandal and following her win in the Kadima Party elections, Israeli Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni is attempting to form a new government coalition. Israeli public discourse artificially differentiates between “the political,” i.e. what should Israeli policies be towards the Palestinian people, and questions related to social and economic policies. In this discourse, “peace” and “security” become the primary variable defining the political realm, excluding fundamental social and economic questions. It is not surprising, then, that the primary elections of the Kadima Party focused largely on peace and security.

In his analysis of the Kadima primary elections, Uri Avnery states that “Mofaz presented himself not only as Mr. Security, but also as a genuine right-winger, a man who opposes both peace with Syria and peace with the Palestinians.” On the other hand, his contender, Tzipi Livni, writes Avnery, “presented herself as the personification of the peace effort, the woman who conducts the negotiations with the Palestinians, who prefers diplomacy to war, who points the way to the end of the conflict.”

It is true that Avnery recognizes these representations by Kadima contenders are nothing more than images created by public relation consultants. Still, he claims that “the important fact is that the Kadima voters, the most representative group in the country, accorded victory—well, a tiny victory—to the candidate who at least pretended to favor peace.”

Avnery concludes, “in Israel, 2008, the forces are divided equally between the ’Right‘ and the ’Left‘, and the ’Left‘ won this time by the smallest possible margin.”

Understanding that the term “Left” in Israel qualifies one’s position to be somewhere on the spectrum between peace and security, many experienced activists for peace came to the same conclusions. Some of them hope that Tzipi Livni as chair of the Kadima Party, and perhaps the next Prime Minister, will lead the country back to the peace process. Others sing songs of praise to her.

In an article disseminated by email, Gershon Baskin of the Israel-Palestine Center for Research and Information says “we need you [Tzipi Livni] to succeed. If you do, your success will be the success of all of us, and if you fail, your failures will impact our lives negatively for years to come.”

For Baskin, Tzipi Livni is more than a hope for peace, a success for the Left, but the very embodiment of true Zionist values, values that were forgotten during 40 corrupting years of occupation. He claims, “It is hard to imagine why a sane person would even desire to be in your place. But those of us who grew up in an ideological movement and were educated that we have a ’mission‘ in our lives, can understand the notion of ’din hat’neuah’—the judgment and determination of the calling of ’the movement‘ […] For you, it is not ego, for you it is the drive of mission and commitment, that is how you were brought up and it is obvious from the kind of person you have become.”

The different approaches of Baskin and Avnery are unambiguous. While Baskin goes on with his ode to Tzipi Livni, Avnery is conscious of the risks. As a key activist in the Israeli peace camp, Avnery knows that Livni may betray all expectations the day she becomes Prime Minister, but he counts on the assumption that the public who voted in the Kadima Party primaries represent Israeli public opinion. Moreover, he claims it will be up to the peace camp to mobilize the public and demand that election promises will be fulfilled.

However, both Avnery and Baskin contribute to the almost ontological separation between “the political” and “the social”, and therefore to the marginalization of Israeli and Palestinian disempowered populations, their desires and their political agency.

Since 1992, the peace process, which was accompanied by neoliberal socioeconomic policies, substantially contributed to the growing socioeconomic inequalities in the Palestinian and Israeli societies. The combined effect of a peace discourse voided of any social dimension, with neo-liberal policies that undermined social welfare networks, made peace appear as a relevant concern only for the wealthier population or individuals who had made unscrupulous gains during the process. Impoverished and marginalized communities developed resentments against the concept of peace and peace organizations.

While the ruling socioeconomic elites in Israel benefited from the peace process and its parallel economic growth, many Palestinians and Israelis experienced accelerated impoverishment, a dismantlement of the social welfare net and heightened social marginalization.

According to a report prepared by Dr. Shlomo Svisrky for the Adva Center, only those already in Israel’s top twenty economic percentiles benefited economically during the era of peace while the remaining 80 percent of the population began to earn less.

This social reality was reflected in the voting patterns expressed during the 2006 national elections in Israel. As we move from poorer to richer areas, support for the peace process rises, whereas it declines for groups that oppose the peace process. In the 2006 elections, voters in poorer areas tended to support parties that reject the peace process and even call openly for ethnic cleansing, while in affluent areas there was a growing support for parties fully committed to the peace process.

The peace industry that evolved during the process contributed to the disenfranchisement of the poor in the Palestinian and Israeli societies and to their exclusion from a political discourse limited to peace and security issues.

While the political negotiations were monopolized by the US, Europe entered into the peace process by promoting second and third track negotiations.

The history of the basic document in the Israeli-Palestinian peace process, the Declaration of Principles signed in Washington on September 13, 1993, reveals the relation of power that exists between Europe and the US. In 1993, Second track negotiations mediated by the Norwegian government were conducted by intellectuals in the suburbs of Oslo , but when a draft agreement was finally approved by the parties and the negotiations came to the hands of the politicians, the venue moved to Washington.

Since then, the venue for further political negotiations was the United States. Europe was relegated to people-to-people negotiations, promoting dialogue and a so-called culture of peace.

Europe poured millions of Euros into the region, taking on the role of an adherent to Washington’s policies while transforming the Israeli and Palestinian struggle for justice in the region into futile and limiting NGOs. Rights based approaches replaced the struggle for rights, reporting on human rights violations came instead of the popular struggle for those rights, petitioning the Israeli High Court of Justice replaced popular mobilization.

Under the umbrella of well-financed projects that created a new social class of peace professionals, “peace” became a hollow concept. However, Israel’s thanatopolitics, (which includes home demolitions, targeted assassinations, and checkpoints manned by cynical and abusive soldiers) which was challenged by the popular mobilization of the first Intifada, could be restored in its full glory in the era of the peace industry.

At the Kadima party primary elections, Shaul Mofaz, executioner of Israel’s targeted assassination policy, was defeated by a minor margin and for technical reasons. His victory would have meant beginning a new military offensive against the Palestinian people—after all, Mofaz’s only experience is with death and military offensives. However, the victory of Tzipi Livni does not mean the implementation of new policies towards peace. It means the industry of peace was saved. The Quartet can send their delegates back to the region and peace professionals can promote their reports and policy papers. In the meantime, the Israeli politics of death will continue to undermine any real possibility of peace.

On the other hand, Uri Avneri’s assumption that the Kadima party represents Israeli public opinion is wrong. Kadima represents the white middle class in Israel and its expectations. The Israeli white middle class is tired of wars and brutality. For the impoverished, social and economic brutality is a matter of everyday life.

The current state of affairs is one where the social and economic realities are excluded from the political discourse. Meanwhile, the neoliberal agenda with a concomitant peace and security discourse takes center stage and ignores the realities of most Israelis. Disenfranchised Israelis, left outside the debate by neoliberal policymakers, have largely rejected the peace discourse. The task of the Left should, therefore, be to work towards breaking this mode of exclusion by creating a new concept of peace in which social inclusion as an inseparable component.

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