What is your view on the new Israeli consensus that is forming around Kadima (the centrist party recently founded by Ariel Sharon)?
Lasky: It disturbs me greatly. When there is talk of a political arrangement and this doesn’t include the Palestinian side, rather just the racist needs of the State of Israel, that’s a problem. They disengage from Gaza but create chaos there, making it one big prison.
What about the claim that there isn’t any partner for negotiations?
Lasky: The concept of the Left has always been that we need to talk with the enemy. To say there’s no partner is one of the more successful spins of Israel’s politics, meant to torpedo any progress toward an agreement. Disengagement isn’t an agreement. The internal balance of forces in the Territories has changed since the Palestinian elections, true, but this doesn’t mean there’s no partner. The partner is whoever the Palestinian people elects.
If Meretz believes in negotiations rather than unilateral measures, why did it support the disengagement from Gaza?
Lasky: Disengagement is not a Meretz invention, but we had to decide whether to back it or not. We could not ignore the fact that the government of Israel, for the first time in its history, intended to move settlers out of the Occupied Territories. That doesn’t mean Meretz prefers the disengagement approach.
The new consensus that we mentioned accepts the route of the separation barrier as a permanent border, leaving Jerusalem and a large piece of the West Bank in the hands of Israel. What stand does Meretz take concerning this border?
Lasky: Meretz does not accept the separation wall as a political border. We talk about a Palestinian state within the borders as they were before the war of 1967. But let’s wait and see what the new government proposes.
Are we again heading toward a unilateral process in the West Bank without any leftist opposition?
b]Lasky: The idea that Israel can determine permanent borders unilaterally has no legal standing. The International Court of Justice in The Hague has ruled that the fence must correspond to the 1967 borders. The function of the Left is to bring about negotiations between Israel and the Palestinians toward the establishment of an agreed border.
Since Israel has American backing, what’s going to stop it from ignoring international law? After all, America ignores it. When it invaded Iraq, it thumbed its nose at the UN.
Lasky: Meretz must cry out more strongly against this. Unfortunately, today it is a party with only six mandates, and it’s hard to ask it to change the political map. The question is, where are all the people who ought to be supporting us? I can tell you, there are lots of people today who are wavering between Meretz and Kadima. A Left that wavers between Meretz and Kadima is a Left that’s very mixed up.
Or is Meretz mixed up? Its leader, Yossi Beilin, intends to be part of a government headed by Kadima.
Lasky: There hasn’t been any discussion to this effect, or any decision. That is the party chief’s personal position. Nevertheless, I wouldn’t rule out the statement that one is ready to be in a government that’s prepared to move toward a solution. That doesn’t mean we’re confused. If Kadima does not win a majority, and Meretz is the voice that decides Yes or No, then maybe we’ll also be able to influence the maps. I think you need to judge Meretz on a long range basis. Its deeds have proved themselves.
The central deed of Meretz was its unqualified support for the Oslo Agreement. In retrospect, how do you see the Oslo experiment?
Lasky: As one who has to deal with it on the legal level, it indeed left Israel as the ruling master in areas of life that don’t concern it. That’s a terrible thing. I see Oslo as a problematic experiment. The idea of an agreement in stages is not acceptable to me, but I must admit that I wasn’t among those who opposed it from the start.
When did your view of Oslo change?
Lasky: When I began to see how things were working on the ground: when Israel used the agreements to gore the Palestinians, while it itself violated them in the grossest way, and the Palestinians began to feel that they’d been cheated.
Is Meretz disappointed with the Palestinian partner?
Lasky: There’s mutual disappointment.
During the second Intifada, among the Israeli Left, an authentic movement of conscientious objection developed. Meretz turned its back on the refusers, even though they were a central current in the Zionist Left.
Lasky: That’s one of the issues where I differ from the central position of my party. I expected Meretz to support refusal openly, despite all the problems this would cause. I don’t think the party was courageous enough. The old school still exists in Meretz. This school thinks it’s better that opponents of the Occupation should be in the army and serve in the Territories.
The new trend on the Left is to abandon the decisive political questions and move instead toward a social agenda like that of Amir Peretz.
Lasky: I think that’s a bad mistake. Today, the weakest people are the inhabitants of the Occupied Territories who live under Israel’s rule. Peretz, as head of the Histadrut, did not defend them, just as he provided no defense for migrant workers. If you want to defend the weak in a society, you have to be sharp on the political issues as well – and not just follow in the wake of Kadima.
What positions does Meretz have on the questions of privatization, employment and the Wisconsin plan?
Lasky: There’s a tendency, when talking about human rights, to relate first of all to the classic rights: freedom of conscience, freedom of religion, and so on. That’s the first category. When a society develops, a second category enters the picture, that of social rights like housing, education and union organization. Meretz has proposed a basic law on social rights, which will anchor them in legislation. In addition there is a third category, which concerns environmental rights: development of infrastructures, prevention of air pollution, traffic, where to build a railroad station, and so on. Meretz needs to take the lead on these issues.
Beilin visited Wadi Ara on the weekend. What does Meretz offer the Arab voter?
Lasky: I think Meretz has done more for the Arab voter than the Arab parties have. I saw the Arab parties investing more in trips to Beirut and Damascus, and much less in the lives of the construction worker and the textile worker. The first Arab woman to occupy a seat in the Knesset, Hussniya Jabara, didn’t come from an Arab party but from Meretz. I am convinced that Meretz has plenty to offer the Arab voters, not just because of the need for cooperation between people who live in the same place, but also because it devotes itself fully to advancing the weaker group.
Meretz has come out with a controversial billboard campaign, answering the stereotypes of leftists that people have, like “bleeding hearts,” “do-gooders,” and so on. What do you think of this?
Lasky: The idea is to say, “I’m a leftist and I’m not ashamed of it.” The purpose is to unify the tribe, to come out of the closet proudly and put ourselves forward in the spirit of our slogan: “Meretz on the Left, the individual in the center.”