The Guardian February 12, 2003

Israel Labor-led election debacle

by Hans Lebrecht

Headed by Labor chair Amram Mitzna, most of the Labor Party ranks blame 
their election debacle on the Party's 20 months of fig-leave cabinet 
collaboration with the Sharon Government. This collaboration in Sharon's 
atrocious war and anti-social course, caused a further deterioration of the 
security situation, as well as pushing the masses further into the abyss of 
dire poverty.

Their departure from that catastrophic government in November and the short 
six-week election campaign came too late to repair the damage done to the 
credibility of the Labor Party.

The self-styled "left" Zionist Meretz Party lost almost half of its 
support, winning only six Knesset seats, compared to its former ten. Let's 
remember that Meretz, led by Yossi Sareed, refused to join the Coalition of 
Peace forces, in which 29 parties and organisations are united.

In particular, they could not accept that one of the components of the 
coalition is a group of army officers and soldiers who refuse to serve as 
occupation oppressors in the occupied Palestinian territories.

Now Sareed has paid the consequences of his party's election debacle and 
resigned from post as chairman (but not from the Knesset).

The Meretz leadership plus two former Labor "doves" (Yossi Beilin and Yael 
Dayan) are now trying, with or without the Labour Party, to form a new 
social-democratic party. Whether they will succeed, is still written in the 

However, the peace camp will remain active as before, or even strengthen 
its activities in face of a probably more violent, more enthusiastic pro-
Bush war and anti-social Sharon (or Netanyahu) Government.

A big winner at these elections was the petty-bourgeois party Shinui 
(Change), chaired by the former journalist and well-known right-wing market 
place political braggart Yosef (Tommy) Lapid.

His party, which had six seats in the outgoing Knesset, won 15 this time. 
Lapid's mobilising card was the demand to oust the ultra clerical "Haredi" 
parties, mainly the Shas, from their major influence on state policy.

The motley composition of Shinui's now elected leaders do not have common 
backgrounds. Most of them joined because their former "homes" with Labour, 
Meretz or the Likud Party had disappointed them.

Israel has a long experience with such motley petty-bourgeois upstart 
parties which cause much trouble, and then disappears when most of their 
members return to their former parties or, doubly disappointed, leave 
politics altogether. This happened at the 1977 elections when the Dash 
party of "Democratic Change", led by a former army chief-of-staff general, 
Yigal Yadin, also gained 15 Knesset seats.

Right after those elections Yadin and some of his Dash colleagues joined 
the Mahal (forerunner of today's Likud), chaired by right-wing conservative 
Menahem Begin of the old rightist Herut party, enabling him to establish 
his right-wing government.

By this mean they helped topple the hitherto 29-year social democrat 
Workers Party (forerunner of today's Labour) government rule, headed at the 
time by Yitzhak Rabin. Shortly afterwards, the Dash leaders returned either 
to the Mahal or Labour benches, or retired from political life. One even 
committed suicide.

The attempt of racist elements in the right-wing and fascist parties to 
outlaw, or at least deprive Arab nationals, of their active election 
rights, received a just rebuff. My readers might remember that the 
politically biased Central Election Board adopted resolutions to ban two 
Arab Knesset Members, Azmi Bishara and Ahmad Tibi, as well as Bishara's 
Balad Party, from signing their candidacies and participation in the 

The excuse was that they allegedly collaborated with Palestinian 
"terrorists" and that they undermined the Jewish character of the State of 
Israel. Both, Bishara and Tibi won seats in the new Knesset; the Balad 
party even tripled its representation.

True, the under-representation of the Arab minority population  almost 20 
percent of the citizens of Israel  in Israel's Parliament is distinctly 
racist. In fact, especially after the October 2000 police massacre of 13 
Arab citizens, the Arab population as a whole has become a stout and strong 
factor in the peace camp.

Regretfully, the call for a united front of all Arab parties (for instance 
by the Communist Forum) to compete in the elections against the racist 
trend in Israel on a platform for peace and full equality, was not adopted.

What now?

Without any doubt, State President Moshe Katzav will ask Sharon to form the 
next government. Sharon most certainly will not need all the 42 days open 
to him to form a government, which will be supported by a Knesset majority.

Even if Sharon himself might be forced to resign because of the still 
smouldering bribery and corruption scandals, his place would be taken by 
his Likud deputy, Binyamin Netanyahu.

Sharon is still trying to create a so-called broad Coalition of Unity with 
Likud, the clerical parties, Shinui and Labour. He is reluctant at the 
moment to form a small coalition which would embrace also the radical 
right-wing and fascist elements.

He has one eye on Washington and a Bush "peace initiative", as well as his 
appeal for another US$4 billion dollar injection and US$8 billion bank 
guarantees from the US treasury.

His other eye is on the European Union, by far the largest trading partner 
of Israel, which in some ways sympathises with the Palestinians and their 
demand for justice and national recognition of their rights.

As mentioned already, Labour chair Mitzna rejects all attempts by Sharon, 
as well as by some of his own party colleagues who sat on ministerial 
chairs in the Sharon cabinet, to go into partnership with Sharon. How far 
Labor would be prepared to join the other components of the peace camp, or 
again remain aloof from such a partnership, remains to be seen.

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