Sharon presents new Greater-Land-of-Israel govt

TEL AVIV – Prime Minister Ariel Sharon will present his new government to the Knesset, Feb. 26, to ask for a parliamentary confidence vote. This follows the announcement on Feb. 24, that the Likud had signed an accord with the Shinui (Change) Party to join a Likud-led coalition, composed of Likud, Shinui and the clerical-Zionist, far right National-Religious Party (NRP). These three parties control together 61 of the 120-member Knesset.

This new government is one with an outright Greater-Land-of-Israel policy, as well as a radically, reactionary and anti-labor background. It also means more religious coercion against the secular majority in the Jewish population.

NRP leader Effi Eitam, ill-famed for his racist anti-Arab expressions, makes no secret about his radical Greater-Israel positions, advocating an escalated occupation of Palestinian and Syrian territories through more Jewish settlements and “voluntary” expulsions of Palestinians from their lands. It is this extremist and advocate of illegal settlements in the occupied territories who will be sworn in as the Minister for Housing and Infrastructure, responsible for the development of the Greater Land of Israel.

The Shinui is a conglomerate of leading personalities with very different political and ideological backgrounds. Not all fit into the features of their chairman Lapid. Not all of them are such fire-headed chauvinists and right conservative anti-labor fiends, as Lapid. Quite a few of their 15 Knesset Members have their roots in the Labor or Meretz Parties, and some in Likud.

The Labor Party headed by Amram Mitzna rejected (for the time being) Sharon’s offer to join his government coalition on these Greater Land of Israel guidelines. Mitzna is confronted with an opposition from some members of his party’s leadership. Shimon Peres and the former war minister in Sharon’s cabinet, Ben-Eliezer, seem to miss their comfortable ministerial chairs.

The question remains, how long will this coalition hold? Many contradictions exist. Sharon has said he wants a long-term interim agreement with the Palestinians, saying that Israel’s economy would not survive a prolonged conflict with the Palestinians. “We will not make it. Our economy will not make it. Without a peace agreement, it will collapse,” Sharon said, according to the Yediot Ahronot daily.

The signed draft guidelines for the government policy does not mention anything about the agreement for a Palestinian state on part of the territories from which Israel would have to withdraw.

U.S. war plans on Iraq and the Bush “doctrine” in the Middle East are also tied to the political and economic landscape for this new far right government. The Bush Administration implies it would support a Palestinian state as a bargaining chip for Arab acquiescence on an Iraq war. So when Sharon’s envoys went to the White House for more dollars – $4 billion in straight “aid” and $8 billion in bank guarantees for credits from the World Bank, they returned home empty-handed, for now.

The author can be reached at pww@pww.org