Quarreling about Peace

Shimon Peres talking about peace.

Shimon Peres talking about peace.

If you’ve ever wondered why it is so difficult to resolve the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, consider this: This week, there are two rallies in Tel Aviv to commemorate the 19th anniversary of the assassination of Israeli Prime Minster Yitzhak Rabin. The reason there are two rallies instead of a single big one: the organizers cannot agree on a shared message.

Last Saturday, I attended the “main rally,” where former President Shimon Peres, now in his nineties, stated that Israel stands at a crossroad and needs to choose between peace or total war. (I felt reassured by his optimism: I thought we already missed the turn a few decades ago!) This rally was sponsored by the Israeli Peace Initiative, an organization headed by Yitzhak Rabin’s son, Yuval Rabin, and promoted a message of peace and compromise.

The second rally, next Saturday, is advertised as the “central rally” and features as its keynote speaker Reuven Rivlin, the current president of Israel, an outspoken opponent of a two-state solution but also a fierce proponent of equal rights for Arab and Jewish Israelis. (Though it puzzles me how he manages to combine his support for equal rights with his support for the occupation. I guess we all have some leaks in our ideologies.) This rally, organized by a coalition of Israeli youth movements, promotes general democratic values of liberty, equality and justice, while explicitly refraining from promoting a two-state solution. It purports to be the more inclusive peace rally, inviting people of all different ideologies; not just those who are willing to compromise for peace. [!]

A group of students has begged the organizers to combine the two competing rallies into one united rally, so as to send a more powerful message advancing peace and democratic values. But, of course, nobody is willing to compromise. Yuval Rabin, of the “main rally,” evasively explained that he fully supports the competing rally but that a “prior commitment” prevents him from attending the other rally. The organizers of the “central rally” were less diplomatic. They claimed that the call for a united rally stemmed from ulterior motives (?), explained that their rally is the more inclusive one, and implied that the “main rally” represents only left-wing radicals.

Meanwhile, most people seem to have given up. Even my “radical” left-wing friends decided to stay home. “It’s supposed to rain. I don’t feel like getting wet at a pointless rally,” they said when I tried to coax them into accompanying me.

According to Haaretz, around 15,000 people attended the rally last Saturday. Next Saturday, a similar number may show up. If the rallies had been combined (and the weather had been more sunny) they could have had a big rally with close to a 100,000 people. And even then it wouldn’t have made much of a difference.

Conclusion: making war is much simpler than building peace. If even well-intentioned, (somewhat) like-minded activists cannot rise above their political differences to organize a rally, imagine what would happen if actual enemies tried to agree on a compromise for peace!