Gershon Baskin, 5/4/2004
The Morning After Pill
Monday, May 03, 2004
Arik Sharon must have woken up with this morning with the thought: if only they had invented a pill that would make all of my mistakes of yesterday go away! In reading this morning papers, Sharon will find, for the first time in Israel's history that almost no one is offering any advice and real analysis. The papers in Israel and around the world this morning are almost completely devoid of any real sound analytical understanding of what happened in Israel yesterday and what will happen next. The sense of confusion has left even the senior Likud Ministers dumbfounded for words. A political earthquake has befallen on Israel and although it seems that the earthquake was completely predicable, there is nevertheless a sense of after shock and nervousness regarding what comes next.
"Sharon experts" cannot seem to find the words to explain how the greatest Israeli political tactician could have made such a large error in supporting the internal Likud poll on his most important and boldest political initiative ever. "Anti-Sharon experts" will undoubtedly will raise the conspiracy theories and say that Sharon's real intention from the outset was to demonstrate to the Americans that it is simply impossible to remove settlements, even in the heart of 1.3 million Palestinians.
The whole idea of the Likud poll, called a demonstration of Israel's democracy, seemed to me to be one of the greatest blows to Israeli democracy. I know of no other example in democratic countries where 193,190 members of a political party, even a ruling party, have the right and the ability to determine the most important foreign policy decision of a country that would impact upon the entire region and perhaps the entire world. In the end, some 40% of the Likud members used that right with 60% of them voting against Sharon's disengagement plan, leaving their own Prime Minister with a vote of no confidence. In other words, about 1.3% of Israelis participated in the vote meaning that less than 1% of Israelis voted against Sharon's plan. One percent of Israelis may have determined the fate of the State of Israel for years to come. Only in the former communist so-called "Democratic republics" (or China, North Korea and Cuba of today) and in ancient Athens did so few people have so much power to determine the lives and fates of so many others.
Sharon does have a number of options for him to choose from - none of them are good. Knowing that nearly 60% of the Israeli Jewish population supports the disengagement plan, Sharon could propose to bring the decision to a real referendum of the Israeli public. There are several problems here, one of them is that Israel has no legal structure for a referendum and it would require legislation. It is not clear at all that Sharon would be able to pass a law for referenda in the Knesset. If such a law is tabled, there is no doubt that there will be an extremely heated debate on what majority would be required for such a referendum to be valid and binding. There will definitely be those in the Knesset who will wish to de-legitimize the rights of Israel's Palestinian Arab citizens, more than 1 million, to be part of the democratic determination of Israel's future vis—vis the Palestinians. This public debate will most likely cause additional damage to the extremely shaky and unstable relations between Jewish and Arab Israelis.
There is no guarantee that a Referendum Bill in the Knesset would have the necessary majority to pass. With the Likud poll tying the hands of Likud MK's and Ministers (many of them willingly) there is legitimate reason to believe that Sharon will not have the majority within the government or within the party faction to take any steps that would bring about implementation of his plan. Shinui party leader, Minister of Justice Tommy Lapid has said that he demands that the Sharon plan be brought for a vote in the government. Sharon and Lapid do not have a majority in the government o pass the plan. With the Likud poll behind them, Netanyahu, Livnat, Shalom and others within the government from the Likud, even under the pressure of the heavy weight of Sharon, will think more than 10 times before they go against the party. They all know that new elections may be around the corner and they know that it is the Likud party membership that will determine if they are placed high enough on the Likud party list to return to their comfortable seats around the cabinet table.
Sharon may attempt to manipulate events by stressing the importance of the relationship with George Bush, but what can Bush do? With 150 American soldiers killed in Iraq in April and Senator Kerry breathing down his neck, Bush has bigger problems to deal with than internal Israeli politics.
Sharon could try to reorganize his government. But even if he removes the Nationalist Union and the National Religious Party from his government and even some of the anti-disengagement Likud ministers such as Uzi Landau, there is a very good chance that the Likud MK's would organize their own coupe against Sharon. They would send him packing to the farm while Netanyahu could be given the reigns of Authority. Sharon could resign and call for new elections, but there is no guarantee that the Knesset would agree to play along. The Knesset could accept Sharon's resignation and the Likud could support a new coalition without Sharon at its head. Netanyahu, it should be recalled, was one of the supporting voices in the Likud Party convention raised loudly against the Road Map because it would lead to the creation of a Palestinian state.
If there are new elections, there is no guarantee that Sharon would once again win the Likud primary for leadership. In this case, Sharon could try to reorganize the entire Israeli political map. There could be an attempt to create a new political centrist party supporting the disengagement plan as its main issue. Sharon in that case would attempt to gather the so-called Likud moderates, the rightist members of Labour, and Shinui as well as some other independents such as leading former military and security personnel. Sharon's plans in this direction would be fostered by the polls that show a large majority of Israelis support leaving Gaza. But there are no guarantees that this would bring Sharon back to lead the government.
The earth shattering events of yesterday will only begin to have their impact in the coming days and weeks. Israel and Palestine have entered into a new era of great confusion and even more turmoil. The outrageous murder yesterday of Tali Hatuel, pregnant in her 9th month, and her four daughters was not the first atrocity committed by Palestinians or Israelis in the name of their national struggle and certainly not the last. This morning the IDF Chief of Staff stated that this criminal act was committed out of deeply rooted hatred. That might be true, but it is only part of the truth. Tali Hatuel and her four daughters were certainly not combatants, but in the absurdity of our conflict they are perceived as such by a large section of the Palestinian public. I am in no way granting any form of legitimacy for their murder. This morning I have come under attack by what seems to be people from the American Christian Zionists groups, having already received tens of emails this morning of the kind below:
You have oft voiced support for the "palestinian cause" and shown UNDERSTANDING for bloodthirsty terrorist attacks against the people of Israel. One wonders what sort of person feels no shame at continuing to support those who commit these evil, racist crimes against innocent and helpless Israeli women and children. In my opinion, those who support the genocidal crimes of the "palestinians" are no better than the racist, arab murderers themselves - indeed perhaps in some ways even worse. In fact, they are nothing less than good 'ol- fashioned NAZIS following in the footsteps of Hitler, Himmler, Oswald Mosely, Quisling, etc., etc.....!
I would like to state the following - I have never ever supported violence and terrorism - not Palestinian violence and terrorism nor Israeli terrorism and violence. As Tali's sister said this morning on Israel radio, Tali and her husband knew where they were living and they knew the risks they were taking. Tali's sister and other members of their family for a long time have refused to visit their relatives in Gaza. She said that Tali had no right to subject other members of her family to the kind of dangers that she had decided for herself and her own children. I agree with Tali's sister. Tali's bad decision to be a settler should not be punishable by death. Her children should certainly not be held responsible for the irresponsible and reckless behavior of their mother and father. The murderers of Tali and her children should not be granted any understanding and any tolerance by any human being. No political or national cause can justify the killing of children - not Israeli children and not Palestinian children - under absolutely no conditions should this be tolerated or accepted.
It should be very clear, as I have written many times over the past years, with the erection of the fences and walls around Palestinian territories, creating a situation where Israel and Israelis are located on both sides of the barrier; settlers will increasingly become the target instead of Israelis on the other side of the fence. This is not an issue of hate. There is a war going on and in that war the strategy of the Palestinian combatants is to force Israel to leave the West Bank and Gaza. That strategy is aimed at creating pain, shock and terror. In the real cold analysis of how decisions are made in this part of the world, Israel included; the language of force, pain and suffering is what motivates difficult decisions. How else can it be explained why it took Israel 18 years to leave southern Lebanon? The killing of Tali and her family while probably not directed specifically at them, but it was part of a grand strategy to force Israel to leave Gaza and the West Bank, and sadly the killing will continue and sadly it will be the primary motivating factor to force Israel out of Gaza.
This must end. Israel should have the courage and the foresight to put an end to the occupation now because it is in Israel's national interest to do so. There has been debate within the Israeli left about support for Sharon's plan. It is clear that this is far from what is desired in order to make peace. But I believe that Israeli actions that bring about the removal of settlements and Israeli withdrawal from occupied territories, including the Sharon plan, must be supported, in the interest of Israel.
What is really required is renewed Israeli-Palestinian engagement in a negotiated process. But Sharon, Arafat and Bush will not meet at the same table. In the absence of any negotiated political process, any plan that removes Israel from even parts of the West Bank and Gaza should be supported. At the same time it is important to recognize that the killing will continue. Israelis will continue to kill Palestinians and Palestinians will continue to kill Israelis. Anyone, anywhere, who does not condemn that killing is a complacent supporter of violence and death and is working against the interests of the Israeli and Palestinian peoples. Those who call on me to condemn Palestinian murders of children, I call upon them to condemn the murderers of all children.
We have woken up to another day of great uncertainty. There is no "morning after pill" to eliminate the mistakes of yesterday. There is only the hope that we will all find the wisdom to do the right thing from now on.
Dr. Gershon Baskin is the Israeli Co-Director of IPCRI, the Israel/Palestine Center for Research and Information.
Gershon Baskin, Ph.D. Co-Director, IPCRI
P.O. Box 9321, Jerusalem 91092
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"I think the idea that it is possible to continue keeping 3.5 million Palestinians under occupation - yes it is occupation, you might not like the word, but what is happening is occupation - is bad for Israel, and bad for the Palestinians, and bad for the Israeli economy. Controlling 3.5 million Palestinians cannot go on forever. You want to remain in Jenin, Nablus, Ramallah and Bethlehem?"
Ariel Sharon, May 26, 2003