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Wednesday, March 24, 2010

The Israeli Left needs to step up

There is a basic disconnect between the Western understanding of Israeli politics and the reality.

Westerners assume that the Israeli left is just like the American or European left as far as the Middle East is concerned. The EU in general, and the Obama administration in particular, have been conditioned by the media to think in simplistic terms of "Netanyahu=Likud=Hardliner=Intransigent" and that if only they would get rid of him, peace will reign.

They simply do not get that the vast majority of Israelis, right and left, agree that the majority of Jewish settlers must remain in Israel. The major settlement blocs are not up for negotiation. And, as a result, building within existing boundaries is not a problem.

Of course there is disagreement between the right and the left on many issues, but the positions of J Street and Eric Yoffe are so far divorced from that of the Israeli public as to make one wonder how out of touch they are.

The left-leaning Labor Party is a major component of the ruling coalition in Israel, and it is time for them to step up. They need to be writing the op-eds. They need to be visiting AIPAC conventions. The people who are adored by the Western Left - Peres and, to some extent, Barak - need to clearly articulate the red lines and the reason that they are red.

In recent weeks the discourse has changed from negotiating over the items that must be negotiated to negotiating over items that practically every Israeli thought was already settled. Abbas, by being far more intransigent than Netanyahu ever was, has succeeded in getting the Obama administration to allow him to change the rules of the game. He has added conditions that had never been demanded before, and the US is playing the role he intends it to play - pressure Israel to adhere to his new rules.

It is true that the Obama administration has reneged on agreements made with Israel, both recent and not so recent. But I think it is also true that the White House thinks that most Israelis agree with its "tough love" initiative.

During the Gaza war, Bibi Netanyahu went on a tour to explain the Israeli position - even though his party was not in power. Right now, it is time for not only Peres and Barak but also for Tzipi Livni to start speaking to the American and European Left and explain their positions clearly. It is time for them to write the op-eds for major newspapers and for them to speak to presidents and prime ministers. It is up to them to explain the difference between the mainstream Israeli left and the far left fringe that is misrepresented in the media. Otherwise, Israel is in danger of having a catastrophe imposed on it, a disaster that will not distinguish between the Left and the Right.