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Perils of Sharon Returns: Sharon Invictus? or "The Tragedy of Yossi Beilin"


When the Israeli disengagement plan fracas was all over, as I predicted, all the chicken littles who had been busy yelling "The government is falling," "The government is falling," went back to roosting in their coops, their rations by no means diminished by the fact that their prophecies had proven false. A few were quite bitter that Israeli PM Ariel Sharon hadn't "played fair" and had bent the rules of democracy way out of shape. Most of those people were not paying attention of course, when the right didn't "play fair" and the minions of Feiglin stacked the Likud voting lists with people who never voted for the Likud in order to assure right-wing control of the party. It's no fair if only one side has to play fair.

Sharon increasingly reminds me of another great general and statesman of bygone years - Gaius Julius Caesar. He understands that the important thing is to win. Winning often requires bending a few more rules than your enemies bent. Democracy is very good as long as the vote is on your side. Like Caesar, Sharon is more than a little corrupt; like Caesar, Sharon knows that even one false step in his career can prove fatal, and like Caesar, his career may be terminated by assasination. The West Bank and Gaza are now full of potential Brutuses and Cassiuses, announcing their intentions in the open more or less, or calling for others to do what "needs to be done," though most of them do not have a very lean and hungry look.

The disengagement plan is a fact now. The government will probably not fall, despite the fact that it is one vote short of a majority. If the remainder of the right-wing National Religious Party can become unstuck from its collective seats, their places will be taken by the Labor party. At present however, it seems that even the vote for disengagement could not unglue the NRP. They have a good rationale, beyond the personal benefits accruing to their ministers and the patronage benefits of being in the government: If the NRP leaves, so they say, the Labor party will enter the government, and that will be even worse. So they will stay and try to thwart the plan. When it comes time to vote about evacuation of the first group of settlements, they will no doubt find another excuse for staying in the government.

The disengagement plan is a fact, but the actual disengagement could be a chimera, like the evacuation of outposts that the Israeli government promised. This eventuality has caused the Labor party to keep its distance from the government for the time being. Labor is not talking about a unity government, or at least they say they aren't. Labor also didn't vote for the government in the recent no-confidence motion. The risk is that the fear of non-implementation may be a self-fulfilling prophecy. As long as the government requires the votes of the National Religious Party and the right wing of the Likud, there is always the possibility that at some point Sharon will find it politically expedient to abandon disengagement in order to stay in power, or that he will fail to muster the votes needed to decide on evacuating settlements. Of course, he can count on the terrorist groups to provide adequate excuses as to why any particular date is not a practical time for evacuating Gaza: they have already begun a spate of attacks aimed at frustrating disengagement.

Right now Sharon is offering extra inducements to the NRP to stay in the government, even though both of their ministers resigned. Perhaps he doesn't want to pay the political price that he would have to pay by admitting the Labor party to the coalition, or perhaps Labor really isn't interested in a unity government as Labor leader Shimon Peres has said. After all, we cannot discount the possibility, however, unlikely, that politicians are telling the truth. Even Peres has been known to tell the truth I think, and if I am mistaken, there is always a first time.

Somewhat less explicable than Labor's standoffishness is the attitude of the Yahad party (formerly Meretz in better days) which voted in favor of the no-confidence motion against Sharon. In an article entitled "Say no to Sharon," Yahad guru Yossi Beilin explained why:

If the government falls, early elections might be held and that could increase the chances for a change of regime. Only someone who has lost hope could prefer a vote of confidence in the worst government that Israel has ever had or even join it and help it continue to push us into the abyss."

It is impeccable logic and quite morally acceptable. It is the same logic, no doubt, that caused the German Communist Party to join the no-confidence motion which brought down the admittedly dismal German government, and allowed the Nazis to come to power.

Yossi Beilin would be at home in Geneva or perhaps in the USA, but he has never shown a great aptitude for understanding where he is living. That applies both to the Middle East in general, and to Israel in particular. The nature of the threat that Beilin's no confidence measure invites can be measured in a recent and very excellent article in the New Yorker by Jeffrey Goldberg. Goldberg does a good job of portraying settler attitudes toward peace, Israel, and Sharon, and also catches the attitudes of some of some of Sharon's rivals, who would almost inevitably be empowered if the government falls.

According to Goldberg, he had the following conversation with Effie Eitam, a once and future (if the government falls, as Beilin wants) government minister:

"I don't call these people animals. These are creatures who came out of the depths of darkness. It is not by chance that the State of Israel got the mission to pave the way for the rest of the world, to militarily get rid of these dark forces." Eitam told me that he believes there are innocent men among the
Palestinians, but that they are collectively guilty. "We will have to kill them all," he said. "I know it's not very diplomatic. I don't mean all the Palestinians, but the ones with evil in their heads. Not only blood on their hands but evil in their heads. They are contaminating the hearts and minds of the next generation of Palestinians."

Beilin may be comforted to know that he is not the only one who considers Sharon to be unpalatable. Goldberg relates the following conversation with a settler:

...The conversation turned to the far right's struggle against Ariel Sharon's plan to withdraw settlements from Gaza.

"He should die," Ezra said. "They should slaughter the fat pig."

The tragedy of the disengagement plan is that while it is very bad, it is the only viable option for making any progress toward a settlement that is available right now, so we must support it, and we must support the government that supports it. The tragedy of the Sharon government is that while it is undoubtedly one of the worst governments we ever had, it is NOT the worst - the Begin government that was responsible for 700% inflation and the Lebanon war was worse for example. Certainly, it is not the worst government that could be or would be if there were new elections. Beilin's strategy would put into power Avigdor Lieberman who rants about transferring Israeli Arabs and blowing up the Aswan High Dam, Effie Eitam who wants to kill all the Palestinians he considers to be bad, and the representatives of the settlers who want to kill Sharon. That government would be led by the architect of Israel's current "feed the rich and rob the poor" economic strategy, Benjamin Nethanyahu.

The tragedy of the Israeli left is that just when there was, finally, some hope of a revival of peace sentiment in Israel, the cooptation of Meretz by Yossi Beilin has robbed the Zionist left of any practical political representation.

Ami Isseroff

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Replies: 1 Comment

Ami, your analysis is sound. However, I would go further to say that "The Tragedy of Yossi Beilin" is really the tragedy of the Yahad Party which fails to come to grips with the dynamics of Israeli politics and is moving nowhere. It may have altruistic motives - but the realities on the ground are not what we wish. It would be wise in this context to support the Disengagement Agreement of Ariel Sharon.

The alternative of not supporting the Disengagement Agreement (in this context - supporting Ariel Sharon) could result in a strong right wing government coming into power assuming that a no confidence motion in the knesset is adopted and elections are declared. This would be a field day for the the Feiglin-Lieberman-Eitam axis.Surely Yahad would not want to be instrumental in creating that? After all, the left of centre is crumbling and is confused.

Posted by Shimon Z. Klein @ 06/11/2004 02:48 PM CST

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