Peace Now is Israel’s largest extra-parliamentary movement, and the country’s oldest peace movement. It promotes the thesis that sufficient Israeli concessions will bring peace between Israel and its Arab neighbors, and that Israel’s refusal to make the needed concessions — most notably dismantling the settlements and returning to its pre-1967 armistice lines — constitutes the main obstacle to peaceful coexistence. The organization spreads its message through public campaigns, advertisements, petitions, distribution of educational materials, conferences and lectures, surveys, dialogue groups, street activities, vigils, and demonstrations.
Peace Now came into being in the spring of 1978, about nine months after Menahem Begin had become Israel’s prime minister and ended the Labor Zionist monopoly on control of the government. Labor’s tenure had included the first ten years of Israel’s post-Six Day War control over the West Bank and Gaza, the Sinai and the Golan Heights. Labor’s policy with regard to ultimate disposition of the West Bank had been to pursue a division of the territory that would entail retaining key strategic areas while ceding to Arab control those regions that were home to the vast majority of Palestinian Arabs.
UN Security Council Resolution 242, passed in the fall of 1967, declared that Israel should return captured land and withdraw to “secure and recognized” boundaries in exchange for peace, but it did not call for Israel to cede all the captured territory. On the contrary, the authors of Resolution 242 stated explicitly that they believed Israel should not retreat to its former lines.
The division of the West Bank envisioned by Labor entailed Israel holding onto such key strategic regions — most of them sparsely populated — as the Jordan Valley, the heights overlooking the valley, some strategic heights dominating the coastal plain that is home to the bulk of Israel’s population, areas around Jerusalem crucial to the defense of the city, and the Etzion bloc, while ceding the rest to Arab sovereignty. To reinforce Israel’s claim to areas Labor sought to retain, the government pursued a policy of establishing “facts on the ground,” the so-called “settlement” communities, in those areas.
The Likud government elected in 1977 viewed the West Bank differently. Likud leaders questioned the wisdom of surrendering any of the region, given its significance as the cradle of Jewish history and faith, and they also disputed the state’s ability to defend itself should major segments of the area fall to the control of potentially hostile forces. Likud supported the establishment of Jewish communities beyond the regions which Labor sought to retain, most notably in places of historical and religious significance.
In the context of the Israeli-Egyptian peace accord which Likud Prime Minister Begin reached with Anwar Sadat in 1978, Israel agreed to negotiate an interim autonomy plan for the West Bank and Gaza, with autonomy succeeded by a permanent status arrangement to be hammered out by the parties during the interim period. Israel and Egypt subsequently engaged in a dialogue on setting up the autonomy plan. The talks were condemned by all other Arab parties and ultimately ended without progress, but Likud’s official policy became pursuit of Arab autonomy in the West Bank under Israeli sovereignty.
Peace Now’s creation was in the context of demonstrations against what its adherents perceived as Begin’s not moving quickly enough or being forthcoming enough in his negotiations with Sadat. But the organization formulated tenets concerning the Arab-Israeli conflict and disposition of the territories that transcended the Israeli-Egyptian talks.
According to Mordechai Bar-On, himself an early member of Peace Now and author of the definitive 1996 book on the Israeli peace movement, In Pursuit of Peace, those tenets included:
The thinking in Labor since 1967, and of the authors of Resolution 242, had been that peace required some retention of territory by Israel and that a return to the pre-1967 lines would be incompatible with peace. Labor established settlements because it deemed retaining the settled areas vital to achieving an enforceable peace. Peace Now was articulating a blanket condemnation of settlements, which placed it at odds with Labor’s strategic assessments and longstanding Labor policy.
The Peace Now conviction that Israel’s Arab adversaries were now receptive to peace, and that Israel need only make sufficient concessions, was not prompted by the recent opening of talks with Egypt. In fact, Egypt was vehemently condemned and ostracized by all other Arab states for its negotiations with Israel. The rest of the Arab League continued to adhere to the principles embraced in Khartoum in the wake of the 1967 war: “no negotiations, no recognition, no peace.”
The impetus to the Peace Now stance consisted essentially of two elements: (a) exhaustion with the ongoing Arab war against Israel, and (b) wishful thinking. Those attracted to the organization were people unwilling to reconcile themselves to the reality that Israel’s Arab adversaries were in control of deciding whether there would be peace, and that, with few exceptions, their decision, as demonstrated in words and deeds, was against Israel’s existence. The members of Peace Now instead embraced the delusion, and promoted to the wider Israeli and global public the fraud, that control of the situation was really in Israel’s hands and that sufficient concessions would inexorably win peace.
Peace Now’s inverting of reality is dramatically illustrated by Bar-On in his introduction to his history of the peace movement. He declares that it is “a moral obligation for Israel to resolve the hundred-year conflict with its Arab neighbors.” The statement implies that Israel is capable by its own actions of bringing about peace, and that if the conflict remains unresolved it is because Israel has failed to meet its moral obligation.
Peace Now’s conviction of an Arab side readily offering peace if Israel would only make sufficient concessions ultimately degenerated into seeing in Yasser Arafat and his PLO the partner for its envisioned peace, and nothing Arafat and his cadres did could shake the organization from this conviction.
For example, Peace Now embraced the declarations of the November 1988 Palestine National Conference (PNC) meeting in Algiers as evidence of the PLO definitively offering an olive branch to Israel, when in fact this was hardly the case. At the meeting, the PNC declared the establishment of the State of Palestine with Arafat as its President. It also proclaimed that it was doing so on the basis of UN Resolution 181. This was the General Assembly resolution in 1947 that had called for the creation of two states in the Mandate, one Jewish and one Arab, and that the Palestinian Arabs had rejected at the time. Resolution 181 entailed for Israel territories that were much smaller, and much less viable, than Israel’s pre-1967 domain. It was hardly a basis for negotiation now. But many involved with the peace movement hailed the PNC’s Algiers declaration as implicitly recognizing Israel’s right to exist.
When, in the following month, Arafat, with obvious reluctance, acquiesced to American demands that he state unambiguously a renunciation of terrorism, a recognition of UN Security Council Resolutions 242 and 338, and acknowledgment of Israel’s right to exist with peace and security, those within the peace movement embraced his doing so as additional evidence that the PLO had indeed decided to pursue genuine peace, and that a reciprocal Israeli response would seal the deal for peace. As Peace Now declared shortly after the PNC’s Algiers conference: “In Algiers the PLO abandoned the path of rejection and the Palestinian Charter and adopted the path of political compromise…”
Counter-evidence included statements by PLO leaders, in communications with their constituents, of Arafat’s organization’s continued dedication to the PLO covenant and its focus on Israel’s annihilation. But Peace Now disregarded this evidence. Similarly ignored by the true believers were: (a) Arafat’s own assurances to his people of his steadfast allegiance to the “plan of phases” whereby Israel would be destroyed incrementally, and (b) the PLO’s continuing involvement in terrorist attacks on Israel.
Peace Now’s predilection to fraudulent recasting of realities can be seen again in the organization’s response to Arafat’s embrace of Saddam Hussein following his invasion of Kuwait in 1990, and to the Palestinians’ wide endorsement of Arafat’s stance and of Saddam’s threat to “burn half of Israel.” Some within the Peace Movement, invested in their own comprehension of Palestinian attitudes and aspirations, were, in Bar-On’s words, “profoundly disturbed and confused” by this rallying to Saddam.
But Peace Now was undeterred from casting Israel as the obstacle to peace and Arafat as a ready partner if Israel would only treat him as such. The organization was soon attacking the government for its negative reaction to Arafat and to the Palestinians’ alliance with Saddam. It accused the government of seeking “to manipulate the political mistakes which the Palestinians and the PLO have made in order to advance” its own, insufficiently forthcoming, policies. Notable in this statement is the whitewashing characterization of the actions of the PLO and its supporters as “political mistakes” — a phrase suggesting that Arafat and his followers were in fact seeking a resolution of the conflict along the lines proposed by the peace movement but were simply going about pursuing it in the wrong way.
Another illustration of Peace Now’s willful distortion of reality was its depiction of its Palestinian interlocutors, particularly those who were connected to the PLO but were not officially part of it and so did not fall under Israel’s ban at the time on Israeli contacts with the PLO. Most notable among these interlocutors was Faisal Husseini, who in November 1992 had told an Arab audience: “We have not conceded and will not surrender any of the existing commitments that have existed for more than 70 years…. We have within our Palestinian and united Arab society the ability to deal with divided Israeli society…. We must force Israeli society to cooperate … with our Arab society, and eventually to gradually dissolve the ‘Zionist entity.'” Husseini had expressed similar sentiments on other occasions and, after the initiation of Oslo, he had characterized the Oslo accords as the Palestinians’ Trojan Horse (i.e., its means of penetrating the Jewish state in advance of destroying it).
Peace Now’s Mordechai Bar-On, speaking of the period during which Hussein gave the speech just quoted, states: “A new generation of Palestinian leaders was emerging…. Younger people like … Faisal Husseini … Most of the peace groups on the Israeli side maintained contacts with these new leaders and tried to persuade Israelis that these Palestinians could be partners in negotiations.”
Peace Now viewed those Israelis who were not persuaded — those who took Arafat and his followers at their word when they declared that their goal remained Israel’s annihilation — as being under-educated and overly devoted to a narrow-minded religious traditionalism that prevented them from being able to recognize the Palestinian leadership’s genuine desire for peace.
Bar-On, for example, notes that the Sephardic Jewish community in Israel tended to be more distrustful of Arab intentions and adds that this seemed, in surveys, to be related to educational level and level of religious traditionalism. He also makes the point that segments of the Ashkenazi community that were less educated and more traditional were likewise more distrustful of the possibilities for genuine peace than were Israel’s elites. Bar-On concludes: “Higher learning, it is believed, exposes individuals to a wider variety of opinions, trains them in new analytical and flexible modes of thought, and enables them to relate to issues in a less emotional and more self-critical way, which leads to greater tolerance and understanding of the ‘other’ and of the complexity of the issues.”
Another development that has likewise been embraced by many within the peace movement, including within the ranks of Peace Now, has been what is widely called “post-Zionism.” The adherents of post-Zionism have essentially argued that the Jewish accoutrements of the Jewish state, even Israel’s overt self-characterization as a Jewish state, are offensive to Arab sensibilities and that more or less jettisoning these elements of national identity are among the self-reforms Israel should undertake to win the peace readily available for sufficient concessions.
Advocates of post-Zionism have often cast their agenda of reforms as in the interest of “universalist” and “democratic” ideals. But others have explicitly declared that their enthusiasm for de-Judaizing Israel lay in the desire to appease its Arab adversaries. For example, shortly after the start of the Oslo process, David Grossman, one of the prominent Israeli literati associated with Peace Now, opined that, to see the process through to its fruition in peace, Israelis must concede to the Arabs not only geographic territories but territories of the soul. That is, they must surrender their belief that it is of overriding importance for the Jewish people to have the military capacity to defend themselves in their own land; their belief that the Holocaust was evidence of the necessity of this; and their belief that the willingness of Israelis to sacrifice for the defense of the country, and to want to take an active role in that defense, is a virtue. They must yield even their belief in the value of Jewish peoplehood.
In his assertions about the need for such concessions in the service of “peace,” Grossman takes steps toward setting aside the lie that his and others’ advocacy of these steps simply reflects a high-minded devotion to “universalist” and “democratic” principles. But the statement still perpetuates the fraudulent assertion — based on exhaustion with the siege and a desperate and overwhelming desire for its end — that a sufficient number of self-abnegations by Israel can win Israel the peace it desires no matter how much the objective evidence of words and deeds by the other side indicates otherwise.
The Oslo accords marked the pinnacle of the Peace Now agenda. Israel embraced Arafat and his PLO as its peace partner and began the process of handing him control of Gaza and the West Bank territories. Peace Now celebrated the accords and was silent in the face of declarations and actions by the Palestinian leadership that suggested an intention other than peace.
For example, on the very night of the famous Rabin-Arafat handshake on the White House lawn in September 1993, Arafat appeared on Jordanian television and told Palestinians and the wider Arab world that they should understand Oslo in terms of the PLO’s 1974 program; that is, the “plan of phases.” Arafat repeated his characterization of Oslo as the first phase in the “plan of phases” at least a dozen times within the first month of signing the initial accords, and he and his lieutenants did so many times thereafter. Arafat also repeatedly compared Oslo to the Treaty of Hudaibiya, which Mohammed had signed in 628 and abandoned when his forces became strong enough to overwhelm his adversaries.
Peace Now’s ignoring of such declarations was matched by its silence when Palestinian media, mosques and schools incited their audiences, worshipers and students to hate Jews and dedicate themselves to Israel’s destruction. If Peace Now’s representatives broke their silence on Palestinian incitement, it was mainly to condemn those Israelis who invoked such incitement as evidence that Israel’s partners were not interested in peace.
Peace Now’s silence also extended to the terror that ensued upon the initiation of Oslo, and to evidence of Arafat’s involvement in the terror. In the 22 months from Arafat’s July 1994 arrival in the territories, to the May 1996 fall of the Labor-Meretz government that had initiated Oslo, more than 150 lives were lost to anti-Israel terror. This far exceeded the toll in any comparable period in Israel’s history up to then. But Peace Now and its representatives continued to insist that Arafat and his PLO were offering Israel peace, and that all that was needed were sufficient Israeli concessions.
The terror was the major factor in Israel’s electing Bibi Netanyahu as prime minister in the May 1996 balloting. Netanyahu declared that Israel would make no further concessions until Arafat’s Palestinian Authority lived up to its earlier commitments to end anti-Israel incitement and terror as well as fight other Palestinian organizations engaged in terror. Peace Now’s response to this stance was to characterize Netanyahu as obstructing progress towards “peace.”
Peace Now continued to hew to this stance even in the wake of the July 2000 Camp David negotiations and Arafat’s subsequent launch of a wide-scale terror war against Israel. At the talks, Ehud Barak, then prime minister, offered territorial concessions far beyond what commentators had thought any government would be willing to cede. More importantly, his offer far exceeded what virtually all military observers believed prudent, given Israel’s strategic challenges. According to Dennis Ross, the Clinton Administration’s chief negotiator for the Arab-Israeli conflict and a key participant at Camp David, Barak was prepared to transfer to Palestinian sovereignty some 91% of the West Bank as well as all of Gaza. This included all but a small sliver of the Jordan Valley and other territory long deemed by both Labor and Likud as vital to Israel’s security and survival. In addition, Barak agreed to give some pre-1967 Israeli territory to the Palestinians. Israel also offered to cede parts of Jerusalem and even compromise its sovereignty in the Old City, including on the Temple Mount.
The summit continued for two weeks. But, despite the dimensions of the Israeli offer and intense pressure from President Clinton, Arafat rejected the Israeli proposals. He did so without making any counter-offer on the territorial issues. In addition, Arafat demanded at the summit that Israel accede to the Palestinians’ so-called “right of return,” the claimed “right” of all Palestinian refugees from the 1947-48 war and their descendants not only to move to the nascent Palestinian state in ceded territories but to “return” to “homes” within Israel’s pre-1967 lines. The admission of millions of Arabs to Israel would, of course, grossly alter the demographics of the state and is, in effect, a formula for the dismantling of Israel as the Jewish national home, the fulfillment of Jewish national self-determination.
Notwithstanding Arafat’s refusal to accept Israel’s offer, and his continued prosecution of his terror war, Peace Now persisted in promoting its claim that the chief obstacle to peace was Israel’s desire to hold onto some of its settlements and its refusal to make sufficient concessions.
Vis a vis the January 2006 parliamentary elections where Hamas effectively took control of the Palestinian Authority, Peace Now affirmed its own “respect” for “the Palestinian people’s democratic decision,” and reiterated its view that Israel’s “illegal outposts and the settlements” were “major obstacles” to an Arab-Israeli peace settlement.
In early 2008, Peace Now was found by the Israeli government to have violated Israeli law by using money ostensibly intended for an educational non-profit entity, to fund instead political activities. According to The Jerusalem Post, the government finding meant, among other things, that the organization’s American supporters would no longer be able to claim their donations as tax-deductible.
Peace Now says that while it “appreciates foreign support for a two state solution and concern for the suffering of both Palestinians and Israelis, Christians, Muslims and Jews,” it opposes anti-Israel divestment campaigns because such “punitive, divisive measures” tend to “harden” people’s hearts and thus reduce the prospects of peace.
Peace Now does not object to Israel’s right to build a security fence along the Green Line, but complains that “the actual fence continues to be constructed deep within Palestinian territory” and, as such, “is intended to destroy all chances of a future peace settlement with the Palestinians and to annex as much land as possible from the West Bank. ” Adds Peace Now:
“[Israel’s] government is building a wall designed to imprison millions of Palestinians in enclaves, in order to destroy any means of livelihood and free movement and push them towards transfer. The government is annexing Palestinian villages in several places and separating between Palestinian villagers and their land and sources of livelihood in other places.”
Most of this profile is adapted from the article, “Peace Now: A 30-Year Fraud,” written by Kenneth Levin and published by FrontPageMag.com on September 5, 2008.