Barak and Sharon
January 5, 2001
BARAK AND SHARON - TWO GENERALS FROM TWO PARTIES
HAVE MORE IN COMMON THAN DIFFERENT
While the Labor "Doves" are busy running ads in Arab papers showing dismembered
corpses in Palestinian Refugee Camps -- with the caption "Sharon" -- the reality
is that Generals Ehud Barak and Ariel Sharon are more two of a kind than anything
else. Indeed, the massacres at Sabra and Shatilla in 1982 though blamed on Sharon
have Barak written on them as well, though he has worked hard to pretend otherwise.
The reality is that General Barak was one of the key Generals who perpetrated
the Lebanon war along with Sharon and in fact secretly advocated finding some
excuse to expand the war to Syria and push the Syrians totally out of Lebanon.
And a more hidden reality, discussed in the article below, is that in some ways,
with General Barak as Prime Minister and the choice now limited, at a crucial
moment in Israel's history, to Generals Barak and Sharon in the upcoming election,
Israel has become a "military dictatorship in parliamentary disguise."
These two articles, the first by an Israeli Professor at Tel Aviv University,
the second published in Lebanon, help put the Barak-Sharon election and the Israeli
scene in much clearer perspective.
COUNT THE BLANK BALLOTS
"This dangerous and power driven general
is now being packaged as our savior the
knight of peace. And those who don't
want him, are stuck with Sharon."
Never was Israel further from democracy as it is in the coming
elections. In the polls, 60% of the voters wanted another candidate
to run against the two generals, but the political system, blatantly
ignoring anything known about the will of the majority, forced a choice
between only two candidates, neither of whom nears the majority of
50+%, required by law.
Less than a month ago, we were still at the peak of the war hysteria
which Barak and his close military circle have generated. "I have
not yet managed to understand from Arafat that he is willing to
acknowledge the existence of the state of Israel" - he declared. The
spirit of 1948 was thick in the air: war with the occupied
Palestinians, with the Israeli Palestinians, and "if necessary" -
with Syria and the whole Arab world. For the first time in his cadence,
Barak looked glowing and focused, like someone who has finally reached
This dangerous and power driven general is now being packaged as our
savior the knight of peace. And those who don't want him, are stuck
We reached this state through a long process of neglect of the
basic values of democracy. Formally, the elections system of Israel
is similar to that in France. There too, the law states that the
(presidency) elections can be decided on the first round only with
absolute majority, namely, if there is a candidate who got more than
50% of the votes. But there, there are always more than two
candidates. The underlying assumption is that the elections are the
time at which the society determines its way for the next few years.
If no candidate has gained in advance the support of the majority,
there should be a second process of discussion and convincing,
towards the second round.
But in Israel, there is already a tradition of forcing a decision
in the first round. In the last, 1999, elections massive pressure
was exercised on the other candidates to withdraw before the first
round. This time this was already guaranteed at the start, with a
hasty decision process,in a military style.
Still, even under such circumstances, it would not have been possible
in France to force the voters to elect in a single round one of two
hated candidates. Assume that one candidate got 35% of the votes,
and the other - 40%. The other 25%, who object to both, casted a
blank ballot. The result is that no candidate got the required 50%,
and a solution should be found in another round.
But in Israel, at the eve of the 1996 elections, when Peres feared
the blank ballots which awaited him following his 'grapes of wrath'
attack on Lebanon, he enforced a regulation stating that the blank
ballots are "disqualified", namely, they are not counted in the total
of which 50% is required. Thus, with just one arbitrary law, the most
essential principle underlying this system of elections - that an
absolute majority is needed to decide in the first round - has simply
In practice, it is because of this regulation that Peres lost the
elections. 5% of the voters, from the left, voted nevertheless blank.
Had their votes been counted, Netanyahu too would not have passed
in the first round. Nevertheless, the regulation stayed, like so many
illegal regulations, so easy to pass in Israel. In the present
situation, those who do not accept the predetermined choice generated
by the power system face a clear verdict: "disqualified" - out of
the political game!
Why should Barak worry about the smashing lack of support he
encounters? The winner will be the one who can get the peace-voters,
and on this front, Barak believes he is omnipotent.
It is possible to pull out of one's hat a new peace process. As in
the case of Syria, Barak can even instruct his aids to spread rumors
about dismantling settlements. As long as it's all only in the media,
and not in any written document - why not? In any case, all that is
being discussed is yet another "framework" agreement for three to
six years. Possibly, Arafat can be forced again to sign, shake hands,
and be photographed in peace positions, as he was trained to do so
well during the years of Oslo. To ease his way, the same lies about
67 borders, or division of Jerusalem, can be recycled once again.
It is a bit hard to believe that it will be possible, indeed, to sell
the same lies again after Syria, after Camp David, after the attack
on the Israeli Arabs, after Barak's "There is no partner for peace"
declarations, and while in the territories, the Israeli army continues
to starve, torture and assassinate the Palestinians.
But Barak knows that he is very well covered. At his service there
is a government that has long given up its right to be informed of
his plans, and three loyal peace parties - One Israel, Meretz and
Hadash (CP)- which will each explain to the slice of population it
is in charge of, that this time it is really peace and we must vote
Barak. He also has obedient media that will recycle happily the praises
of his new peace offers, and a battery of intellectuals who will prove
with a magic wand that we are only imagining that the king is naked.
If Barak chooses indeed this scenario (rather than opting directly
for war, avoiding altogether the nuisance of elections), it is possible
that, as the jubilees of the elections peace fade away, we will find
ourselves again with a single ruler who consults only with the army,
and who will, perhaps, try to argue that he is not subjected to the
parliament decisions because he was crowned directly by the people.
And then it will just turn out that after all, 'there is no partner
to peace and Arafat does not respect agreements', and we will go back
But before we complete this transition into a military dictatorship
in parliamentary disguise, it is still possible to go back to the
spirit of democracy and the law. It is necessary, first, to annul
the shameful regulation disqualifying the blank ballots, and let the
voters decide. If there is no candidate with a 50% majority, the
process should be reopened, so we can have real elections.
*The author can be reached at Tanya@MiddleEast.Org
SHARON AND BARAK - BIRDS OF A FEATHER
"The race is, in fact, between two 'hawks.'
The Israeli press has dubbed the campaign
the 'battle between the generals' and
characterized the rivals as 'carbon-copy'
[The Daily Star (Beirut)- January 5, 2000]:
The Israeli prime ministerial race between Labor's
Ehud Barak and the Likud's Ariel Sharon is being
portrayed by some as a straightforward contest between
"left" and "right," "doves" and "hawks." But this
characterization is false.
First, the race is essentially a struggle between two
desperate opportunists for whom the Feb. 6 poll is a
"last chance." It is the last chance for Barak because
he will be finished as a politician if he loses the
election. During his 18 months in office he has failed
to deliver on the promises he made to the Israeli
electorate of peace with the Arabs and domestic
reform. As a result he is seen by an overwhelming
majority of Israelis as a "serial fumbler" with a
record almost as dismal as that of his predecessor,
Benjamin Netanyahu. Latest polls put Barak as much as
20 points behind Sharon.
It is the last chance for Sharon because he is 72
years old and the Likud has a number of younger men
eager to secure the top job. Sharon is determined to
win the premiership in order to vindicate himself
after being blamed (albeit indirectly) for the 1982
massacre of more than 2,000 Palestinians at the camps
of Sabra and Chatila. In Sharon's view, Netanyahu
"stole" the Likud leadership and the premiership in
Second, the race is, in fact, between two "hawks." The
Israeli press has dubbed the campaign the "battle
between the generals" and characterized the rivals as
"carbon-copy" candidates. Both Barak and Sharon
emerged from the military establishment, Israel's sole
national institution, which is "hawkish." Sharon was
Barak's patron. Barak drew up the plan for Israel's
invasion of Lebanon which Sharon executed. Barak
projects himself as a dove only because he is
supported by Labor and the left. But while promising
peace, he has expanded Jewish settlements in the
territories the major obstacle to a deal and
deployed heavy weaponry against the Palestinians.
Until the eruption of the Palestinian intifada in late
September, Barak managed to create the illusion of a
"dovish" image by using the media to leak "generous"
peace proposals which were never spelled out clearly
to either Palestinians or Israelis or put on the
table. Engulfed in a cloud of speculation about
Barak's real intentions, both sides are confused. This
is why Shimon Peres, whose rating in the polls is
higher than that of the prime minister, tried and
failed to gain support to challenge Barak.
Sharon is an ideological right-wing hawk who takes a
pragmatic line when in power. This does not always go
down well with the right, which was infuriated when he
used the army to force Israel's settlers to evacuate
their colonies in the Sinai during the 1980s. Today he
is promising to keep all the settlers in their
settlements and hold onto Jerusalem while achieving
peace deals with the Palestinians and Syrians
impossible pledges to honor. Aware that Sharon is not
a man to be trusted, the head of the National
Religious Party, Yitzhak Levy, threatened to stand
against him. Levy only decided against it because his
own party refused to back him.
Third, the two generals are determined to keep their
"hawkish" image because the Israeli political spectrum
has, over the past two decades, made a decisive shift
to the right. Hawks have a greater appeal with the
electorate than doves. While the society has drifted
rightward, it has developed deep fissures between
secular and religious, rich and poor, the Western or
Ashkenazi establishment and the Oriental or Sephardi
underclass, new immigrants and old.
According to Israel Shahak, the maverick Israeli
analyst and commentator, there is also a major rift
between young and old, with the young being the most
right-wing section of the populace.
Furthermore, the broad groupings have fractured into
bitterly opposed and competing factions, the sharpest
antagonism being between disadvantaged Sephardis and
the 1 million recent Russian immigrants. Thirty
parties contested the May 1999 Knesset election and 15
secured seats. Since then, several Knesset members
have broken away from the parties with which they
stood and joined others. No wonder that Israeli
commentators consider this Knesset the most "hopeless"
ever when it comes to taking the hard decisions which
will determine Israel's borders, polity and relations
with the world. There is a suspicion that the society
is so factionalized that it cannot decide on anything.
On the foreign-policy plane, the body politic is
divided between the "peace camp," represented by
Barak, and the "national camp," by Sharon. The former
tries to project it as the only alternative to war,
while the name of the latter suggests that rivals are
not patriotic. The "peace camp," which is prepared to
make territorial concessions to achieve peace,
consists of the leftist Meretz Party, Labor, a
moderate religious party (Meimad), the Center Party
(former Likudniks), One People, and the three Arab
groupings. All the Jewish parties in this grouping
draw their membership from the slender Ashkenazi
majority in the society. The combined strength of the
"peace camp" is, in theory, 50-52 seats in the
120-seat Knesset, but can really muster only 40.
In principle, the "national camp" rejects ceding land
for peace, but in practice it is prepared to "give"
something: Gaza plus 40-60 percent of the West Bank as
against the 95+ percent which Barak is said to be
offering. This camp is made up of the Likud, the two
small Ultra-Orthodox religious parties, two Russian
immigrant factions and the so-called National Union.
This bloc can count on the support of 43 Knesset
members. The balance of power is held by a
center-right party, Shinui, with six seats, and the
right-wing Sephardi ultra-religious party, Shas, the
third largest party in the Knesset with 17 seats.
These two parties are wild cards on the Israeli
political scene. Shinui used to be a moderately
liberal party which has moved to the right, but many
of its voters belong to the peace camp. Shas is a
frankly right-wing populist party which has aligned
itself with Sharon in this contest. But Shas'
spiritual mentor, Rabbi Ovadia Yossef, has been a
long-standing supporter of the peace process and of
Israel's withdrawal from occupied territory.
Therefore, if Barak manages to secure a peace deal
before election day on Feb. 6, Shinui voters could be
expected to cast their ballots for him, while Rabbi
Yossef might switch generals and recommend a "vote for
But nothing can be predicted with certainty. The
reaction of the voters will depend on the nature of a
deal and whether the arrogant Barak, a disastrously
poor communicator, can sell it. In spite of the
intifada, recent polls reveal that 51-60 percent of
Israelis still support the peace process. However,
there is no guarantee that this will be reflected in
the way they vote when they enter the polling station.
During the campaign, ultra-hawk Sharon will try to
convince the voter that he can reach a better deal
than dovish-hawk Barak, while Barak will make the
point that there will be no deal with the Palestinians
or the Syrians if Sharon takes power.