By Yoel Marcus
[Ha'aretz - 1 Nov]
A millionaire commando all set to rescue the nation. Ne'eman and Caspi as UN mediators patching things up between Sharon and Fuad. "It's not nice," they said from morning to night. "Now is not the time. The situation is critical. Think about the consequences." "Not now. It's the wrong time," said the president, in the role of national cuckoo clock.
The Labor ministers had faces so yellow, you'd think they just came out of the theater in Moscow. They really didn't want to go. "Fuad chose the wrong issue and the worst possible timing to quit the government," said Peres, who fought like a lion to prevent the walk-out. "If a chemical warhead hits us, who's going to decide what Israel should do? Uzi Landau and Effi Eitam?"
Scaring the public has always been an effective tool in the hands of politicians. All of a sudden, they remember the country is about to be hit by an earthquake (if not tomorrow, then maybe 50 years from now). This week, Sharon remembered that Iraq has planes full of biological and/or chemical agents that could be dropped on Israel - his way of saying: Now is not the time.
Maybe Fuad's excuse for quitting isn't convincing, and maybe his timing is pretty bad, but it really doesn't matter. Labor should have been outside the government ages ago. It contributed nothing and prevented nothing. Sharon made it a laughingstock.
In name, Israel had a unity government, but in practice, it was the government of one man, who ran it like a right-wing administration, period. The Labor leaders were major partners in the government in appearance only. They knew what was going on, sometimes beforehand and sometimes afterward, to quote Begin's famous remark about his relations with Sharon. The kitchenette was closed for business. There were times when Peres was neutralized by prior arrangement with Fuad, and times when Fuad was neutralized by Sharon, who gave orders to the army over his head.
Like it or not, Labor became a partner to Sharon's bullying of the Palestinians, to the deterioration of law and order in the territories, to the preferential treatment of the settlements, to the building and expansion of outposts. Fuad himself played a double game, talking about political horizons and dismantling outposts, but doing nothing on either score. Who would have believed that a country run in partnership with the Labor Party would be denounced by the world, that its products would boycotted, its generals accused of crimes against humanity and its citizens advised not to speak Hebrew when traveling abroad?
In principle, unity governments are convened only in times of national emergency. Since the founding of the state, this type of government has been needed only twice: In 1967, in the days leading up to and including the Six-Day War, and in 1985, for the purpose of halting inflation and ending the Lebanon War. Many truly important things have been done by non-unity governments. The Sinai Campaign, which ended with the conquest of Sinai and the Gaza Strip, was fought under the auspices of the Mapai administration. Peace with Egypt in return for withdrawal from Sinai was an achievement of the Begin administration. During the Madrid Conference and the Gulf War, the Shamir administration operated entirely on its own. The Hebron accord was reached by the Netanyahu administration, and unilateral withdrawal from Lebanon was carried out by the Barak administration. The unity governments have been a recipe for paralysis, crippling leadership on both sides.
The Labor Party went into partnership with Sharon without a clear agenda of its own. In practice, the cynical objective was to shore each other up: Sharon, in his bid to block Bibi, and Fuad, to insure that he heads the Labor list for the next Knesset as a reigning defense minister. But instead of the Labor Party steering toward peace, Sharon took the lead with aggressive policies and a gradual return to the territories. Labor became irrelevant and a supplier of alibis for Sharon's actions.
Fuad's pretext for quitting the government may be forced, but things had reached the point where leaving was imperative: Labor was on the verge of disappearing as a political entity. It needs time-out to rehabilitate its leadership and recreate itself as a genuine alternative to a prime minister and a party that are leading this country toward economic, social and military hell.
True, these are not easy times, but if one looks optimistically ahead, now is the time to heave a sigh of relief and say: Good riddance.