End of Sharon era what now?

News Analysis



TEL AVIV – With only 20 months as the prime minister (PM), Ariel Sharon tried to form a small coalition government after the Labor Party’s withdrawal, by adding the ultra right and extreme religious 'opposition' parties. But since the demands of the rightist camp had been too extreme even for him and his U.S. advisors, he chose to dissolve the 15th Knesset and go to early elections within 90 days.

On Nov. 4, Sharon added to his cabinet the super hawk recently resigned army chief-of-staff, Brigadier General Shaul Mofaz, as his new Defense Minister. On Tuesday, Sharon added his rival for the Likud Party chair and next PM, former PM Benjamin Netanyahu as his Foreign Minister.

Most Israeli news commentators say that Sharon’s government was the most catastrophic Israel has ever had, based on the relationship with the Palestinian people, as well as relating to the domestic economy. Peace is farther away, public security shaken more than ever. Poverty has deepened and become widespread to more strata. According to latest statistics, every sixth child in Israel goes hungry to bed, every eighth child does not go to school, because parents are not able to pay for public transportation, shoes nor textbooks.

The Israeli government has pursued a policy of war against Palestinian civilians and re-occupation of their cities, destroying industrial and agricultural premises while building more illegal Jewish settlements in the occupied territories.

The Sharon government’s war policy is being paid for by taking the finances for social expenditures, for old-age pensions, child allowances, unemployment increments, education and social welfare.

The prognosis for the forthcoming general elections to the 16th Knesset is more catastrophe. The push to the extreme right might intensify.

Public opinion polls show that, if the elections would be held now, the right-conservative to radical right-wing religious parties would increase their seats in the 120-member Knesset, with the smaller pro-peace, Arab and Communist factions having difficulty maintaining their seats.

The opinion polls show, however, more than 60 percent of Israeli citizens are for Israel’s withdrawal to the pre-1967 lines, as well as for the evacuation of the Jewish settlements in occupied territories. But about the same majority support Sharon and his policies, his promise to achieve peace and security by military action against the Palestinians.

But with almost three months until the elections much can happen. A major factor that will influence the outcome of the elections is whether the Palestinian right-wing religious fundamentalists will mount more of their suicide attacks in Israeli, playing into the hands of the Israeli right wing, or not.

Moreover, the election results will also be influenced by the outcome of the primaries in the two major parties, Labor and Likud, which will determine who will lead the parties at the elections, and vie for heading the next government.

The approximately 300,000 registered Likud Party members will choose in primaries between incumbent party chair and PM Sharon and his rival, former PM Netanyahu. Their rivalry is less about ideological or political differences, but more a personal rivalry. Sharon has the military and traditional super-hawk line. Netanyahu proposes to use Israel’s regional super-power to impose territorial annexation of former Palestine west of the Jordan River, as well as refusing to recognize a future Palestinian state from the party program. Both Sharon and Netanyahu are speculating on further unrestricted U.S. support for their anti-Palestinian anti-Security-Council resolution policy, as well as supporting the Bush war drive against Iraq with Israel’s involvement.

The Labor Party’s approximately 250,000 members will also vote for its chair. The latest polls show that the pro-peace Haifa Mayor Amram Mitzna received 47 percent with resigned defense minister Benjamin Ben-Eliezer 29, and Member of Knesset Haim Ramon 17 percent. Pressure was put on Ramon to resign, which he did, in order to raise the chances of Mitzna defeating Ben-Eliezer in the first round on Nov.19.

A center-left pro-peace led by a Labor-Meretz Parties’ alliance is possible, with a platform for a negotiated peace settlement with the Palestinians and an economic program that is pro-labor, for social services and education. Such a program would find support among wide circles of the peace camp and working-class people. Such a united bloc of center-left forces in the Knesset with the Arab parties and Hadash, might even succeed in outweighing the predicted right extremist trend.

The author can be reached at pww@pww.org