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What Is Israel's Peace Now?

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peace now demonstrators

Peace Now, the Israeli human rights organization, was founded in 1978 and named after placards like these, when Israeli army soldiers and reservists protested then-Prime Minister Menahem Begin's hard line against peace negotiations with Arabs.

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Question: What Is Israel's Peace Now?
Answer: Peace Now (in Hebrew, שלום עכשיו, or Shalom Akhshav) is one of Israel’s largest human rights and non-governmental organizations. Founded in 1978 as a protest movement against the Israeli invasion of Lebanon that year, Peace Now opposes Israeli expansionism and occupation of the Palestinian territories of the West Bank and Gaza and the Syrian Golan Heights.

The organization favors a two-state solution to the Palestinian-Israeli conflict, based on land-for-peace swaps according to international law (as set out in United Nations resolutions 242 , 252, 476 and 478, among others), and along the precedent set by the Egyptian-Israeli peace accord of 1979. In Peace Now’s words, “The basic principles of the movement from the outset were the right of Israel to live within secure borders and the right of our neighbors to do the same, including the right of Palestinians to self-determination.”

Historical Context of the Movements Birth

In November 1977, Egyptian President Anwar el Sadat broke a psychological barrier by traveling to Jerusalem and addressing the Israeli Knesset with an offer of permanent peace in exchange for Israel’s return of the lands it conquered in the 1967 war, including Egypt’s Sinai. Then-Prime Minister Menahem Begin did not respond in kind.

Four months later, Palestine Liberation Organization terrorists launched a raid on coastal Israel that resulted in the death of 37 Israelis and nine Palestinians. As much in retaliation as to send a message to Egypt that peace talks at one end would not hamstrung Israeli military operations at another, Begin launched Operation Litani, a devastating invasion of Lebanon that ostensibly aimed to destroy PLO bases there.

A segment of the Israeli public saw the invasion for what it was—an attempt, in line with Begin’s Likud Party and Zionist-inspired ideology, to extend “Greater Israel”’s boundaries. The invasion, coupled with Begin’s refusal to negotiate more earnestly with Sadat, triggered a soul-searching debate in Israeli society. As New York Times columnist James Reston wrote in March 1978, "influential Israelis who think Mr. Begin is too rigid and the invasion of Lebanon too extreme, are saying very little in public, but in private they are obviously troubled and feel trapped between their loyalty to the government and doubts about Mr. Begin's policies."

Origins of Peace Now

At the same time, 348 Israeli soldiers and reservist members of the Israel Defense Forces wrote an open letter to Begin putting their concerns bluntly:

We are writing this with deep anxiety, as a government that prefers the existence of the State of Israel within the borders of “Greater Israel” to its existence in peace with good neighborliness, will be difficult for us to accept. A government that prefers existence of settlements beyond the Green Line to elimination of this historic conflict with creation of normalization of relationships in our region will evoke questions regarding the path we are taking. A government policy that will cause a continuation of control over million Arabs will hurt the Jewish-democratic character of the state, and will make it difficult for us to identify with the path of the State of Israel.
The soldiers’ anxiety was echoed in sights and signs outside Begin’s office, where protesters held up placards calling for “peace now.” A movement was born. Peace Now took its name from those placards.

Peace Now’s Influence

Peace Now demonstrations in 1982, opposing the war in Lebanon, helped turn Israeli public opinion against the war, as did Peace Now’s demonstrations protesting the Israeli-supervised massacre, by Lebanese Christian militias, of Palestinian civilians in the Beirut refugee camps of Sabra and Shatila. In 1988, when the PLO recognized Israel’s right to exist for the first time, Peace Now led a demonstration that drew 100,000 people, calling for immediate Israeli-Palestinian negotiations toward a permanent peace. The following year, Peace New drew 15,000 Israelis and 15,000 Palestinians in its Hands Around Jerusalem peace demonstration.

According to Pace Now, a particularly important ongoing project is the organization’s Settlement Watch, “which monitors – and protests, the building of settlements, including housing tenders, expropriation of lands, budget allocations, and the like, along with studying settlers attitudes regarding possible evacuation (and compensation) in the West Bank and East Jerusalem. Known for their credibility and reliability, the data and maps produced in the framework of this project have raised public awareness of the terrible price Israel is paying for these obstacles to peace. Indeed one of the objectives of Peace Now is to convey the sense of the harm incurred to Israel not only by the economic and political aspects of continued occupation, but also the moral damage done to the values and fabric of Israeli society – in addition to the untold hardship incurred on another people, the Palestinians.”

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