Between Cholera and The Plague

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I am in turmoil, more so than for a long, long time.

All my life I have opposed the blank ballot. I have written articles against it, much more convincing than the current propaganda clichés of Yossi Sarid. But I am afraid that this time I shall have to use it. If I  try to take the Ehud Barak slip, my hand will tremble and refuse.

I know all the arguments. A blank ballot is a ballot for Sharon. Of course. But those who voice this argument must prove that Barak is better than Sharon.

As of this moment, it is nearly certain that a “national unity” government will be set up after the elections. Either Sharon will be  Prime Minister with Barak as his Minister of Defense, or Barak will be Prime Minister with Sharon as his minister of Defense. Big deal. Does this justify casting a vote? Isn’t this whole campaign a puppet show for the feeble-minded?

Twenty months ago, when the television anchorman announced Barak’s victory, I rushed to Rabin square and danced for joy. The end of the Likud era! The beginning of the era of peace! But in the short period since then Barak has destroyed all that could be destroyed: the peace momentum, Rabin’s achievements, the national morale, the trust and goodwill of the Palestinians.

How has he done this? He has not given back to the Palestinians one single square inch, flagrantly violating the Oslo agreement (the third withdrawal). He has enlarged the settlements at a feverish pace, built countless “by-pass roads” for annexation and tried to dictate to the Palestinians terms of capitulation. He has destroyed the trust created with great difficulty between Rabin and Arafat, describing the leader of the Palestinian people as a terrible person, in whose company he suffers perpetually (as he said this week on television in an election  broadcast). And in the end he sent Sharon – yes, the terrible Sharon of his election propaganda – to the Haram al-Sharif, accompanied by 2000 policemen, thus igniting with his own hands the violent intifada. Now he has started the “eliminations campaign” and the choking of Palestinian towns and villages, which borders on a war crime.

The sins can be counted one by one, but the worst of all is unforgivable: he has made the Israeli public hate peace. He created a mendacious impression that he had “turned every stone on the way to peace”, made unheard-of concessions, broken all the taboos – and in return the Palestinians opened fire and spilt blood. This means that there is no “partner”, that peace is an illusion, that Oslo was a terrible mistake. If so, why the hell not vote for Sharon?

The truth is, of course, quite different. For one and a half years Barak has driven the national train on the tracks laid down by Sharon. It was Sharon who created the settlement map, in order to cut the  Palestinian territories into pieces and foreclose any possibility of peace. Barak took over Sharon’s map under the code-words “settlement blocs” and tried to impose it on the Palestinians. The decoration is different (peace slogans, endless negotiations) but the policy is the same. The “red lines” are different, but as there is not a single Palestinian who would accept Barak’s lines, the end result is the same.

It is unjust to blame the Israeli people. There was very little opposition when Barak announced his virtual concessions. The public was ready go a long way with him. But he stopped. Even on the eve of the elections, public opinion polls show that half the voters are ready to elect Shimon Peres, who is now identified in the public mind with peace and the “new Middle East”.

It is being said: That’s all true, but Sharon is worse. He will bring terrible partners with him. I do not ignore that. But Barak has brought the same partners. And I am fed up with choosing between Cholera and the Plague (as the Jewish saying goes). There is at least one good thing about a Sharon government: All the world knows who Sharon is, we know who Sharon is. The international community,  which has pampered Barak because it believed his talk about peace, will stand on its hind legs to oppose Sharon. The Israeli Left, which has invented endless justifications for Barak, will come out and demonstrate en masse when Sharon does the same.

Some say that blank ballots do not help. They will not even be counted. That’s nonsense. When the final count discloses hundreds of thousands of “invalid” ballots, added to wide-spread abstention, the political clout of the peace camp will become evident and future Prime Ministers will know the risk of ignoring it. This is neither revenge nor punishment, but a logical political act in the present situation.

I don’t want this to happen. Even at this late hour I practically beg Barak: Promise us that you will on no condition join a “unity” government with Sharon, cancel the “red lines”, present a reasonable peace plan. If you are unable to do this, turn the candidacy over to someone else.

If you don’t take either of these options, there will be a terrible crash. We shall enter a difficult time, perhaps the most difficult we have known.

We shall have to build a new, more solid peace camp instead of the one that has broken apart as a result of the destructive Barak episode. We will need to get rid of the whole bunch of cowardly political failures, as we got rid of Golda and her bunch, and find a new, courageous leadership.

On the morrow of the elections, we must start again from the beginning.

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Uri Avnery is a journalist, peace activist, former member of the Knesset, and leader of Gush Shalom. He is a regular contributor to Media Monitors Network (MMN).

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