- The Israeli Peace Movement: A Shattered Dream
The long and protracted conflict between the Israelis and the Palestinians had almost a full decade of hope during the 1990s. It started with the election of Yitzhak Rabin to the post of Prime Minister in 1992, it continued with the 1993 Oslo Agreements between Israel and the PLO, to be followed by a smear campaign of the Right which led to Rabin's assassination in November 1995, and it ended abruptly with the failure of the Camp David talks between Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak and PLO Chairman Yasser Arafat and the outbreak of the Al-Aksa Intifada in 2000. Despite the murder of Prime Minister Rabin, this decade raised a lot of expectations that, in a similar manner to the long Northern Irish and South African conflicts, which experienced breakthroughs that led to their resolution in the 1990s, a similar process could and would take place around the Israeli-Palestinian conflict as well.
The breakthrough of the Oslo Agreements (exactly like the Good Friday Agreement in Northern Ireland and the move towards democratic elections in South Africa) did not happen by a stroke of a pen; it was preceded by a concerted effort of a whole array of citizens' groups and organizations that [End Page 180] advocated a negotiated rather than a military solution to the conflict. This is the focus of Hermann's book, which not only analyzes such groups and their roles before the Oslo Accord but takes a much longer view of the Israeli Peace Movement, from the Pre-State era till the end of the first decade of the twenty-first century.
Hermann characterizes the Israeli peace movement as "peripheral" and analyzes the reasons for such a depiction—both contextual-societal reasons and internal reasons. But she argues that despite that fact, "the movement has been a significant factor in influencing the climate of opinion in Israel by persistently putting forward some unconventional and much-contested alternative readings of the conflict, thereby cultivating the ground for the transformation from armed conflict to peace negotiations" (p. 7). As has already been shown in other studies on that subject, the role of preparing the public for the transformation from an armed conflict to the stage of negotiation is probably the most important role of non-governmental citizens' peace groups and organizations. In the height of the conflict, when the country's leadership and media used inflammatory rhetoric to characterize the "enemy" and advocated a strategy of violence to deal with it, a different characterization was heard and a different strategy proposed to deal with the conflict. This was a slowly widening crack that later served as a legitimization of the negotiations. It gave a human face to the "enemy" and actually showed that the other side also wanted to end the conflict and that negotiations were possible.
Is this all the Israeli Peace Movement, composed of dozens of groups and organizations, did? Was it not a major factor to push the government towards negotiations? Even if it was, it is not possible to prove it; politicians involved in transformations tend to take the credit for such breakthroughs for themselves and are reluctant to admit that they were "pushed" by outsiders to take those bold steps. But even if the politicians are right and they were not "pushed" by citizens' groups, the role of preparing the public opinion for negotiations should not be belittled.
Meeting with representatives of the "enemy," discovering willingness on the other side to negotiate, creating dialog groups or joint planning groups of Israelis and Palestinians, preparing to solve together common problems such as the environment or water—all this shows the public that peace is not only possible but a much preferred option. Without their activity the move from armed conflict to negotiations would be too abrupt and hard to accept by the population. The role of these organizations is often forgotten, and the book is partly meant to compensate for this "collective amnesia."
A second focus of the book is...