Sharon is the worst prime minister we have ever had. No one else has managed to destroy so much in so little time. In the occupied territories, Sharon is realizing with frightening efficiency his long-standing vision of evicting the maximum number of Palestinians from their land. We have become a land of walls and fences and checkpoints in Rafah, in Jerusalem, in the West Bank. And now Israeli Arabs in Lydda are also being imprisoned behind a wall. We have an army that acts in unthinkable ways. Reading a newspaper fills one with shame; it is shameful to be an Israeli abroad.
Internally as well, devastation reigns: people who until recently led a dignified existence are lining up at soup kitchens. They will soon be joined by municipal workers. Seniors are abandoned, foreign workers are treated like slaves, the environment is being destroyed, the universities are strangled.
Along with our society and state, the last recourse the rule of law is rapidly disintegrating. In a healthy society, a prime minister whose name has been linked to corruption and bribery scandals would resign even before the matter reached the courts. Here, the government’s Attorney General usurps the authority of the courts. Sharon’s trial has been conducted for months now in the inner recesses of AG Mazuz’s mind. In the final analysis, only if Mazuz the prosecutor can convince Mazuz the judge that there is a decisive basis for indicting Sharon, will Mazuz the Attorney General decide that there are grounds to put him on trial. Thus the prime minister remains above the law.
We have had poor leaders in the past. Netanyahu also sold off state assets, violated agreements with the Palestinians, and was accused of corruption. But no one has been as odious as Sharon. And yet, when an opportunity to bring him down presents itself at last, the Labor Party hurries to his rescue. It doesn’t matter what he is doing or will do — Labor spokesmen explain — he has to be given a free hand because he has promised to get us out of Gaza within a year and a half. In fact, Sharon has yielded to all the demands of the dissenting ministers, and the decision on evacuating the settlements has been postponed until March 2005. Building and development in the Gaza settlements will continue, with the authorization of a special committee. (1,2) Yet none of this dissuades Labor from backing Sharon.
In his writings, Noam Chomsky persistently asks how it is possible in a democratic society for a small powerful group to impose on the majority a social order that is contrary to the majority’s wishes and interests. In Soviet-style dictatorships, the question does not arise: when there is only one candidate in the elections; when the Party decides and Pravda promulgates, the majority has no say in the matter. In a democracy, one of the processes that can lead to the same result is emptying the political system of content and eliminating genuine opposition.
In the last Israeli elections, many voters who were fed up with Sharon voted for Labor candidate Amram Mitznah. But now their elected representatives are keeping Sharon afloat. On Monday, June 7, there were two non-confidence votes in the Israeli Parliament, one submitted jointly by the Beilin’s Yahad party and the Arab parties. The Labor party abstained, thus giving Sharon the majority he needed to survive.
Whoever is elected becomes part of the system in exchange for a few crumbs of power, instead of representing the people who voted for them and opposing the government.
The disappearance of opposition is supported by an acquiescent media. Haaretz, supposedly the paper of the liberal peaceniks, tells its readers day after day that what is important now is to save the worthy Sharon, who so badly wants to get out of Gaza.
But the virtue of democracy is that, in spite of all this, voters can still impose their will on their elected representatives. The place to address protests in the coming weeks is Labor Party headquarters. Sharon has to go. He must not be given a safety net.
1. Ha’aretz, Monday, June 7, 2004, “PM: Disengagement is on its way”, by Aluf Benn, Gideon Alon, and Nathan Guttman:
At the end of a dramatic cabinet meeting yesterday, the government passed Ariel Sharon’s revised disengagement plan, by a vote of 14-7, but the decision does not allow for the dismantling of settlements and the prime minister will have to go back to the cabinet when he actually wants to begin the evacuation process. …The decision on the evacuation of settlements will be brought to the government at the end of a preparation period. Sharon told the cabinet the preparation period would end next March 1…
2. Ha’aretz, Mon. June 7, 2004, “What’s been approved, what’s changed” by Aluf Benn:
The government approved the revised disengagement plan and the preparation of the groundwork for the evacuation of settlements in the Gaza Strip and northern Samaria.
The actual implementation of the evacuation will require additional approval by the government, in accordance with the compromise that was reached yesterday and that enabled enlistment of the support of the senior Likud ministers for Prime Minister Ariel Sharon’s plan. In the framework of the compromise, six areas in Sharon’s original plan were modified at the request of Ministers Benjamin Netanyahu, Limor Livnat and Silvan Shalom:
1. The name of the plan was changed from the “four-stage disengagement plan” to the “revised disengagement plan.”
2. There was no approval of actual evacuations. The draft Sharon presented to the government last week contained a decision in principle to evacuate 25 settlements, which were divided into four groups, with a separate discussion being set for each group. This was rejected by the senior ministers on the grounds that it contradicted the May 2 Likud referendum that had rejected Sharon’s original plan.
A compromise suggested by Likud Minister Tzipi Livni stated that the amended plan would not specifically approve evacuation of settlements, and that a second government discussion would be held in this regard, “taking into account the circumstances at the time.” This phrasing was the key to the compromise that was reached. …
3. A “softening” of the timetable. Sharon’s proposal stated that “the process of evacuation was to be completed by the end of 2005.” In yesterday’s decision the government merely “stated its intention” to complete the evacuation by the end of 2005.
4. Cancellation of the ministerial committee. Sharon wanted to set up a special ministerial committee on the evacuation, to be headed by himself and ministers who supported his plan. The approved plan states that the evacuation will be monitored by the political-security cabinet.
5. Watering down of the freeze on construction. Sharon’s draft contained a complete and immediate freeze on all government plans for construction and development in areas slated for evacuation. The approved plan ensures “support for the needs of daily life” in settlements slated for evacuation. Bans on construction permits and leasing of lands were also removed from the prime minister’s proposal.
6. Change in the panel approving deviations from the plan. The committee under the revised plan will be headed by the directors-general of the Prime Minister’s Office (PMO), the Finance Ministry and the Justice Ministry.
Preparations for the evacuation will be undertaken in several areas. The defense establishment is planning the army’s redeployment around the Gaza Strip and in northern Samaria. A special committee will formulate criteria for compensating settlers and begin negotiating with them. The Ministry of Justice will prepare the necessary legislation. The Jewish Agency will assist in resettling the evacuated settlers. At the PMO, a committee will be set up to oversee the evacuation and compensation process, with the authority to hand out advances to those willing to evacuate of their own free will.
Prof. Tanya Reinhart is a lecturer in linguistics, media and cultural studies at the Tel Aviv University. She is the author of several books, including Israel/Palestine: How to End the War of 1948. This article first appeared in Yediot Aharonot, June 8, 2004. Translated from Hebrew by Edeet Ravel. One background note provided with the translation was incorporated into the text.