TIKVA HONIG-PARNASS, a Ph.D. in sociology, was chief editor of the Jerusalem-based News From Within for ten years. She is currently co-editor (with Toufic Haddad) of the new monthly Between the Lines.
ON SEPTEMBER 28, 2000, ARIEL SHARON, THE LEADER OF THE LIKUD, the man responsible for the bloody Lebanon war and the massacre at Sabra and Shatilla, entered the Al Aqsa compound in Jerusalem, accompanied by 1000 Israeli policemen. This visit was followed the next day, after the prayers in the Al Aqsa mosque were over, by clashes in which Israeli police and border guards killed 7 and wounded 200 Palestinians. Sharon's provocative visit triggered the explosion of violence throughout the '67 Occupied Territories and inside Israel, in which over 150 Palestinians were killed, 13 of whom were Palestinian citizens of Israel, and over 3500 were wounded. Many of these were killed by snipers who aimed their weapons at the upper parts of the body, mainly at the head, but also at the chest and the abdomen. "By this, it may be assumed that the Israeli soldiers had received the order to shoot in order to kill. This conclusion is strengthened by the fact that in a few severe events, the Israeli security forces prevented Palestinian ambulances and medical teams from pulling out the wounded" (Amira Hass, Ha'aretz, 10/3/00). Israel put under siege all the cities, towns and villages of the West Bank and Gaza, as well as the entrance and exit from the borders of the Palestinian Authority (P.A.) by sea, land and air, using tanks, anti-tank missiles and gunship helicopters, attacking civilians and P.A. institutions and headquarters in Ramallah and Gaza.
At Camp David, Barak arrogantly demanded that the final settlement would include the Palestinian declaration of "the end of the conflict and that they had no further claims from Israel." This demand implies that the details of the Israeli-American dictate was "an historic compromise" between the "two national movements" to which the Oslo Agreement pretended to strive to reach. As readers may recall, the issues which constitute the "Palestinian question" and, therefore, the only ones that can be the basis for "an historic compromise," were postponed until the talks on final status. But the Israeli-American proposal, which was presented to Arafat at Camp David, did not even include a minimal solution to these issues. Barak repeated his former rejectionist positions, which he had declared in his election campaign eighteen months before. These are positions that actually say, "Either peace according to Israel's terms -- or war." And Arafat had no alternative but to choose the only way open to him: to walk out of Camp David.
The following are the main points in Barak's proposed agreement of surrender. First, the absolute and categorical rejection of the Palestinian Right of Return, which is in accord with the positions of all Israeli governments since the end of the 1948 war. (Barak suggested a few hundred returnees every year during the coming fifteen years.) Indeed, a concession on this issue would present a negation of the central aims of Zionism from its very beginning, namely, the establishment of an exclusively Jewish state. Therefore, the Oslo Agreements, as well as the proposal for a final settlement, were precisely designed to liquidate the refugee question, to disperse the refugees throughout the Diaspora, and thus to remove the Palestinian national problem from world consciousness. The refugee problem is the core of the Palestinian national question (which was the rationale behind the foundation of the PLO), a reality acknowledged by all Palestinians, wherever they might be. Precisely because of this, Barak could not but reject the Right of Return, and Arafat could not but insist on this right.
Neither did Barak at Camp David retreat from his other positions regarding the final status solution, namely, the refusal to withdraw to the borders of June 4, 1967, and maintaining Israeli sovereignty over the settlements and 80 percent of the settlers on 20 percent of the West Bank area. (He even demanded an additional 8 percent on a lease for 99 years.) Both the Labor and Likud governments have taken great advantage of the postponement of border issue until the final talks in order to carry out a massive wave of settlement building, designed to determine the Bantustan character of the enclaves comprising the future Palestinian state. As Amira Hass testifies: "Even in these very days, bulldozers are working overtime to manage to determine additional facts in the 61 percent of the West Bank area, which is still under the military and security control of Israel [Areas B and C]. Under the cover of the 'State Lands' category [whose designation is defined as 'for the good of all residents'], the plans to build two parallel, unequal infrastructures in the West Bank, are being completed in great haste, including roads, water, electricity, telephones, sewage, and future development. One is excellent, efficient, wide, secure, and connected to Israel, for the Jews, the other- inferior, reduced, restricted, contracted, for the Palestinians" (Ha'aretz, 9/27/00).
In addition, the haste to establish facts in Jerusalem and its surroundings utterly negate Israel's claim that Barak is willing "to make extreme compromises" in Jerusalem, as well as the opposition's accusation that Barak is "dividing Jerusalem." "In the midst of the talks, when the differences in opinion on the future of Jerusalem seemed to become smaller, an irreversible geo-political fact was established in the form of "The Eastern Ring Road." This road is designed to cut off Arab Jerusalem from its hinterland and to firmly determine the severing of the Northern canton of the Palestinian state from the Southern, to ease the connection between the settlements and the Jewish city, and to prevent the Palestinian communities, strewn all along this road, from developing, since their lands were confiscated. Likewise, the hasty building within the range of the city and in the settlements surrounding it, is actually aimed at presenting a new "status quo," to which the Palestinians will have to "adapt themselves" if they wish to achieve any agreement in Jerusalem (Meron Benvenisti, Ha'aretz, 9/28/00).
These facts clarify the cunning game with which Barak chose to proceed at Camp David, attempting to convince the world of his willingness to make "extreme compromises." He turned Jerusalem, and in fact the whole question of Israeli sovereignty over the Al Aqsa compound, into the red line from which Israel could not retreat. To this political aim, he adopted the claim that under the Al Aqsa mosque are buried the remnants of the Temple, and he emphasized their importance as "national symbols" and "Israeli sanctuaries," about which Kimmerling comments, "[by these] Barak meant the relics of a Jewish ritual temple, which may be buried under the central mosque of Muslims, to whose symbols he showed no sensitivity" (Ha'aretz, 10/4/00).
In fact, the Al Aqsa compound has been in the full ownership of the Palestinians since the '67 occupation. The Islamic Waqf does what it pleases there, and Israelis hardly ever visit. General Moshe Dayan determined the pragmatic policy regarding the compound, receiving the approval of the Chief Rabbinate, who represented the trend in Judaism that forbade entrance to the Temple Mount until the coming of the Messiah. The extension of the Zionist colonization project by the '67 occupation led to increased adherence to religious symbols within Israeli society. These were now needed, even more than before, for the legitimization of the occupation in the name of the "historic- divine right," and also for the strengthening of the national identity of the collective, for which Zionism had failed to provide secular criteria for defining its bounderies (thereby adopting the religious criterion which characterizes a Jew according to the Jewish origin of his/her mother).
Focusing then on the Temple Mount as the "red line" for Israel's "concessions" was meant to give the impression that an agreement had already been achieved on the remaining central issues owing to "Barak's great willingness to make concessions that Netanyahu had not been willing to make"; then the accusation could be made of Arafat that "for the sake of a few meters he was willing to relinquish the Peace Agreement with Israel" (Ben Ami, Minister of Internal Security and deputy Foreign Minister). But this is not so. Without concessions regarding Jerusalem, Netanyahu also was prepared to sign a settlement with the Palestinians. Moreover, as Kimmerling estimates, "Barak made less efforts towards the Palestinians than did Netanyahu, who carried out the Hebron Agreement" (Ha'aretz, 10/4/00). Recall that with the evacuation of Hebron, Netanyahu implemented the second of the three withdrawals which the Oslo Agreement had determined, whereas Barak refused to fulfill Israel's commitment to implement the third -- which he postponed until the final status settlement.
Since the failure of Camp David, it had been clear to both Sharon and Barak, that the despair and frustration in the Palestinian street was bound to ignite at any provocation. According to reports from the White House of Arafat's meeting with Barak at his home in Kochav Yair, three days before Sharon's visit to the compound, Arafat warned Barak that such a visit would cause a conflagration. "He begged him not to allow it." Another report states that Saeb Erikat, the head of the Palestinian negotiating team, delivered a similar warning to deputy Minister of Internal Security and Deputy Minister of Foreign Affairs Shlomo Ben Ami (Orli Azulai, Yediot Ahronot, 10/13/00). However, despite all warnings, Barak authorized the visit, knowing that the flare-up that would come in its wake would present a pretext to liquidate the Oslo process, or alternatively, to open military oppression, which would dictate an agreement of surrender -- the same agreement that Barak had failed to dictate at Camp David.
The Palestinians understood the political meaning of this visit, namely, to establish Israeli sovereignty over the Al Aqsa Compound, and reacted with the presence of a large group of political figures that implied Palestinian sovereignty over the compound, including Arab members of the Israeli Knesset, were there when Sharon entered the Al Aqsa Compound. But turning the issue of the Al Aqsa Compound into a conflict about who had real sovereignty over it did not allow the Israeli Police to tolerate any manifestation of popular political protest. The next day, they massacred the masses of demonstrators who came out of the Al Aqsa mosque after their prayers. As Kol Hair reported (10/6/00): "It was but eight minutes after stones were thrown at the Police at the gates of the compound and towards the Wailing Wall, that the order was given to the Police to break through into the mosque compound. It seems that the District Commander decided that a simple action, carried out before things got worse, such as evacuating the Wailing Wall Square, closing the gates of the compound, and waiting for things to calm down (as in the events of '94, when the claim for sovereignty was not on the agenda) would be perceived as a sign of weakness."
And indeed, the Israeli military superpower showed no weakness towards the masses of Palestinians who rallied forth into the streets on the days that followed the Al Aqsa massacre, both in the '67 Occupied Territories and in Israel. The brutal measures that the Israeli army and Police exercised on both sides of the Green Line demonstrated anew the unity of the colonialist Zionist project throughout all the areas of historical Palestine, and the institutionalization of the apartheid regime throughout.
But what most characterized Barak's period of power was the intentional systematic policy of labeling the Arab population as "a fifth column within the state of Israel." Arrests became more frequent, supposedly owing to organization of "terrorist groups" among them. The Police spokespersons leaked stories to the media of "a national Arab underground" which was alternately said to be connected with Syria, the Islamic movement and even with Ben Laden. But it is worth noting that out of one million of the Arab populace in Israel, there are only 30 in jail today charged with security offences, the majority of which are connected with events that happened in the '70s. This fact indicates that the "security" accusation was formed to cover up the attempt to oppress legitimate political trends among the Palestinian Arabs in Israel, including their demand for equal civil rights in the Jewish state.
The Arab M.K.s who participated during the previous year in the mass demonstrations against house demolition and land confiscation (at Al Ruha and Lydd among other places) were accused of incitement, and a police investigation was even opened against M.K. Muhamad Baraka (Hadash-The Front, headed by the communist party), accusing him of inciting demonstrators to attack the police. Arab M.K.'s of all factions were united in their militant reactions to the persecution policy of the police and aired statements which reflected the anger and bitterness of their constituencies. M.K. Dehamshe (the Unified Arab List) stated: "We will stand firm against the police. If a policeman comes to demolish our homes, we have the right to defend ourselves. This right permits us to break the hands and feet of that soldier or policeman. Every policeman that hurts us is a delinquent." M.K. Isam Mahul of Hadash stated, "I want to be honest with you. We have incited, we are inciting and we will incite. That is our duty towards the Arab public. The question is how can we rid ourselves of the 'Duvdevan' concept [referring to an undercover unit acting in the '67 territories] which Alek Ron brought from the occupied territories into Israel" (Yediot Ahronot, 9/15/00).
A Gallop poll (reported by Hemi Shalev, Ma'ariv, 9/29/00) revealed "monstrous phenomena, that made our hair stand on end, of deeply rooted hatred and racism in all strata of the Jewish population." Half of them were not willing to live in the same neighborhood with Arabs, more than half were not willing to send their children to a kindergarten where there was an Arab child, and about two-thirds of them would have wanted all Israeli Arabs to be transferred to outside the areas of the state of Israel.
The depth of the alienation and despair that the Palestinian Arabs in Israel feel is genuinely expressed in the words of the Arab journalist Said Kashua:
"This is a state that took your lands away, and somehow you managed to come to terms with that; a state that expelled your people and somehow you forgave that; a state which sets up look-outs and 'community localities' in the Galilee, on the land that used to belong to you -- and that was also forgiven . . The feeling of a redundant people, that are in fact a technical mistake of '48, a state that conveys to a million of its citizens, 'Get out of here! . . . Enough is enough! We don't need them anymore. We have already taken their lands, and construction workers can also be imported, so why do we have to get stuck here with so many Arabs who even dare to open their mouth and ask for rights, instead of shutting their mouth and saying thank you'" (Kol Hair, 10/9/00).
The Israeli "Left" was particularly shocked by the militant demonstrations of Palestinian Arabs inside Israel -- or what is referred to here as the '48 intifada -- "by the hidden genie that came out of the bottle," and by the alienation that they revealed towards the Zionist-Jewish state. As to the fourteen citizens whom the police assassinated, the majority of the "Left" leadership chose not to respond. Others spoke of "understanding" life-threatening situations with which the police were confronted. Well-known intellectuals revealed their orientalist, racist attitude towards Arabs and their total disregard of moral values in assessing their situation. Yermiyahu Yovel, professor of philosophy at the Hebrew University, and a supporter of Peace Now, emphasized that "It was not the distress or the social-economic deprivation that caused the outbreak of Arab citizens of Israel. Rather it was the religious impulse which drove them to rescue the Al Aqsa mosque" (Yediot Ahronot 10/5/00). In his opinion, the secular Arab leaders who "went crazy" inflamed this impulse and exploited it in a cynical way for their own interests. In the eyes of this "liberal" philosopher, the rights of Arab citizens in Israel are not absolute. "The stipulation for their implementation is their responsibility towards the shared state, [but] if you dissent and are subversive in a violent manner, you are forfeiting your democratic partnership and all the rights bound to it."
The shock that the Arab uprising within the state of Israel caused among Jewish Israelis was much greater than that of the uprising of the '67 Occupied Territories. Now both Right and Left hastened to stress the need to find budgets for the Arab sector in Israel, hoping that these would be efficient measures to soften their political and social agitation. In the practical and symbolic sense, the '48 uprising presents a challenge to the very nature of the Jewish state. Moreover, in the uprising of the Arabs within Israel lies the danger of the blurring of differences between the two parts of the Palestinian people. Drawing them closer together negates the objective of separating between the Palestinians on opposite sides of the Green Line.
The Al Aqsa Intifada, which brought the Oslo process officially to its end, revealed the colonialist assumptions on which it was based and the shaky arrangements that were supposed to sustain it. The two main purposes of the Oslo Agreements were to ensure the political stability of the region so that it would be open to the capitalist globalization process; and to promise the Israeli state the continuation of its control over the '67 Occupied Territories with the collaboration of the Palestinian Authority oppressing any opposition and thus satisfying the economic and security interests of Israel.
Moreover, such criticism prevails also within the Fatah militia that Arafat allowed to be established, the Tantheem, who more and more show a tendency towards political and operational independence from Arafat, while challenging the Oslo process, to which they themselves were partner. Indeed, as journalist Danny Rubenstein states (Ha'aretz, 10/18/00), Arafat does not control the uprising which broke out spontaneously and has been largely led by the Tantheem.
Basically untenable was the assumption that the strong police force, which the Oslo Agreements permitted Arafat to set up, would carry out the exclusive mission of ensuring the security of Israeli soldiers, settlers and civilians inside the Green Line. The recent Intifada made it clear that the Palestinian police, including the Preventive Security forces, perceive their duty as the protectors of their people when they are attacked by Israeli soldiers. Moreover, the assumption that it is possible to create a kind of SLA (South Lebanon Army) out of the conquered and oppressed Palestinian people has been shaken, since many Palestinian police have shown strong identification with the militant demonstrations, and even joined them in attacking soldiers and settlers.
But it became clear that Arafat could not as yet sign a settlement which included relinquishing the Right of Return and sovereignty over East Jerusalem and the Al Aqsa Compound. Although at present there is no organized democratic opposition, there still exists in a wide strata of the Palestinian people, at home and in the Diaspora, a considerably high level of politicization and militant energies which constitute a serious threat to Arafat's leadership.
ERASURE OF THE GREEN LINE
The assumption that the separation between the state of Israel and the Occupied Territories of '67 through the Green Line is possible has also been shown to be unreal. The ten days of the uprising of the Palestinian Arabs inside Israel revealed the malice and the stupidity of the slogan "Two states for two people," which had been adopted for years by the more "radical" parts of the Israeli Left. The bearers of this slogan who ignored the existence of Palestinian Arabs in Israel did not foresee the strengthening of their Palestinian national identity. And indeed as Israeli commentators on the Al Aqsa intifada determined, "the Green Line has been blurred." However, this happened not only because of the strong identification with the uprising of their people in the '67 Occupied Territories that the Palestinians in Israel have manifested in their demonstrations. The erasure of the Green Line was performed by Israel itself long before, when Israel has perceived its Arab citizens as enemies, and has used against them the same methods of oppression which it uses against its subjects in the Occupied Territories: shooting live and rubber bullets at demonstrations in protest against Israeli oppression, demolishing "illegal" houses, and confiscating lands and then building settlements which reach the outskirts of the Arab communities from whom the land was taken, thus preventing any development in them.
Here we have before us one of the inherent contradictions in the policy which the Jewish-Zionist state exercises towards its Arab citizens. On one hand, it wishes to differentiate between the two parts of the Palestinian people which were torn from each other in the '48 war, and aims at separating them from each other. On the other hand, in order to justify the existence of a Jewish state, Israel is compelled to repeat and underline the "security" reasons presumably preventing it from accepting Palestinian Arabs as equal citizens and from acknowledging them as a national minority.
STRENGTHENING OF '48 PALESTINIANS' NATIONAL IDENTITY
At the time of Rabin's rule, the state budgets to the Arab local authorities were increased as part of a political alliance that was established with the Arab M.K.'s, according to which they supported the government in the Knesset, although they were not part of the government ("safety net"). At that time, there prevailed in progressive academic circles in Israel the assumption that the "Israelization" process of Arabs in Israel was at its prime, at the expense of their identification with their people in the '67 Occupied Territories ("Palestinization"). Sami Samoha, professor of sociology at Haifa University, determined that it is inevitable that the Palestinians in Israel will accept the Jewish state which is passing through a deep process of democratization, "simply because they have no better alternative to their lives in Israel. The prospect of living in a Palestinian state certainly holds no charms for them. [Thus] it is clear that life in the Jewish -- and democratic -- state of Israel, with all its defects, is still the best deal on offer" (News From Within, Vol. XII, #1, Jan. 1997, quoted verbatim from a conference at Tel Aviv university, Dec. 4, 1996). The individual and collective disorganization of the national Arab minority was of no interest to the Israeli Left. As said before, the main dimension of their world view is that of the security of the state of Israel and its existence as a "Jewish" state.
But once again the massive demonstrations of Palestinian Arabs in Israel confirmed that within their society, which supposedly was destined to be fragmented and atomized, a sense of solidarity with their brothers and sisters on the other side of the Green Line has been growing as part of the strengthening of their Palestinian national identity, along with their willingness to struggle persistently for radical equal citizenship in Israel. However, they are calling not only for "equality of rights" on the individual level, but are demanding the recognition of their collective rights, such as returning the lands which have been stolen from them, granting them cultural autonomy, etc. Moreover, they are now challenging the very legal and ideological foundations of the Jewish-Zionist state in which their oppression is structurally inevitable.
OLD ZIONISM VS. NEOLIBERALISM
Israeli public opinion has also been prepared as in '48, to accept a blatant and cruel policy of force. As revealed by the Gallop Poll which was reported above, Israeli society has become seeped in religious-nationalistic fanaticism. Not a day passes without reports of persecution of Arab citizens, beatings, arson, and attacks on property and human beings. Most of these events are not reported to the police or even to human rights organizations, mainly due to the lack of confidence in legal authorities.
In no small way the responsibility lies on the shoulders of the Zionist Left that assumed it was possible to reach the realization of the Oslo Agreements by convincing the Israeli public with instrumental arguments such as "security" and "separation," without any change in the prevailing discourse about morally justifying Zionism and without recognizing the Palestinian Nakba ("Disaster" of '48) inflicted by it.
We have indeed witnessed supposedly new trends of "Post Zionism," which presented a local version of neo-liberal and multi-culturalist ideology of the capitalist globalization era. The representatives of the new bourgeoisie which emerged with the development of the Israeli economy, and their mouthpiece Labor and Meretz parties, who initiated the Oslo Agreements, have meanwhile failed to achieve the goal of ensuring political stability and "security." It should be noted that large parts of this new bourgeoisie (including professionals and academics, the majority of whom are Ashkenazim) are the biological and ideological offspring of the Zionist Labor movement that founded the state of Israel. There is a structured contradiction between their class interests regarding a free economy and privatization, and their Zionist commitment to the existence of a Jewish state, which rules over the entire area of historic Palestine. The latter demands the continuity of some of the ideological and socio-economic collectivist dimensions of traditional Zionism, which may be an obstacle to a wild free market, and to the ideology which legitimizes it. Within this inner contradiction in the policy and ideology of the political establishment in Israel, the classic Zionist trend of "Blood and Soil," of conquest and direct brutal oppression, has so far won over. It indeed seems that Barak and his followers in the Labor party have decided to disconnect themselves from the unholy alliance with the Israeli big industrialists who are witnessing the destruction of their dreams of the "new Middle East." They are now trying to protest against Barak's attempts to unite with Sharon and are calling upon him to establish a coalition with the religious party Shas -- the same Shas about which, at the time Barak's government was being formed, they repeatedly cried, "Anybody but Shas."
A wide consensus is now emerging around the continuation of the Zionist project in its year 2000 version, which is no less brutal than its previous versions. However, the unity between Right and "Left" will inevitably widen the cracks in the Israeli-American project. It will strengthen the opposition of the Palestinian people on both sides of the Green Line, perhaps even within Israeli society, and will hopefully create a solid core able to disconnect itself from the new nationalistic alliance. This may well ignite the fire of true solidarity with the Palestinian people among the masses in the Arab world -- all of which threaten American imperialism and its Israeli clients in the region.
The siege on the West Bank and the Gaza Strip by air, land and sea, has stopped the movement of people and goods between the '67 Occupied Territories on the one hand, and Israel and the outside world (including Egypt and Jordan) on the other. The economy has reached a standstill, the loses in agriculture are enormous, and the rates of unemployment have increased to 60 percent, not including the 125,000 laborers who are prevented from reaching their work-places inside Israel. This collective punishment of the civilian population is intended to force them to put pressure on Arafat to return to the "peace" talks and accept Barak's dictates (Amir Oren, Ha'aretz, 11/23/00).
Israeli-intensified oppressive policies also include permitting settlers to conduct pogroms against Palestinians, massive uprooting of vineyards and orange groves, a kind of mini-transfer in a number of Palestinian communities (now turned into ghost neighborhoods) which border on settlements, and land expropriation (accompanied with threats to confiscate more) to build by-pass roads. All this is now justified by the definition of the current situation as a "war" against "terrorism," which presumably removes any restrictions on the methods which Israel uses. That is why Israel is against stationing international observers (or even the American "study delegation") which now has become a most urgent necessity.
Each day brings new mechanisms in order to prevent the attempts of the Palestinians to focus their attacks on the main roads used by the settlers. In the Gaza Strip, Israel finalized the division between the North and the South and is contemplating the isolation of all refugee camps in the Strip from each other.
In the West Bank, Israel has now realized that the by-pass road "trick," which was meant to connect the settlements and enable the settlers to travel peacefully between them and to their places of work in Israel, has failed. Dozens of cement blocks have been scattered throughout the West Bank this month to prevent Palestinian vehicles from travelling along these indirect roads, thus jailing them in enclaves. The purpose of this step is to strengthen Israel's control over the entire geographical space between the Palestinian locations, a space which has been loosened since the beginning of the Intifada two months ago. The loosening of the Israeli control over this space was the result of the change that took place in the patterns of the Uprising, namely, less mass involvement of citizens in demonstrations and the increase of firing at military targets, and the movement of settlers and soldiers on the roads. These actions are largely led by Fatah activists (members of the "Tantheem") who now declare that the Intifada will continue "until return of refugees to within Israeli borders and until the full national rights, including sovereignty on El Aqsa compound are fulfilled."
Until the end of November, the political and security establishment in Israel could not reach an agreement about the issue of Arafat's responsibility for the different activities of the Intifada. Barak readily adopted the position of "Aman" (General Intelligence Service), which, contrary to the "Shabak" (Secret Security Services), claimed that Arafat could easily stop the "violence" by "delegating command."
No doubt Barak's Orientalist viewpoint, which has traditionally been adopted by most leaders of Zionist colonialism, eased his acceptance of the Aman position. However, Barak also took advantage of these differences of opinion for his own needs when he was called upon to justify Israel's bombing of the institutes of the Palestinian Authority and the Preventive Security Services, and to explain to America his refusal to return to negotiations until Arafat kept the promise he had given at SharEm "to lower the level of violence." The argument that "Arafat is no longer a partner in peace" served Barak well when he tried hard to set up an Emergency Government with Likud chair Sharon to strengthen the conception that we do not have here a popular uprising against occupation, but rather bloodthirsty primitive bands that act according to orders given by a terrorist leader, without any opinion of their own. At the beginning of the month of Ramadan, on November 27, Barak "donated" symbolic gestures to ease the economic attack on the Palestinians because, "really and truly, Arafat has no control over the violence" (Akiva Ekdar, Ha'aretz, 11/28/00). The establishment spokespersons from among the media's senior commentators now repeat Barak's partial purification of Arafat (Zeev Shiff, Ha'aretz, 11/29/00), which was exactly what Barak needed when he decided to return to the alternative of negotiations, after the option of an Emergency Government with Sharon was dropped.
Barak's government has reached the stage where it commands only 30 seats in the Knesset. The wide coalition of 73 MK's, which he established on July 4, 1999, has dwindled down to 30 MK (out of 120) in only a year (24 of the "One Israel" Party and 6 of the "Center Party"). Barak was compelled to choose between two options: an Emergency Government, which could keep him alive politically for a while, or elections. Sharon was interested in joining an Emergency Government since the elections option would enable Likud rival Netanyahu to return to the political arena (which he left after his defeat in the elections one-and-a-half years previous), win the primaries as Likud representative and replace Sharon as leader of the party. Also, Barak understood that without the support of the "security net" in the Knesset which the Arab lists and Shas refused to promise him, the Emergency Government with Sharon is his last chance. He thus conducted secret talks with Sharon for the last weeks where the only argument between the two concerned the "price Barak would pay." This price has increased as the Likud succeeded in weakening Barak, both in the Knesset and within his own party. In order to recruit the support of his colleagues in the Likud to the notion of an Emergency Government, Sharon stipulated difficult terms to join it by demanding a veto in the peace talks. In that case, an Emergency Government would have delayed the beginning of the peace talks for a number of years, and the Americans and the dove members of the Labor party were opposed to it. Barak could not accept it, and the Likud submitted the law proposal to dissolve the Knesset (first reading) and prepare for general elections. A few hours before the time scheduled for the vote (on 11/28/00), when it became clear that the proposal was about to receive a majority, Barak decided to avoid the shame and to inform the Knesset that he was supporting the election law. The proposal passed with a majority of 80 votes, including the Arab vote, which, for the first time, was unanimous against the Labor Party -- a sign of things to come.
The elections, which it seems will take place in May, 2001, give Barak five months to achieve any agreement with the Palestinians, the only thing which could ensure his victory. However, since there is no essential difference between Sharon and Barak in their position regarding an agreement with the Palestinians, the main considerations in the policy that they are conducting relate to interests and calculations of power struggles. As shown above, these were the reasons for the decision taken to move for elections. Also, power considerations rather than substantive political principles made it easy for Barak to change his stubborn position as to achieving a Final Agreement with the Palestinians, and to declare his readiness to discuss an "Interim Agreement" or a "Final Agreement in stages" which would not include Jerusalem and the refugee issues, precisely Sharon's position until now. Therefore, there still exists the possibility of Barak and Sharon agreeing to establish an Emergency Government, which could prevent both of them from losing the elections, if Netanyahu runs for the leadership of the Likud.
Barak's suggestion for a new Interim Agreement, however, has nothing new in it that had not been included in past proposals. Moreover, it even cuts away much of the "generous" suggestion which had been submitted to Arafat at Camp David (Zvi Bar'el, Ha'aretz, 11/2/00). So it is only left for us to hope that Arafat is not tempted to view the possibilities of the Likud return to power (or the joint government with Sharon) as a great danger, and that in order to prevent that, he not hasten to achieve an agreement with Barak according to the latter's dictates.
Contents of No. 30