New York Times editorial praises “moderate” Israeli Labour party


The New York Times, February 27, 2001, Tuesday, Late Edition - Final

HEADLINE: Israel’s Unity Government

Israel’s Labor Party acted responsibly yesterday by voting to join a national unity government under the Likud Party leader, Ariel Sharon. Crucial details are yet to be worked out, including Labor’s new leadership and the identity of its cabinet nominees. But the important portfolios Labor will hold, including the Defense and Foreign Ministries, should permit it to exert a moderating influence on the new government’s policies.

This will be particularly important on issues like military tactics against Palestinian unrest and future relations with Yasir Arafat and other Arab leaders. Already Labor has secured a commitment to the principle of trading land for peace and an affirmation of existing agreements like the 1993 Oslo accords with the Palestinians.

Labor’s decision frees Mr. Sharon from dependence on the narrow coalition of right-wing and religious parties that he would otherwise have needed for a parliamentary majority. Neither he nor Israeli voters wanted to see the new government beholden from the start to these fractious and ideological groups. By joining with Labor, Mr. Sharon commits himself to a broadly centrist course. But for a national unity government to be effective, it must be more than a facade. Labor ministers must be consulted on important policies and given authority to run their departments.

The new Israeli government will inherit a difficult situation when it takes office next month. Peace talks with the Palestinians have collapsed. Violent unrest in the West Bank and Gaza Strip is about to enter its sixth month. Anti-Israeli rhetoric from Syria, Iraq and Iran is becoming increasingly belligerent. Mr. Sharon and his ministers must protect Israel’s security while looking for ways to renew the search for peace to which both Labor and Likud have made major contributions over the years.

To this end, Israel should give serious consideration to Secretary of State Colin Powell’s suggestion over the weekend that it look for ways to ease economic pressures on the Palestinians. In a welcome early response to this American suggestion, Israel agreed to dismantle the military checkpoints that had briefly cut Gaza in two. Further Israeli steps, like a release of tax revenues to the Palestinian Authority, would be more likely if Mr. Arafat began living up to his commitments to discourage further violence.

Some Labor leaders argued for remaining outside the Sharon government, so that the party could rebuild its public support and re-energize its strategy for peace negotiations. But they were decisively outvoted by those who felt that forcing Mr. Sharon to form a narrow right-wing coalition would be dangerous for Israel at a particularly difficult moment in its history. That wiser view has now prevailed.


1. “Moderation” - The New York Times’ editorial praises the Israeli Labor party’s decision to join a “national unity” government on the grounds that it could exert a “moderating influence” on the new government’s approach “on issues like military tactics against Palestinian unrest.”

The Electronic Intifada notes that if the outgoing Labor government has been “moderate” in its response, Palestinians could well be forgiven for wondering what a harsh response would look like. On Feb 23rd, CNN reported that, “[Today’s] shootings raised the toll of the dead in five months of clashes between Palestinians and Israelis to 441 — 367 Palestinians, according to the Palestine Red Crescent Society, and 61 Israeli Jews and 13 Israeli Arabs, according to Israeli officials.”

In addition, the US State Department annual human rights report, published on February 26 makes it quite clear that widescale Palestinian demonstrations began against the occupation only after Israeli forces had shot dead four unarmed Palestinians protesting Sharon’s provocative visit to the Haram Al-Sharif/Temple Mount with several thousand armed troops.

Since then Israel has escalated the violence at every step, answering stones with bullets, and bullets with tank shells and rockets. Every Palestinian in the occupied territories is suffering as a result of the siege, and the widescale destruction of Palestinian property by settlers and the occupation forces. This progression took place while the Israeli Labour Party has been in power, not Likud.

2. Invisible Military Occupation - There is no mention of the military occupation and its continuing human rights abuses as a reason for the “violent unrest in the West Bank and Gaza Strip”.

Rather than address this, The New York Times’ prescribed solution relates to the tweaking of the economic situation, as if that in itself would make life better for the Palestinians, rather than asking the necessary hard questions of the Israeli Labour party.


This action item is now closed.

Write to The New York Times’ Editor:

1. Citing the editorial, Israel’s Unity Government, from 27 February 2001.

2. Asking what evidence of moderation there has been from Israel’s Labour Party.

3. Stressing that the continuation of Israeli military occupation and repression since Oslo is the reason for the current Palestinian uprising. Cite examples from the US State Department annual human rights report.