Barak and Sharon
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Barak and Sharon

January 5, 2001


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.

Tanya Reinhart*

"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 self realization.

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.

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 vanished.

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 to 1948.

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

Michael Jansen

"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."

[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 1995-96.

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 peace."

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.

January 2001


Leila Khalid - refugee from Haifa, fighter for Palestine
(January 31, 2001)
When Palestinian liberation fighter Leila Khaled hijacked her first plane in 1969, she became the international pin-up of armed struggle. Then she underwent cosmetic surgery so she could do it again. Thirty years on, she talks to Katharine Viner about being a woman at war.

The end of Israel?
(January 30, 2001)
At a time with rampant current events breaking daily, often hourly, there is much need to remember the importance of sometimes taking time for reflection, of sometimes stepping back to contemplate both the past and the future.

Sharon - the REAL legacy of Clinton and Barak
(January 30, 2001)
As the Barak era fades from view -- more short-lived than anyone predicted just a long year and a half ago -- his epitaph is already being written and Ariel Sharon's government and policies are already being debated.

Looming civil war in Palestine
(January 29, 2001)
Fears are growing in the international community that Yasser Arafat's Palestinian Authority (PA) is heading for collapse.

Arafat blasts, Peres maneuvers, Barak sinks
(January 29, 2001)
For all practical purposes Ehud Barak is gone and Yasser Arafat is now desperately trying to save his own skin.

Barak's 3 no's, and Bush's 7 minute call
(January 28, 2001)
The Americans leaked it, a 7-minute Saturday call from the new U.S. Pres to the sinking Israeli PM -- leaked its brevity that is.

The Bomb and Iraq
(January 28, 2001)
As war clouds gather in the Middle East public opinion is being prepared for a possible regional war that could likely include a combined Western/Israeli effort to take out the weapons of mass destruction in Syria, Iraq and Iran.

The "nuts" in the next room
(January 27, 2001)
In recent years Israel's most important and serious newspaper, Ha'aretz, has taken to not only reporting Palestinian affairs much more deeply but to interviewing major Palestinian personalities abroad.

Get ready for Prime Minister Sharon
(January 27, 2001)
The new Ma'ariv-Gallop poll questioned a particularly large sample of 1,100 people, putting special emphasis on the Arab population and new immigrants.

Panic in the Barak camp
(January 27, 2001)
All the tricks and lies of the Israeli Labor Party have now come back to haunt it. Barak, never a politician, bears the brunt of popular blame for all the political deceptions and tricks that have for so long accumulated.

War alert in Europe and Middle East
(January 27, 2001)
We've noted the "war fever" growing in the region for some months now. There's considerable anxiety about who may now strike first.

Israeli and Jewish soul-searching
(January 26, 2001)
The Intifada, coupled with Israeli brutality and recognition that the term "Apartheid Peace" is in fact applicable after all, are having an effect on at least some Israelis and some Jews; even while Ariel Sharon marches to the Prime Minister's office in Jerusalem (and maybe because of this).

"Disastrous" American intervention
(January 26, 2001)
ou've got to wonder about these Palestinian "negotiators". What others saw decades ago those who have been most involved are apparently beginning to see only now.

Sharon marches on, Barak stumbles on
(January 25, 2001)
The 554,000 Arabs eligible to vote represent 12.3 percent of the electorate. The Arab turnout in 1999 was 76%, and 95% voted for Barak.

An alliance of the outcasts? Iran, Iraq and Syria
(January 24, 2001)
So the Israelis are going to elect war-criminal tough-guy General Ariel Sharon to be Prime Minister. This after the most top-heavy military-intelligence government in peacetime history for Israel -- that of General Ehud Barak.

General Powell says no to sanctions on behalf of Corporate America
(January 23, 2001)
Hamas has struck again and the "negotiations" are "suspended" again. Two Israelis were assassinated by masked men while eating at a restaurant in Tulkarm. Though this time it was Israelis who were killed it was another warning to Yasser Arafat. Last week similarly masked men in Gaza killed a close Arafat friend, the head of Palestinian TV in Gaza, just as it was rumored Arafat was about to sign some kind of new deal with the Israelis.

EyeWitness Jerusalem and Al-Aqsa
(January 23, 2001)
The depressing element of this entire struggle is that the Arafat regime survives and...will be the one to ultimately determine the fate of the Palestinian people.

War Fever - Israel and Syria
(January 23, 2001)
Tensions continue to grow in the Middle East region, armies continue to prepare, public opinion continues to be manipulated. Though Ehud Barak too is a militarist -- a former commando, General, and Chief of Staff of the Army -- Ariel Sharon brings with him historical baggage and war-criminal image which could easily contribute to a clash of armies sooner rather than later, even if not fully intended by either side.

EyeWitness Gaza
(January 22, 2001)
A year or so ago, I visited the Mouwasi area in Gaza. It was a green paradise, on top, and in the midst, of white sand dunes. I particularly remember this Guava grove, where the guavas hanging from the trees were the size of large oranges; I hadn't seen anything like that ever before.

Reaping what they have sown
(January 22, 2001)
Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak abruptly cut short a radio interview on Sunday after being asked about his poor showing in opinion polls, prompting speculation he was buckling under pressure of a February 6 election.

Israel's president departs
(January 21, 2001)
There has never been, and there probably never will be, a president who had such fantastic relations with the State of Israel. It's unbelievable.

Ross officially join Israeli lobby
(January 19, 2001)
During the Lebanon War of 1982 -- some think of it as Sharon's war -- the Israelis and their American Jewish friends felt they had a difficult time when it came to public relations. And when the American Marines pulled out, symbolizing the failure of the Israelis to force Lebanon into the American-Israeli orbit and out of the Syrian-Arab one, the Israelis realized that they had much power in Washington on Capitol Hill, but not enough power with the media, intellectuals, and think-tanks.

War preparations in Israel
(January 19, 2001)
It's always called "The Peace Process" but more behind-the-scenes the whole Middle East region continues to be an arms bazaar with more weapons being sold to the countries in the area than ever before, most by American arms merchants and allies.

Palestinian TV Head killed
(January 17, 2001)
It may have been a warning to Arafat not to dare sign any new agreements, as has been rumored in the past few days he was planning to do tomorrow in fact. It may have been another Israeli assassination - though usually they don't take such risks and use such methods, strongly preferring instead to use high-technology and long-distance means.

Iraq, Saddam and the Gulf War
(January 17, 2001)
It was 10 years ago yesterday that the U.S. unleashed the power of the Empire against the country of Iraq after created the regional conditions that lead to the Iraq-Iran and then the Iraq-Kuwait-Saudi wars. In that period of time somewhere in the number of 1.5 million Iraqis have been killed, the history of the Middle East altered, the future of the region more uncertain and dangerous than ever.

Last night in Gaza ghetto
(January 16, 2001)
It's quite a game of international political brinkmanship. At the same time that Yasser Arafat is being tremendously pressured, and quite possibly further tricked, to sign some kind of "framework agreement" with Clinton and Barak before it is too late -- his regime is also being threatened with extinction both from within and without.

Generals Sharon and Barak as politicians
(January 16, 2001)
With Jan 20 (Clinton leaves office) and Feb 6 (Barak likely to be defeated by Sharon) fast approaching, desperation and near panic are evident in the traditional power centers, including various Arab capitals.

"Unilateral separation" one way or another
(January 15, 2001)
The separation plan would go into the event of one of the following three scenarios: as a response to a unilateral declaration of statehood on the part of the Palestinians; under a severe security threat; or as part of an agreement with the Palestinian Authority

Up in arms against Apartheid
(January 13, 2001)
At the end of the second millennium, three million Palestinians are imprisoned in ghettoes by the very man whom the Palestinian leadership hailed as the saviour of peace. Netanyahu had driven the peace ship off course. Barak scuttled it.

Locking in Oslo
(January 12, 2001)
The Americans and the Israelis continue to try to twist the screws. Their minimum goal now is to "lock in" the "Oslo Peace Process" approach to the conflict. It may be an "Apartheid Peace", and it may have resulted in considerable bloodshed, but even so it is leading to a form of "Palestinian Statehood" and "separation" that the Israelis strongly desire as the best alternative for themselves.

Sharon charges on
(January 12, 2001)
he long-serving (now recalled to Cairo) Egyptian Ambassador to Israel was quoted saying last week that if an Israeli-Palestinian agreement isn't reached in the next two weeks there won't be an agreement for the next two decades.

"Sharon leads to peace"
(January 11, 2001)
The last time the Israeli "Arab vote" was pushed toward Shimon Peres for Prime Minister -- back in 1996 -- there was much resistance. Then Peres was acting Prime Minister after the assassination of Yitzhak Rabin, the Israeli Army had just committed the Qana massacre in Southern Lebanon, and Peres was busy trying to cover it up.

Grandfather Sharon
(January 10, 2001)
If the polls remain as disastrous as they now are for Ehud Barak, expect him to be pushed out and Shimon Peres substituted. Barak has no chance; Peres has some, especially with the "Arab vote".

The Dangerous weeks, months ahead
(January 10, 2001)
Guys like Commando-General-Prime Minster Ehud Barak don't go easily from the scene. Barak's daring-do was lavishly praised just a few years ago; now it has even the military types fretting. No telling just what Barak and friends might try in the next few weeks.

Assissination, siege and war crimes
(January 9, 2001)
The Israeli government, both as a group and as individuals, bears full responsibility for the crimes that were committed. We will do everything possible, including declaring members of this government war criminals who are eligible for trial by the world tribunal." Palestinian Authority "Minister"

Soul-searching Israelis
(January 9, 2001)
The "liberals" among them, the most cosmopolitan and internationally-oriented of the Israelis, are now getting extra nervous. Not only is Ariel Sharon coming to power, not only is regional war possible, not only are the cold treaties with Egypt and Jordan in jeopardy, but even Israel's future has come into question

Israel acts while Arafat talks
(January 8, 2001)
srael continues to take major steps designed to shrink, isolate and control the Palestinian areas forever. The policy is termed "unilateral separation" and it is linked to bringing about a so-called "Palestinian State" that serves Israeli interests, making everything worse than ever for the Palestinian "natives".

Clinton's Israel speech
(January 8, 2001)
On his way out the Presidential door Bill Clinton went to New York City to speak to his American Jewish supporters and further grease his way toward his future. This is the Bill Clinton that turned the U.S. government over to the Israeli/Jewish lobby in his years in office; of course pretending otherwise.

Specter of an "ugly future"
(January 5, 2001)
Lofty, humanitarian goals like 'peace and democracy'? No, America's primary interest in the Middle East is effective control of the world's most important energy reserves, Noam Chomsky tells Ha'aretz

Prime Minister Sharon
(January 5, 2001)
Did President Hindenburg and the German intelligentsia feel this way in 1930s when they saw that Adolf Hitler, and his brownshirt thugs, were about to be elected to power?

Barak and Sharon
(January 5, 2001)
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.

Arab nations add their voices to the chorus of despair
(January 4, 2001)
All chance of a peace deal between Israel and the Palestinians in the near future is vanishing, destroyed by hardening opinions on both sides, continuing violence, the precarious position of the political leaders involved and disagreements over key issues.

Darling of American Jewry
(January 4, 2001)
Over the years, most of the strongest advocates of Israel have usually been people who are not Jewish....[I] look forward to working with him...

Barak publicly warns of regional war
(January 4, 2001)
Amid veiled threats from the Israelis to start targeting even more senior Arafat Regime persons, and even to bring the Arafat "Palestinian Authority" to an end, Ehud Barak has also started publicly talking about the possibility of regional war.

No deal for Arafat
(January 3, 2001)
In particular, the Palestinians are concerned that the proposed settlement would create Palestinian territorial islands separated from each other by Israeli territory and therefore not viable as a nation. They object to a proposed land swap that would allow some Israeli settlers to remain on the West Bank in exchange for land that the Palestinians claim is desert and a toxic waste dump.

Arafat rushes to Washington
(January 2, 2001)
Clinton and the Israelis have set the stage for the last act of their multi-year drama attempting to trap the Palestinians on controlled reservations and calling it "an end to the conflict". But like a modern-day computer game the users can interact and change the outcome to various scenarios.

Top Palestinian Leader in the Arafat Regime
(January 2, 2001)
The whole house of political quicksand built by Bill Clinton at the behest of the Israelis (and popularly known as the "Peace Process") is bubbling, steaming, and swallowing many of its key participants.

Arafat hangs up on threatening Clinton
(January 1, 2001)
The coming issue of TIME magazine reports that Arafat hung up the phone receiver on Clinton a few days ago, turning to an aide and saying: "He's threatening me!

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