The Israeli Left is Opting for Suicide

Secretary of Defense Donald H. Rumsfeld (left), escorts Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon (center) into the Pentagon at the conclusion of a full honor arrival ceremony for Sharon at the Pentagon, 19 March 2001. (Photo: Do/R. D. Ward)

To judge by the political discourse, being a leftist today means supporting Ariel Sharon. Even when his government decides yet again to postpone the evacuation of the illegal outposts to an unknown future date, the pundits explain that the mere fact that he even raised the matter for discussion in the government is indicative of the seriousness of his intentions. Sharon will evacuate Gaza first, they say, and afterwards the outposts, and in the end maybe even the West Bank. And those who believe the most that Sharon will dismantle settlements are the Leftist parties.

On what basis? Sharon is known as a man who has not always told the truth. At the time of the Lebanon war, he succeeded in concealing his plan even from the then Prime Minister Menachem Begin. He has no problem making promises and then not fulfilling. For three years now, he has been promising the United States that he will, at the very least, immediately evacuate the outposts that were created during his current term as Prime Minister.

But so what? He can always propose a new commitment that would postpone the realization of the previous one. Why should the Gaza “disengagement” be any different? The answer — that the right and the left agree on — is that this time Sharon has changed. This is an interesting answer in the realm of psychology. But what truth does it have in the realm of facts? It is much easier at present to imagine many scenarios in which there will not be any evacuation of settlements in July, rather than the scenario in which there will be an evacuation.

Let’s take, for example, the problem of the evacuees. That is a real problem. The settlers in the Gaza Strip went there at the behest of the Israeli government. They must be compensated for this dreadful idiocy, in order to allow them to rebuild their lives. Yet a government that really wanted to evacuate them would have already given them compensation so they could leave before the evacuation.

In the evacuation of Yamit in 1982, the overwhelming majority of the residents were compensated and left before the evacuation. Those who were present in the confrontation on the scene were settler activists from the outside, with whom it is easier to deal than with families actually living there. According to Yonatan Bassi, head of the Disengagement Administration, over half of the present Gaza Strip settlers have already expressed their willingness to leave.[1] So why doesn’t Sharon facilitate their immediate departure? Could it be that he wants the photographs of the first attempt to evacuate them to show us entire families with their children, whose world has been destroyed, so that we will understand, through empathy, that it is simply impossible to evacuate?

And why this foot-dragging over the budget? What the right-wing opponents of the budget are demanding is a referendum. The mainstream settlers are not interested in a complete break with Israeli society. Their leaders are saying that they will be ready to accept the decision, but only if it is proven clearly that it is the will of the majority. The Likud rebels, of course, have their own agenda, which they connect to this demand. But precisely on this issue, it is simply a matter of calling their bluff by giving them what they demand.

According to all the polls, there is a decisive and stable majority of 60 per cent to 70 per cent in favour of the evacuation of Gaza. Even in a poll taken a couple of days after the terror attack at the Stage Club in Tel Aviv, 66 per cent said they would have voted “yes” for the plan had a referendum taken place that day.[2] The disengagement will pass in a referendum., which is clear even to the Right. Why then does Sharon oppose it? Perhaps he does not really want the settlers to compromise and accept the will of the majority? Maybe he is afraid that if the evacuation decision passes in the referendum it will have to be actually carried out sooner or later?

Ariel Sharon’s provocatively-located apartment on one of the busiest streets in the Muslim Quarter of Jerusalem’s Old City. (Feroze Sidhwa)

All there is, then, is the faith that Sharon has changed. In its name, all the parties of the Left are obediently lined up behind him. Not only Labour, which would be probably willing to sit in any government, even one headed by “Gandhi”,[3] but also Yahad and Hadash.[4] Sharon is submitting for approval a budget of plunder and robbery that further cuts the surviving remnants of public services, and all the left-wing parties have to say is that they have to help him pass it, as he said that he will evacuate settlements.

Of the 100,000 people who showed up for the demonstration of the left-wing parties a year ago, who demanded a pullout from Gaza, 90,000 stayed home in this week’s demonstration. Could it be that many of them feel in their heart of hearts that they are being deceived? The Israeli Left chose to commit suicide. It is no longer beholden to its voters. It is beholden only to Sharon.

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, from which this article was excerpted from an updated chapter. This article first appered in Yediot Aharonot on 23 March 2005 and was translated from Hebrew by Mark Marshall.

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  • BY TOPIC: Sharon’s “Gaza Disengagement Plan”

    1. “Some 800 of the 1,700 families living in Gush Katif and northern Samaria have already expressed willingness in principle to leave their homes under the disengagement plan and negotiate over financial compensation, according to Yonatan Bassi, who heads the disengagement administration. Of the remaining 900 families, he believed …[only] 300 families, the hard core of settlers opposed to the evacuation, would refuse to leave of their own accord” (Gideon Alon, Ha’aretz, March 2, 2005). There is sufficient information in the Israeli media regarding the frustration of the Gaza Strip settlers, who feel that the government is leaving them in the dark. Alex Fishman interviewed Itzick Ilia, Deputy Mayor of the regional council of the Gaza Strip settlements, who says he represents between 70 and 80 per cent of the settlers who are willing to leave. He reports a meeting where “people poured out their problems… People cried and shouted. No one talks to them. There is some new law that appeared on the internet, but people don’t even know exactly what are their compensation rights.” (Yediot Aharonot, Weekend Supplement, March 18, 2003).

    2. Sima Kadmon, Yediot Aharonot, Weekend Supplement, March 4, 2005, (Mina Zemach’s “Dahaf” ’ poll).

    3. “Gandhi” is the peculiar nickname in Israel of Rehavam Ze’evi, a former general and politician who was assassinated in 2001 while serving as Israel’s Minister of Tourism. He had a reputation as an extreme nationalist and anti-Arab chauvinist who openly supported transfer. The present Sharon- Labour government decided lately to establish a national memorial day for him, similar to that of Rabin. [M.M]

    4. Yahad is a moderate Zionist party headed by Yossi Beilin. It supports a two-state solution. Hadash is the Israeli Communist Party, headed by Muhammad Barakeh. It is a non-Zionist Jewish/Arab party. [M.M]