WAIT NO LONGER

by Boris Shusteff

Only a few weeks have transpired since Sharon's announcement of new elections, but all the signs are already in place, indicating that Israelis are going to be taken for the familiar ride of empty promises and slogans. If the current situation continues, this will also mean that the new government that takes office will also not resolve the problems that Israel faces, just as its four predecessors did not.

The main reason for this is the fear of leaders of the Israeli national camp to present a real alternative to the people. To be more precise, they must explain to the people that the only practical alternative to the suicidal Oslo process is the resettlement of the Arabs outside of western Eretz Yisrael. It is understandable that these kinds of statements are not going to come from Sharon or Netanyahu, especially during their contest for leading the Likud. And it is exactly for this reason that the rightist camp cannot wait any longer.

It is important to note that assigning Sharon to the rightist camp is a little farfetched. He is a typical centrist with very strong fists, but holding to the old Mapai party ideology. There is no doubt that the majority of Israelis sees him exactly this way. The best proof of this are poll results, published on November 8 in the Israeli daily "Yediot Aharanot." They showed that the Likud, headed by Sharon, would receive from 2 to 4 more Knesset mandates, than if it were to be led by Netanyahu. What is important here is that the seats lost in the case of Netanyahu would go to the Labor party. Translated into words, this means that a very large group of Israelis do not see a real difference between Sharon and the Labor party. More evidence of this is the recent declaration by Shimon Peres that he would welcome the creation of a centrist party led by him and Sharon.

However, the person who finally dispelled all doubt is Sharon himself. On November 13, speaking to Israeli TV Channel 2, he said that "actually the Palestinian state already exists." This transparent hint means that Sharon is ready to acquiesce to the transformation of the de facto Palestinian Arab state into a de jure one. Apparently, this is the sacrifice that Israel will have to make, and about which he constantly speaks. Sharon said that "Israel and the Palestinian Autonomy will have to agree to mutual concessions" and that "the signing of the peace agreement with the Palestinians - is the only way for the country to overcome the extended economic crisis."

While there is nothing new in Sharon's pronouncements, the faithful supporters of the national camp must be undoubtedly disappointed by some of Netanyahu's slogans. His promise to expel Arafat is very reminiscent of Sharon's admission that "he promised to President Bush not to harm Arafat, and he will stick to his word." It is just enough to look at the members of Arafat's murderous gang vacationing in Europe after their "deportation" from the Church of the Nativity, in order to understand that threatening to expel Arafat is about as serious to threatening a fish with being thrown into water.

The way that Israel's leaders have dealt with Arafat represents their inability to take upon themselves the responsibility for the fate of the Jews and the Jewish state. Since there is more Jewish blood on Arafat's hands than on anyone's since Hitler's time, the best he should be able count on is a quick meeting of an Israeli military tribunal, which will unanimously declare him guilty for crimes against the Jews and humanity and will speedily apply the death penalty.

Another one of Netanyahu's declarations, to the effect that after Arafat's expulsion an opportunity will emerge to find a pragmatic leader among the Palestinian Arabs with whom to negotiate about Palestinian autonomy, is either from the same category of irresponsibility or a pre-election gimmick. If the latter is the case, and he is trying to attract those who are afraid to make sharp turns to avoid capsizing the ship of Arab-Israeli relations, he is dead wrong. The latest polls show that when asked who will do a better job negotiating with the Arabs, the majority prefers Sharon to Bibi.

If Netanyahu plans to succeed in Likud's primaries, he must prove to the Likud electorate that he has learned his lessons from his first term as Prime Minister. The appearance on the Israeli political scene of the new "Yisrael Aheret" (Another Israel) party and Amram Mitzna's landslide victory in Labor party primaries unequivocally mean that Israelis are tired of familiar faces and endless promises and declarations.

The fact that Mitzna and "Yisrael Aheret" represent the left wing of Israeli politics only underlines the huge gap in the national camp. Certainly, the appearance within the Likud of Moshe Feiglin and his "Manhigut Yegudit" (Jewish Leadership) movement is a breath of fresh air for everybody who yearns for a genuine Jewish state. However, even Feiglin himself does not believe that he can succeed in the Likud's primaries this time. Nevertheless he hopes that by gaining experience in this struggle, his movement can eventually come to lead the Likud.

If this approach were taking place in any other democratic country, and not in one where people are desperate and eager to listen to any false idea, it would be very appropriate. But in Israeli circumstances it could prove severely detrimental. It would be a must for Feiglin to lead this kind of battle if he were 100% sure that Netanyahu would defeat Sharon in Likud's primaries. However, what about Sharon's victory in the primaries? Did Feiglin consider that in the case of the emergence of a Palestinian Arab state, even on 42% of the lands of Judea, Samaria and Gaza (as constantly hinted by Sharon), the Arab-Jewish equation in the Middle East would take a drastically different shape? It would be the first time in modern history that this primordial Jewish land would obtain legal status as an indisputable sovereign land of an Arab state recognized by the international community. And let us not deceive ourselves, 42% will very soon become much closer to 80-90%. Is it safe to assume then, that the leader of Jewish Leadership will be satisfied with a Jewish state that lacks the land that gave the Jews their name, and which is the soul of the Jewish people?

Moshe Feiglin's sincerity is unquestionable, as well as his strong faith in the rightness of the route that he has taken. He genuinely believes in every single word from his November 7th appeal, in which he declared,

For the first time in the history of the State of Israel the Jewish nation has been given the right to vote for a Jewish State.... Even if the majority prefer to remain in the prison cell of the current consciousness, even if the majority will still not make use of the key to freedom that we are offering, from this moment on the key lies in its hands. There will be elections again in another year or two and then the Jewish nation will make use of the key and choose leadership that expresses its nature.... Those who are pressuring us to remove our candidacy because they think that they will gain something from Netanyahu are in fact proposing to improve the jail conditions at the price of losing the key.

Feiglin is correct, there will be elections again in another year or two, and it is exactly then that he and his movement will be in an excellent position to fight for leadership, after becoming much stronger. However, it does not mean that today he must stop struggling "because they think that they will gain something from Netanyahu." The political problem must be framed completely differently. What should be the essence of this struggle? What must Feiglin do in the current situation to help Netanyahu win this election, while preparing his own victory in the next one? At the heart of the matter lie not the gains that can be obtained from Netanyahu, but the foreclosure of the option of just another Arab state. Therefore Feiglin and his movement must demonstrate the highest level of responsibility and help the Likud to remain in the rightist camp and not to shift toward the center if Sharon wins the primaries.

Feiglin must never forget that he is first of all struggling against the party apparatus. Stalin's example in the former Soviet Union demonstrated the might of such an apparatus and the ruthlessness with which it destroys anyone who tries to change it. Therefore, instead of putting himself in conflict with Netanyahu, whom the apparatus also considers to be a newcomer, Feiglin could move closer to his goal if he considers Bibi not as an opponent, but rather as an ally in the struggle for the creation of a strong national camp.

Before it is too late, Feiglin should consider entering negotiations with Bibi as an equal partner. In exchange for the support that he and his movement will offer Bibi, Feiglin should request ironclad guarantees in writing that the direction, which Netanyahu will take as a Prime Minister, will coincide with the ideology of the Jewish Leadership. Recalling the fact that the polls still favor Sharon, it follows that Netanyahu will inevitably be interested in such a partnership.

It is worth remembering that one of the main reasons why the rightist camp did not see Netanyahu in the role of a rightist prime minister between 1996 and 1999 was the fact that during his tenure the rightist camp was completely dormant. Though Bibi, while abandoned by everybody, miraculously defeated the Likud apparatus, he was unable to do anything against the Israeli bureaucracy at the state level.

Feiglin will commit a terrible blunder if he decides that, after he defeats the bureaucracy of the Likud, he will be slated for an easy victory against the apparatus of power of the country itself. Today almost all rightist groups and parties make the same mistake of underestimating the bureaucracy (except the Israel Beiteinu-Tkuma-Moledet union). Only Avigdor Liberman, who has experienced the might of the apparatus firsthand, knows better than anyone in the rightist camp the importance of the unity of all the rightist forces.

Unfortunately for the national camp, his desperate attempts to bring Mafdal (the National Religious Party) into the rightist coalition, have failed so far. And again this happened due to the strength of the apparatus. This time it is the internal apparatus of Mafdal, which still cannot resign itself to the fact that Effi Eitam, the newcomer, is the leader of the party. Therefore, while Eitam was ready for an alliance with Liberman, the bureaucracy of Mafdal opposed the merger under the false pretense of the purity of its religious views and the impossibility of a union with a secular party.

And if religious and non-religious groups will squabble within the nationalist camp, then it is completely useless to try to unite it. Especially since Liberman did not even suggest that Mafdal abandon its ideology. The parties that Liberman planned to bring together were meant to unite into a national camp with each one keeping all of its principles intact.

The situation that we observe today would be amusing if it were not so tragic. Not long ago, in order to unite the national forces, the Yamin Yisrael party was courting Feiglin, while he, in turn, was calling on Yamin Yisrael to merge with his Jewish Leadership movement within the Likud. And today both Feiglin and Yamin Yisrael prefer complete independence.

All this is extraordinarily painful since today the national camp possesses a unique opportunity. Acting simultaneously in two directions: Moshe Feiglin within the Likud party establishing a strong ideological kernel for Netanyahu, and the united front of national forces from another direction, in the upcoming elections these two national groups could win close to the 60 mandates needed for establishing the government.

Instead of blaming each other for this or that mistake, recalling who promised whom what and did not deliver, arguing whose program is better, and accusing each other of the imperfectness of their goals, all the parties of the national camp (Yisrael Beiteinu, Tkuma, Moledet, Mafdal, Herut) and all the small parties and groups (Yamin Yisrael, Gamla, Women in Green, Professors for a Strong Israel. etc.) ASBSOLUTELY MUST unite into a strong national front. And the sooner this achieved, the better.

Two main principles should be placed in the union agreement. The first one must include a declaration by each participant that they will not abandon the union at least for four years. This will allow the country to have a stable government for a length of time recently unprecedented in Israel. The second principle must include the unequivocal declaration that there will never be an Arab state created even on a single square inch of the lands of Judea, Samaria and Gaza, the eternal birthright of the Jewish people, and that the emigration of Palestinian Arabs out of these lands will be encouraged. The consolidation of the national camp will become a balsam for the souls of the war-weary and absolutely disoriented Israelis. And without any doubt during the upcoming elections they will reward the politicians for this move with extra Knesset seats.

This consolidation will also open the road to the concrete development of a real alternative to the suicidal Oslo process. The leaders of all the aforementioned groups and parties (Liberman, Elon, Eitam, Kleiner, Feiglin, Eidelberg, Leshem, and others) will easily find a common language on the issue of relocation of the Arabs from Western Eretz Yisrael. United, they will have an excellent opportunity to educate Netanyahu on this subject, by bringing the topic of Arab resettlement into the arena of public discourse and making it a legitimate theme for discussions.

The idea of Arab resettlement outside Western Eretz Yisrael will be stillborn as long as it is not presented as a viable option among other possible solutions. A difficult struggle awaits us on the road to its implementation. However, the first step must be taken now, in the wake of upcoming elections, through the consolidation of all national forces. It is impossible to wait any longer. Too much time has been wasted. Too much blood has been spilled.

11/21/02

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Boris Shusteff is an engineer. He is also a research associate with the Freeman Center for Strategic Studies.



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