Reply to Ilan Pappe on Amir Peretz

This letter was published in the London Review of Books.
I was happy to see Ilan Pappe open his article on Amir Peretz (London Review of Books, 15 December 2005) with a quote taken from my interview with the new leader of the Israeli Labour Party.
But there was little else in Pappe’s piece that I would approve of.

To sum up Pappe’s argument, it seems to be that while Amir Peretz might be a wee bit better than Sharon, it really doesn’t matter much. Israelis will continue with their Zionist project, and what we really need are boycotts and sanctions to secure justice for the Palestinians.
The article is filled with inaccuracies. Pappe sums up Amir Peretz’s relationship with Palestinian workers in the following way: the leader of Israel’s national trade union centre, the Histadrut, “did nothing to limit the organisation�s extensive involvement in the occupation: in areas directly or indirectly controlled by Israel, the Histadrut granted the settlers union rights while denying them to Palestinians; as for Palestinian workers in industrial plants within the border zones (areas inside the Palestinian Territories under direct Israeli control), it ignored their situation entirely despite their having no basic human or workers� rights.” And that’s it.
He completely ignores the historic 1995 cooperation framework agreements reached between Peretz, representing the Histadrut, and the Palestinian General Federation of Trade Unions (PGFTU). Those agreements, which followed the Oslo accords, have done much to create bonds of friendship and trust between the two country’s trade unions, and to give some hope to the Palestinian workers. The Histadrut has already transferred several million dollars in dues collected from Palestinian workers to the accounts of the PGFTU. In April this year, at a meeting in Brussels brokered by the International Confederation of Free Trade Unions (ICFTU) — to which both the Palestinian and Israeli centres belong — Peretz and his Palestinian counterpart “agreed to move forward quickly on finalising a joint cooperation agreement between the two organisations. Key issues for the agreement include access for Palestinian workers to employment in Israel, relief funds for Palestinian workers and their families, action to prevent and resolve cases of exploitation of Palestinian workers, implementation of a March 1995 Cooperation Framework, and perspectives for future cooperation between the two organisations.”
And that is just the tip of the iceberg. Amir Peretz has long been convinced that the Israeli occupation of Palestinian lands is like a cancer, eating away at the fabric of Israeli society. He has been fighting for more than 20 years for an independent Palestinian state and for Israeli withdrawal from occupied lands.
Pappe says that if Peretz were to come to power, the best the Palestinians could expect would be the Geneva Accord. Um — has Pappe read the Geneva Accord?
Do LRB readers know anything about them?
These were a set of agreements reached in December 2003 between Israeli doves, led by Yossi Beilin (now the leader of Meretz-Yahad) and a number of key Palestinian figures, led by Palestinian Authority minister Yasser Abed Rabbo (who apparently represented the views of Arafat). In other words, they are pretty close to what could be achieved when reasonable Palestinians and Israelis sit down and try to work out an agreement. If Pappe thinks they don’t go far enough in securing justice for the Palestinians, he should bring that up with the Palestinians who signed them. It seems to be a case of someone trying to be holier than the Pope.
Finally, Pappe is dismissive of Peretz’s chances to be Israel’s next Prime Minister. He bases his conclusions on — public opinion polls. That’s incredible, coming from an Israeli scholar. After all, polls only a few weeks ago showed Shimon Peres easily winning the Labour Party primaries. Polls several months ago showed Amir Peretz placing last among the various candidates for Labour Party leadership. Polls in Israel are almost always wrong, and consistently underestimate the strength of Amir Peretz.
Pappe will also be aware that all new parties of the Israeli political centre — parties headed up by media superstars like David Ben Gurion, Moshe Dayan, Ezer Weizman, and so on — all those parties turn out to be a flash in the pan. They all disappear the morning after the election. This will almost certainly be the fate of “Kadima”, the new party whose two leaders have between live been around for more than 160 years.
Ilan Pappe is convinced that there is no hope that Israelis will vote in a government committed to real justice for the Palestinians, and hence his call for international pressure. I wonder why he doesn’t simply form a political party of his own, run for the Knesset himself. I wonder how many votes he’d get.