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Springtime for Sharon


Only last week, it looked, for just a moment, as though the Israeli left had miraculously been resurrected by the election of Amir Peretz to the head of the Labor party, and the defection of Ariel Sharon from the Likud. What could be better than renewal at home and confusion in the camp of the enemy? However, it is apparently not to be. The Israeli political system is confusing, surprising and illogical. The vicissitudes of Israeli politics are determined by the electoral process, the nature of Israeli society and perhaps by sunspots and bum luck.

When Sharon goes riding on a tiger, the results are not favorable to the tiger. It seems he has come back from the ride with the Likud inside and the smile on the face of Sharon. If he did it by luck, then some people have a talent for being lucky, and Sharon is one of them. Opinion surveys show Sharon's new Kadima party getting as many as 34 mandates, while Labor will get 20-28 according to the polls.

Sharon has made no mistakes. Having antagonized everyone remaining in the Likud, he has managed to ingratiate himself overnight with virtually everyone left of the Likud except Peres. The Kadima party platform says as little as possible about policy toward the Palestinians. According to Ha'aretz:

The platform emphasizes the existence of the State of Israel and its role as the Jewish national home and the need to guarantee and Jewish population majority.

This side of the Jordan river, the existence of the state of Israel is not exactly a controversial proposition. The platform calls for a demilitarized Palestinian state, without specifying the territories that might be occupied by that state. Earlier, it was leaked that Sharon would offer the Palestinians "Security for Peace" instead of "Land for Peace." This is unrealistic of course, but Sharon is not negotiating with Palestinians now. He is wooing the Israeli electorate. Naturally, many Israelis would prefer to believe that we can get peace without giving up land. Something for nothing is always welcome.

Nothing at all has been announced apparently concerning social and economic policies. Somehow Sharon will manage to say that he is committed to free market capitalism, which up to now includes privatizing everything including the jails. At the same time he will leave the impression that he is committed to social action and a war on poverty. Everyone will be happy.

Nothing succeeds like success. Dalia Itzik of the Labor party has deserted to Sharon. Haim Ramon had already deserted, and Shimon Peres may be on his way. Peres apparently instigated his brother to blast Peretz, comparing him to General Franco who arrived from Morocco to overthrow the Spanish republic. Yossi Beilin of the Meretz Party volunteered to join a coalition with Sharon. This is strange, since at the same Meretz meeting, members blasted Labor for staying in the coalition with Sharon while the government was building settlements. Perhaps Beilin can have a community center named after him in Ariel.

Sharon even got a boost from an unexpected source. Hosni Mubarak, President of Egypt said:

"Sharon, of all the Israeli politicians, is the only one capable of achieving peace with the Palestinians..."

"He has the ability to take difficult decisions, commit to what he says and carry it out,"

Peretz may have had some bad luck, but he is apparently making quite a few mistakes. This is difficult to explain, given Peretz's knack for winning elections and his meteoric rise to head the Labor party. His rocky start is alarmingly reminiscent of the career of Ehud Barak, who showed so much promise. Perhaps there is a jinx on Labor party leaders that began with the assassination of Rabin.

There are two cardinal rules in politics: don't alienate your base constituency unless you can gain a larger one by doing it, and don't alienate potential allies within your party - especially if they are powerful. The second rule is especially important for Peretz, who is an outsider in the Labor party in every sense.

Let's be frank. Shimon Peres proved that he cannot win an election in any possible constellation of events. However, Peres is an asset and still has supporters in the Labor party leadership and among voters. Given that Peretz has no foreign policy experience whatever, Peres should especially be an asset for Peretz. Peretz may have calculated that Peres is a liability among Peretz's base constituency, the Mizrachi Jews of the development towns, where he is synonymous with the old Mapai party that they loath. For whatever reason, Peretz decided to dump Peres. He offered to make him President of the party, in charge of doing nothing. He didn't even offer him a reasonable place on the party list that would guarantee election to the Knesseth. This was, however, vouchsafed to Rabbi Melchior, head of the tiny Meimad movement, who got place number 10. Peretz essentially offered Peres a place in an old age home, an ignominious end for one of the most illustrious and talented of the fathers of our country. Peres responded in kind, unleashing his brother in an attack on Peretz that bordered on racism. All that is missing is for Peres to actually take up Sharon's offer. Sharon is rumored to have offered to put Peres in charge of negotiating with the Palestinians, a position that Peres covets. Given the amount of negotiating that Sharon's government has done with the Palestinians, and the amount of negotiating that Sharon plans to do, this position would not be very demanding. Sharon's peace policy is to do nothing, and Peres would be in charge of that policy.

Peretz also alienated his one time ally in the Histadrut, Haim Ramon. Ramon is a backslapper and a deal maker, of the sort who is looking for a place to put the knife when he is doing the backslapping. He has the potential to be a kibbitzer in football games or an executioner. A moral and intellectual zero. He fulfilled his potential by deserting Labor.

Having alienated his potential allies, Peretz went to work on his natural constituency. He tabled a bill that had no hope of passing, and therefore only had the potential to ruin him politically. The bill would provide compensation for settlers who left the West Bank. He promised to include an Arab party in his coalition and an Arab minister in his government. His Mizrachi (Eastern Jewish) traditionally right wing constituency is probably not going to like that, or the idea of tearing down settlements in the West Bank. It plays well in Cairo, but Egyptians can't hardly even vote for their own government, and certainly can't vote in ours. Israeli Arabs are not going to vote for Peretz if they know that an Arab party, rather than an Arab member of the Labor party, will be represented in the government. Peretz forgot that in order to do all these wonderful things, he first must get elected. Anything you say on a divisive issue is bound to alienate at least half the voters, so it is better to emulate Sharon's party and support the existence of Israel, motherhood and the other things that politicians all support in order to win elections.

Not everything is Peretz's fault of course. There is, frankly, an element of racism. People I know and respect, who have always voted Labor, say they are going to vote for Sharon or stay home. They give various excuses. "Peretz is an outsider in the Labor party," "Peretz doesn't speak English," "Peretz yells too much." If Peretz is an outsider in the Labor party, what is Sharon? Who can forget Sharon yelling "Ashafistim!" (supporters of the PLO) and "Who favors eliminating terror?" at the top of his lungs at a Likud convention? And Peres didn't yell? After all, this Sharon you are all running to vote for, teh Sharon who has earned Beilin's support, is Sharon of Qibieh, Sharon of Sabra and Shatilla. This is the same fellow who does shady deals with Cyril Kern to finance his election campaign and whose son is mysteriously hired for a magnificent sum to promote fly-by-night Greek island schemes. Sharon's English is nothing to write home about, and we have had Prime Ministers like Itzhak Shamir, who was certainly no Oxford scholar. When people ask about Peres's English, his aides are quick to point out that he speaks French. For that matter, George Bush can't speak English and that has not been an impediment for him either.

Nobody will admit it, because Labor party voters are supposedly not allowed to think like that. The "R" word must not intrude into our progressive and right-thinking consciouses. Nonetheless, it seems obvious that Peretz is losing support because he is a Moroccan, born on the wrong side of the Mediterranean. The problem is not so much that he does not speak English, but rather that he does not speak Yiddish. This might be the last chance of the Israel Labor party to save itself from destruction, and if it fails because of racism, then the Labor party has certainly outlived its usefulness. A nominally sodeletedt party should not coexist with racism.

Nothing fails like failure. The desertion of Peres or failure of Peretz to take off in the polls may well produce a stampede. The rump of the Likud is still there. And what if Sharon's party gets his 34 mandates, and the Likud, led by Nethanyahu gets "only" 14? Sharon has already said he would not rule out a coalition partnership with Nethanyahu. The combined right wing front would have 48 seats instead of the 40 commanded by the Likud in the outgoing Knesseth. The day after the elections, all those ex-Laborite people who voted for Sharon because Peretz shouts too much will understand their mistake, but it will be too late.

Even worse perhaps, is the possibility that the Likud will rebound. They have an organization. They have at least the government election funding support that is due to over 20 MKs. Suppose that Sharon's party, as is the wont of such center parties, fades, and Labor continues to fade. Will we then be left with the disagreeable necessity of voting for Sharon to prevent Nethanyahu from forming the next government?

Nothing is certain in politics, but right now it looks like next April it will be springtime for Sharon and the settlers, and winter for the Labor party and peace.

Ami Isseroff

PS: Latest reports: Israel Channel 2 television anchor Shelly Yechimovich has joined the Labor party, while Shinui party founder Uriel Reichman has deserted to Sharon's Kadima party. Stay tuned for interesting developments.

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Original text copyright by the author and MidEastWeb for Coexistence, RA. Posted at MidEastWeb Middle East Web Log at http://www.mideastweb.org/log/archives/00000410.htm where your intelligent and constructive comments are welcome. Distributed by MEW Newslist. Subscribe by e-mail to mew-subscribe@yahoogroups.com. Please forward by email with this notice and link to and cite this article. Other uses by permission.

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Replies: 5 comments

I think that Ariel Sharon needs to step up and show leadership and show his desire for peace. There is something going on behind the scenes that we don't know about. I found out some stuff on the news section of this guy Imperato, www.daniel2008.com , apparently he's running for president (who isn't) but he had some very unique viewpoints on Sharon and the whole Israel/Palestine situation.

Posted by David Goldstein @ 11/29/2005 04:17 PM CST

I very much enjoyed and learned from this piece of political commentary. Actually, from the other side of the spectrum I am pretty sure that the real thing to be afraid of is the Sharon- Peretz coalition that will make every concession possible to have some kind of phony agreement requiring the Palestinians to 'disarm Hamas and Islamic Jihad' and put an end to Palestinian hate propaganda. In other words I am afraid that the Israelis will buy the same concession for the hundredth time, and of course not get it this time either. Only this time it will put us in even greater security difficulty, than the most recent Condi Rice - Mofaz-Sharon move which in my opinion, we have not yet begun to see the very evil consequences of.

Posted by Shalom Freedman @ 11/29/2005 04:28 PM CST

Except if these egregious leaders are thinking to share Matusalen's span of life, whatever they want to do they should do shortly after now. In any case, Peretz only needs to be on stage on the second election and then take the token.

Posted by Aleph @ 11/30/2005 01:27 AM CST

I find it amazing that saying nothing or being incredibly vague about your key policies will do wonders for your political fortunes in Isreal. You write, “The Kadima party platform says as little as possible about policy toward the Palestinians.” And yet, this party is tipped to win over 30 seats. What a strange world we live in.

Posted by Ittay @ 12/05/2005 01:17 AM CST


If israel is jewish then it should be ashamed of itself for leaving its jewish citizens in the lurch. it wassupposd to be a land of milk and honey and a promised land and free for all jews and yet some ethiopian or russian jews can be made to be unwelcome. in moe ways than one. also for a jewish state most seem to be secular and if not fo the violence between arab and non arab there certainly might seem to be violence between orthdox and lapsed jew.

also th fact it is a democratic state is false and ifnpt needs to be qualified. its a democracy fo the jew and those he ladership chooses democracy to embrace andothers are ignored andforgotton or even thrown and discarded so israel itself ha to be reformed alonf with and alongside and with the neighbours and it should sop hectoring

Posted by moiz esufally @ 12/19/2005 10:07 AM CST

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