As predicted, Ariel Sharon has soundly defeated incumbent Ehud Barak in Israel’s elections for prime minister. Already, there is talk from Labor elder statesman Shimon Peres that Sharon should form a national-unity government. There are several reasons why Labor, Meretz, and all self-respecting leftist and pro-peace parties should avoid a Sharon-led unity government at all costs. Here are a few, as well as some advice for the new opposition.
1) Sharon should be forced to form his government based on the support of only the extremist and “religious Zionist” parties. That way, if and when he is forced to concede something to the Palestinians (and he will), his coalition will fall apart and no-confidence motions will fly at him from his own side of the aisle. A national unity government only provides Sharon with a safety net from such a scenario. Netanyahu fell because he filled his government with extremists; when he was forced to sign the Wye River Memorandum and Hebron Agreement, his own backers left him. It took three years to bring down Bibi; in the present situation, it could be a matter of weeks before Sharon is faced with a no-confidence vote.
2) It is a proven falsehood that Israel requires a national-unity government in “states of emergency.” This was the fallacy under which former PM Levi Eshkol allowed the fascist Menachem Begin into the government in 1967 as a minister without portfolio before the Six-Day War. Was Begin’s support in the government needed to (a) have popular support for the war or (b) win the war? The answers to (a) and (b) are “no” and “no.” Unfortunately, Begin was officially made part of the establishment, and when it came time for Labor-led governments to take a fall, Begin came to power, with terrorist assassin Yitzhak Shamir and “bulldozer” Ariel Sharon in tow as foreign minister and defense minister, respectively. They gave the world the bombing of West Beirut and the massacres of Sabra and Shatilla, plus an 18-year occupation of Lebanon by Israel in which thousands of Israeli soldiers and several times more Lebanese died for nothing.
3) National-unity governments in Israel have always been tremendous failures under which no progress is made in either the domestic or foreign fronts. Furthermore, they have nearly always been led by otherwise non-electable people (e.g., Peres and Shamir). National-unity governments dominated the post-Begin era of the 1980s and early 1990s, with its mad settlement policies on Palestinian territory and the subsequent intifadeh that Shamir answered with a call to “break bones.” This was the lowest point in Israeli history next to the Beirut Massacre and yesterday’s win by Sharon. If Sharon is going to drag Israel down even further, let him do it all by himself.
4) When Sharon’s reign of terror is finally over, please run someone other than a general or six-time loser Peres for prime minister. Yossi Beilin was talking months ago of a broad-based pro-peace coalition of parties holding a country-wide primary to choose its leader. Clearly Barak is finished in politics. Clearly Peres cannot win an election; he even managed to trail Sharon in late polls. Take Beilin’s idea and run with it. Include the Arab parties and non-Jewish MKs in the process. Making promises to afford full civil rights to Israel’s minorities rings hollow when they are not invited to form governments. This is the first and most important step to healing the rift between Jewish and non-Jewish Israelis.
5) Bringing Arab parties into leftist and peace-minded governments obviates the need to rely on the religious parties, thereby making civil reform legislation (including a constitution) far easier to pass and granting broader support to concessions for the achievement of peace.
6) Finally, have the findings of the Kahan Commission on the Beirut Massacres declassified and made public. Let the public know what they have elected in the person of Ariel Sharon. It has been 19 years. The Israeli public deserves to know the whole truth. Let every speech made by PM Sharon be accompanied by protesters with photographs from Sabra and Shatilla. Never let Sharon forget what he has done, and never let the people who have elected him forget it either.