The Guardian February 26, 2003


Most Israelis want peace

by Susan Webb

PORTO ALEGRE, Brazil  Most Israelis want a peaceful solution to the 
Israeli-Palestinian crisis, and the Bush administration's policies are 
"very unhelpful", Galia Golan, a leader of Peace Now, Israel's oldest and 
largest mass peace movement.

Golan, along with Shulamit Aloni, a member of assassinated Prime Minister 
Yitzhak Rabin's cabinet, and Ziad Abu Ziad, a member of the Palestine 
Legislative Council, participated in the World Social Forum on January 23-
28, speaking at a series of panels on the Israel-Palestine situation.

In an interview with the People's Weekly World, Golan, a professor 
of political science in Jerusalem, said polls show "a vast majority of 
Israelis agree with the idea of a two-state solution, a Palestinian state 
next to the state of Israel, and the vast majority are willing to see a 
withdrawal from the Occupied Territories, the dismantling of most or all of 
the settlements."

Peace Now was founded in 1978 by 350 reserve officers and soldiers from 
combat units in the army. "It's really quite unusual and significant: a 
peace movement founded by mainly young people who were in fighting units in 
the army," Golan said.

"I think one of the reasons it became a mass movement is that it came out 
of the centre of Israeli society with young people who said they are 
willing to fight for the country but they must believe that the government 
is doing everything possible to reach peace. It grew into a movement of 
hundreds of thousands of people."

"Today the vast majority of Israelis, whether they identify with Peace Now 
or not, do accept our positions. While we have not succeeded in bringing 
about peace, and we have not succeeded in bringing about a government that 
is willing to make peace, I think we have played a large role in changing 
attitudes within the country."

The Bush administration's strong support of the hard-line militarism of 
Ariel Sharon's government has been a very serious problem for Israel, Golan 
declared. "Clinton didn't do everything right perhaps, but he certainly was 
engaged and put forth ideas that I think were extremely helpful.

"The disaster for us is that the US is really the only country that has 
influence over the Israeli Government or the public, and the Bush 
administration has taken a very, very firm position in support of Sharon's 
policies, even to the point of supporting Sharon's refusal to negotiate, 
Sharon's refusal to meet with Arafat or to even acknowledge Arafat. I think 
this has been extremely harmful for us."

Nevertheless, Golan said she is confident there will be a return to the 
peace process. "The reason I'm confident is that the public has come a long 
way and is willing today to compromise, does want to see an end to the 
occupation and an end to the bloodshed.

"And I think that we have the same thing on the Palestinian side. There is 
a majority on both sides that wants to see an end to this situation."

A major problem for the Israeli peace movement, said Golan, is that it is 
identified with the European-born middle class elite and "we have had very 
great difficulty in breaking this image."

In addition, she said, the fundamentalist orthodox Jewish parties have 
directed their right-wing ultra-nationalist appeal to workers, playing on 
class divisions. Although there are movements for rights and ethnic pride 
among the oriental (eastern) Jews, who in addition to Israeli Arabs are the 
preponderant group in the working class, she said they tend to be allied 
with the ultra-orthodox and support the extremist right-wing government.

"One of the major things we have been trying to do is to demonstrate to 
people that the terrible rise in unemployment and severe hardship we have 
today inside Israel  where we have enormous numbers of people living 
below the poverty line and are now reaching 11 percent unemployment  
there is a connection between this and the absence of peace, a connection 
between this and our absence of security and the monies going into the 
settlements and protecting the settlers."

At the moment the biggest problem in Israeli society in general, said 
Golan, is that as a result of terrorism there has been a shift in 
sentiment, "on the one hand being in favour of compromise  a two-state 
solution  and on the other hand saying 'there's no one to talk to, all 
they want to do is throw us into the sea'. So these are the contradictions 
with which we have to deal."

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People's Weekly World

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