Israelis Divided Over Camp David Summit

By Julie Stahl | July 7, 2008 | 8:08 PM EDT

Jerusalem ( - Israelis on the left and right as well as Palestinians have taken to the streets to express their views about the milestone Middle East summit taking place at Camp David, Maryland under the guidance of President Clinton.

Both those who support Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak's peacemaking moves and those who oppose his current initiatives are expressing themselves through prayer, demonstrations and a hunger strike.

At a tent set up across from the Knesset, a handful of veteran Israelis have undertaken not to "eat, drink, work or do anything routine" until the US summit is finished and Barak returns home. Most of them were part of an original core of Gush Emunim leaders who began a grassroots movement to obtain the right to settle the Biblical areas of Judea and Samaria, known as the West Bank.

The so-called "right wing" has made it clear that they are not against peace or even negotiations with the Palestinians, but they are against unilateral concessions that they believe would endanger the existence of the State of Israel.

Zvi Slonim was one of the founders of the settlement of Kedumim near PA-controlled Nablus. His grandmother was murdered in the Arab massacre of the Jewish community of Hebron in 1929.

"We believe Barak is going naked [to the summit]," Slonim said on Wednesday. "He doesn't have the people behind him. He's running to Clinton and Barak"

After losing the support of several ministers in his coalition and the backing of nearly half the Israeli lawmakers, Barak shifted tack and proclaimed that he was going to the summit with a mandate to make peace from the people who had elected him.

However, Slonim said that Barak ran on a ticket of improving social welfare. "Let him come back and deal with these problems," Slonim said.

Chaim Saperia, who lives on the Golan Heights - not an area in question in the current round of negotiations - said he is fasting because Barak has placed the residents of the Golan Heights, Judea and Samaria (the disputed West Bank) and the Jordan Valley "all in one boat."

Reports have said that Barak is willing to give up more than 90 percent of the disputed West Bank in exchange for a deal with the Palestinians. Several months ago, he was willing to cede the entire Golan Heights for an agreement with Syria before negotiations on a deal collapsed.

However, even it Barak were to give everything away, it wouldn't stop the violence, Saperia said. "Barak already realizes that we're [facing] war ...and he's trying to avoid it."

Dr Andre Waismann, a fasting medical doctor and major in the army reserve, said that he is on a hunger strike because he realized that giving up food is the "last weapon" a man has to show how deeply he believes in a cause.

Waismann, a father of five who immigrated from Brazil 20 years ago, used a medical metaphor to describe US involvement in the negotiations.

"Israel asked for aid from the US, [but] they gave us a lethal dose," Waismann said, referring to what most analysts agree as Clinton's final push to establish a legacy for himself as peacemaker through an Israeli-PA agreement. Now Israel is in danger of "losing its future independence," he said.

Thousands of settlers and religious Jews gathered at the Judaism's holy site, the ancient Western Wall, on Tuesday evening to pray for their country. Reading Psalms and Lamentations and blowing traditional ram's horns was their form of protest against the Camp David summit.

Any Agreement Will Be Fine

At the same time across town, five thousand left wing activists demonstrated in support of Barak and the peace process, answering a call from the Prime Minister not to abandon the streets to right wing protestors. Barak's wife, Nava, addressed the crowd that had gathered in front of their official residence.

According to polls, the so-called peace camp commands a 52 percent majority among the Jewish population. They are hoping that Barak will come home with an agreement.

The so-called "left wing" group supporting Barak is not so concerned with the particulars of an agreement, Didi Remez said.

Remez, spokesman for the five-day-old Peace Coalition - an umbrella organization uniting groups favoring the current political process - said that they believe that at this stage "its all or nothing."

"Any agreement that [Barak] brings back that the Palestinians accept, we'll accept," Remez added. "This is a decisive moment," Remez said, and they dread to think of the possibility that Barak might return without an agreement.

So confident are they of the outcome that they are organizing a giant rally at Rabin Square ten days from now to celebrate Barak's coming home with an agreement. Rabin Square in Tel Aviv is the place where the late Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin was slain at the end of a peace rally by an angry religious Jew opposed to his negotiating policies.

This coming Sunday, right wing protestors hope to fill that same square with tens of thousands of demonstrators from around the country who oppose the current summit.

Yehudit Tayar, director-general of the foreign desk of the Yesha Council of Jewish settlements in Judea, Samaria and Gaza, said the rally is against "the anti-democratic process and immoral direction" that the peace process is taking.

Tayar said they are opposed to Barak's going to the summit without governmental backing and believe that he is not concerned about the security interests of Israelis who live in settlements.

A similar massive rally in January against ceding the Golan Heights to the Syrians - which was so quiet that the media called it boring - was later credited as a major factor in the collapse of Israeli-Syrian negotiations in the spring.

Pressure on Arafat

Arafat is also being pushed not to make concessions. In PA-controlled Ramallah and Nablus, thousands of Palestinian children paraded through the streets in demonstrations organized by Arafat's Fatah movement.

They are designed to counter the pressure that Barak is under from home, which some PA leaders believe is a ploy to strengthen the Israeli leader's position at the summit.
They are also meant to send a message to the PA leader that he should not compromise on the issues of Palestinian rights.