Coastal Post Online


November 2000

Sharon Gets To Eat His Cake And Have It Too

By Karen Nakamura

In the last issue of the Coastal Post, we looked into the fight between the secular and religious factions of the Israel government. The recent violence has very likely a direct link to that power struggle.

At the time, Prime Minister Ehud Barak was trying to keep his government from going belly up after the collapse of Palestinian peace talks. Most religious factions had already deserted his coalition because of concessions to Palestinians. To much of the outside world, however, what was needed was for Israel to fulfill agreements it had already made to withdraw from Palestine and stop building settlements in Palestinian territory. However, to achieve this, Barak had to do what was never intended and that was to give up all claims to a Greater Israel.

To combat the Orthodoxy's attempts to squelch any honest attempt for peace, Barak and the secular remnants initiated a "civic agenda." This included the removal of a nationality clause from the ID cards Israelis must carry which would have, in effect, removed the need of the state to determine "who's a Jew?" This was seen as a measure to break the tie between the church and state. The secular agenda also sought to incorporate the first Israeli constitution. No such document exists because of the conflict between Orthodox Jews, who want ultimate control over laws, and secular society, who want a true democracy.

His attempts to abolish the Religious Affairs Ministry, however, was what caused him the most trouble and which probably set the stage for Ariel Sharon's next political move. Even though the two chief rabbis of the ministry conceded to charges of mismanagement, in the end, they expressed the need for an internal review and called on the state "to cease and desist from any process that contravenes the intregal relationship between religion, state and peoplehood."

Barak was in trouble; externally, with his inability to get to the root cause of the suffering, Israel's occupation of Palestine, and internally by challenging the religious right and trying to break its death grip on power. Barrack agreed that if the peace talks should fail, his agenda would be put on the back burner and he would have to move towards a coalition that included religious factions such as the moderate Shas party, although he hoped his secular agenda would be made part of the new government.

Anyone watching negotiations understands Arafat has done everything but roll over and play dead to get a settlement. When he refused to do that at Camp David, Clinton sold the Palestinians down the river by saying Arafat wasn't conceding enough. Israel tried to exploit this criticism and act like it owned Palestine and the Palestinians. While George Bush stated in the debates he sided with Israel, Al Gore said, and the US has tried to maintain since, that it's an honest broker between the two. It gave up that position at Camp David and now the UN seems to rightfully be taking up negotiations.

Enter former Minister of Defense Ariel Sharon. In a bid to take power from Benjamin Netanyahu in the Likud Party and crush Barak when the Knesset re-convened in late October, Sharon loudly opposed Barak's "secular revolution." Even though polling showed two-thirds of Israeli citizens favored Barak's attempted innovations, including many within the Likud, the Israeli public was highly skeptical it could ever be implemented because of opposition from the powerful right wing.

Sharon, of course, wasn't going for anything less than fascist control by the right-wing. But how to end peace talks and regain favor in the eyes of the people? Aha! Create a little diversionary tactic to throw the whole gambit into chaos. So, on the eve of the High Holy Days of Rosh Hashanah, just before Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement for past sins, here comes Sharon. Ala the Orange marches in Ireland, he goes right to the heart of the Palestinian soul, the Temple Mount, with 1000 soldiers, guns held high and hatred in their eyes, to declare Israel is in charge. That he also choose his battle on Israel's most holy place with no concern about the damage either site might suffer seemed to matter little. His power play was all that mattered. What was shocking to many was that Barak apparently approved the move, perhaps as a "good faith gesture" to those whose support he needed.

Sharon, already the mastermind of a vicious massacre of Palestinians, had the audacity to declare he wasn't to blame, that the Palestinians were planning riots for weeks and were at fault. Perhaps, their fault was they wouldn't jump through his hoop when whipped. Instead, they'd had enough toying and teasing, enough mistreatment and "kicking the dog." They lashed out.

Now, after over a hundred deaths and thousands of injuries on the Palestinian side, the kidnapping of Israeli soldiers and the deaths of Israeli citizens, military bombings and missile attacks, destruction of a Navy warship and the killing of American sailors, Sharon has gotten off Scot-free for his incitement to violence. There's hardly a ripple where he's concerned, even the UN resolutions have been downplayed. He'll either be part of a coalition government with Barak or he'll have disposed entirely of the tiresome general and his nonsense about peace and reconciliation. Peace talks will once again be places to pacify the angry with no intention of follow through.

As Barak's One Israel coalition whip Ophir Pines-Paz stated, "Sharon lit the match that became an excuse for the Palestinians and their leadership to ignite the rioting." Sharon is the one to watch. His success will determine the peace or destruction of the entire region.

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