Renowned peace activist, journalist, and three-time Knesset member, Uri Avnery drew large crowds throughout a recent US tour.
Avnery has become a cult of personality among Israel's ultra-left politicians. He is a long-time critic of Israel's Palestinian policies and a a staunch proponent of the two-state solution despite the year-long Palestinian war against Israel, and despite obvious links between the Palestinian Authority (PA) and the terror groups responsible for hundreds of deaths in recent years.
As such, Avnery stands among the leaders of post-Zionism - a movement comprised of pro-Palestinian Israelis who are slowly eating away at the fabric of Israeli society. Not unlike those here in America who are apologetic for the terrorist attacks against America, the post-Zionist movement seeks to finger Israel itself as the source root for Palestinian brutality.
A closer look at Avnery's post-Zionist political vision reveals a neglect for the security needs of his own country. It reflects a quick-fix, knee-jerk response to some of the thorniest issues facing Middle East policymakers today. Indeed, Avnery made a number of alarming statements that need to be reexamined and corrected.
Avnery never properly addressed the threat militant Islam poses to a future Palestinian state, the prospects for peace, or more importantly, Israeli security. He dismisses the danger of Hamas and Islamic Jihad, claiming their popularity is "somewhere between 10 and 15%" among Palestinians. "When the Intifada broke out," he explained, "these groups became more popular, more motivated and took bolder actions. When the war is terminated, this [popularity] will go down again."
In truth, the popularity for Hamas and Islamic Jihad is estimated to be almost 30% among Palestinians, according to an October 13 poll conducted at Birzeit University in Ramallah. More alarming, however, is the fact that 75% of all Palestinians favor their tactics, namely suicide bombing attacks against Israeli civilians.
Palestinian Islamist groups are clearly the largest security threat to Israel, and therefore represent the largest obstacle to peace. Avnery and his supporters must recognize that as long as Palestinian Authority Chairman Yasser Arafat lets Islamic militants operate freely and Israeli lives are threatened, "land for peace" is a misnomer, and the creation of a Palestinian state is an impossible dream.
Mr. Avnery argues that as a prerequisite for Palestinian-Israeli peace, "a number of [Palestinian] refugees have to be returned to Israel proper. This is needed to heal the wounds as a symbolic gesture. We think Israel should accept 50,000 refugees a year for ten years, totaling a half-million refugees in ten years."
Avnery says that after taking in about one million Soviet Jews in recent years, "this is not a danger to the basic demographics of Israel." But Avnery is wrong again. Despite the recent influx of Soviet Jews, Israel is still demographically vulnerable.
Earlier this year, Israeli journalist Yair Sheleg published an article entitled "Arabs are a Demographic Threat," documenting the Israeli demographic problems posed by Palestinians and Israeli Arabs. He notes that the birth rate of Muslims in Israel (4.6 children per woman) is nearly double that of Israeli Jews (2.6 children). Today, approximately one in five Israeli citizens is a Muslim. Within 20 years, the ratio will be one to three. After that, it is only a matter of time before a Jewish majority is lost.
What the Muslim world has not been able to accomplish by force is slowly being achieved by stealth. Avnery must recognize that another half-million Muslims would only exacerbate a growing problem.
Mr. Avnery advocates the division of Jerusalem. He claims that we might learn from the example of "Rome, shared by Italy and the Vatican."
The Vatican, however, cannot be compared to the PA. First, the PA is under the control of Yasser Arafat, a man who launched his career as a terrorist, while the Vatican falls under the patronage of a Pope that works tirelessly for world peace. Further, the Palestinian charter calls for the destruction of Israel, while the Vatican has no such designs on the whole of Italy. Finally, East Jerusalem has a population of 155,000 that is willing to wage war for in the name of nationalism, whereas the Vatican has no demographic or ideological equivalent.
Avnery repeatedly refuses to recognize the belligerency of the Palestinian people, revealing a lack of depth and understanding of the issues at hand.
Citing Israeli policies as the major obstacle to peace, Avnery called on American Jews to question and challenge Prime Minister Ariel Sharon. Jewish Americans, he said, are afraid to oppose Israel's occupation of the Palestinian territories because they are "afraid to sound like anti-Semites."
"If Israel were to elect the house of Caligula," he said, "it would receive the organized support of American Jewry." With American Jewry behind his vision of peace, he told his audience, "you are saving Israel from itself."
These comments, while surface and unsubstantiated, would also anger Avnery's fellow countrymen. While American Jews often feel a strong connection to the issues facing Israel, Mr. Avnery knows that in the end, the major political decisions facing Israel must be left to the Israelis alone.
In the final analysis, a two-state solution may be inevitable, but Mr. Avnery's plan for its actualization often ignore or dismiss the most crucial issues. A critical look at Palestinian-Israeli diplomacy in recent years shows that it was this kind of mentality that led to the demise of the peace process in the first place.